Greg Moran is the owner and Director of Tennis at the Four Seasons Racquet Club in Wilton, CT. An award-winning tennis professional and writer, Greg is a regular contributor to Tennis magazine and author of the bestselling “Beyond Big Shots” tennis books.
Corona Customer Service
by Greg Moran
We all know that the relationship between a tennis club and its players is special. Though our members walk through our doors to play tennis, they really come because, in one way or another, it makes them feel good.
Be it a well-played competitive match, a social game with friends or a lesson with a favorite pro, time spent at “the club” is fun (at least it should be) and the relationship we have with our players is an important part of their lives—now so more than ever.
Since the virus forced so many clubs to close their doors, tennis players around the world are suffering from a serious case of tennis/club withdrawal. They miss hitting the ball and getting a good workout. I recently got a phone call from the local police about a late-night trespasser on my club’s property. It turns out it was one of my members trying to sneak in some time on the backboard. Our members miss their tennis, they miss their tennis friends and they miss us!
With that in mind, now is the perfect time to remind ourselves that, though tennis is our vehicle, we’re really in the customer service business. It doesn’t matter if you own the club, run the programs or are a teaching pro trying to build his or her clientele, the key to success lies in your ability to turn your customers into clients.
Though our doors are closed, we can take our customer service to the next level and, in the process, keep our player’s spirits up until they can get back to the courts. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
During the crisis, keep your members engaged with the club by sending one or two e-mails a week. Include tennis-related articles, videos, tips or book suggestions. Post on Facebook. Encourage your pros to stay in touch with their students through texts, phone calls or email. Just be careful not to bombard them with constant communication. You want them to look forward to hearing from you, not say, “Oh God, here’s another one.”
I’ve reached out to several of the pay-for tennis websites and they’ve graciously offered to give my members free access to their instructional content. Other companies, like Billie Jean King’s Tennis Eye Coach, offer special pricing during the crisis. I’ve personally delivered four of them to my member’s houses---left on the driveway, of course.
The key is to keep the relationship active. Jack Mitchell is one of my members as well as a leader in the world of customer service. Author of the bestselling “Hug Your Customers” books, Jack says that “It’s so very important to commit to staying in touch with your clients. It’s all about treating them like family. Send heartfelt notes, emails, and texts. Wish them well during these trying times and tell them that you can't wait to see them when things return to normal.’
When they do come back
When your doors open, and your players come storming back, be sure to greet them with enthusiasm. Place a “Welcome Back, We Missed You” sign in the parking lot and, just to add a little “WOW” factor, give them a free can of balls for their first game.
Though most will be thrilled to be back, be sure to prepare yourself (and your team) for those that are still feeling the effects of the crisis. Some may have lost their jobs or a loved one. Many may be facing financial problems or even dealing with a bout of Corona PTSD. Yes, that will be a thing!
For those that are struggling, their fuse will likely be short. The slightest thing may set them off and you and your team may be the closest target. When you see an irate member charging your way, keep the following in mind:
Stay calm. Take a deep breath and prepare for the onslaught. Remind yourself to keep your cool.
Let them get it out. The front desk or club lobby is not an appropriate place to have this discussion so move to a private area and let them vent. As they’re speaking, show them you’re paying attention and are interested in what they have to say. Look in their eyes, nod your head and occasionally saying things like, “Yes” or “Okay” or “I see.” Above all, do not interrupt.
Acknowledge their complaint. Whether you agree or disagree with their issue, you must acknowledge it as an issue. Don’t disagree with them and above all, don’t argue. It’s a battle you can’t win. The customer is not always right but that doesn’t matter. You may even be able to prove them wrong, but that will only make them angrier, at which point they’ll take their business elsewhere.
Apologize. Something has made them unhappy and, for that, you must apologize. “I’m so sorry this happened, let’s see what we can do.”
Fix it. You’ve listened and consoled. That’s great, but what they’re really interested in is what you’re going to do about it. They want a solution and they want it quickly. Involve them in solving the problem and as you work toward a solution, use phrases like: “I understand why you …” or “I think we should …” or “Would it work for you if …?” Avoid words and phrases like: “Can’t,” “But,” “You should have …” “The only thing we can do is …”
Go the extra mile
Keep in mind that your job is not done when you’ve solved the problem. Exceptional clubs take the next step as a way to apologize for the hassle. It could be a gift certificate to the pro shop, a complimentary lesson or a V.I.P. pass for court time. Little things such as this tell your members you care about them and that will keep them coming back.
Also, when the storm has passed, be sure not to hold a grudge. After fixing the problem, forget about it. The next time you see the person, make them feel welcome and as if nothing had happened.
One final, extremely important, thought
For those of us that were forced to close in the middle of our spring season, we’ll have to come up with a policy to make up the lost membership and program time. Some clubs may offer refunds or credits while others may simply choose to pick up right where they left off and extend their seasons. There is no right or wrong approach. Each club must do what’s best for their particular situation.
Keep in mind that it will be impossible to make everyone happy as each person or family have their own set of circumstances. Whatever decisions you make, the important thing is to clearly communicate to your members your decision-making process.
In my situation, (and what I would suggest for everyone), once I know when we can reopen and decide on a makeup policy, I will stress to my members that the decision was reached with one goal in mind: fairness to everyone.
Regardless of how you handle the time lost, be prepared to be challenged and this is where your customer service will be put to the true test. Those that are unhappy with the policy will undoubtedly come looking for you. Do not run and hide.
I’ve seen club owners and managers make controversial decisions and then immediately go on vacation. Apparently, their theory is to get out of town, let people cool down and then come back when the fire’s dimmed. Not only is that poor customer service it’s horrendous leadership.
Be accessible. Keep your door open and spend more time than usual in the lobby. Make it easy for your unhappy members to find you. Let them vent and then, calmly, explain your decision- making process and that it was done with the goal of being fair to everyone.
Remember, people generally see things only in terms of how it impacts them. Our job is to gently lead them into seeing the bigger picture; “Yes, you lost 10 weeks of lesson time, I’m sorry about that. Unfortunately, our pros also lost ten weeks of income and the club lost ten weeks of revenue. To be fair to everyone we decided to……..”
They may not agree with your decision but if you take the time to explain it to them in a way that ultimately leads them to a place of seeing the larger picture, you’ll have done all you can and 99% of the time they’ll understand.