In customer service, you are either exceeding, meeting or failing to meet your customer’s needs. With the number of choices consumers have these days, it’s not enough to just meet expectations.

You always have to be exceeding your customer’s expectations, otherwise, they won’t stay. They don’t have to. There’s another gym around the corner or a coach online who are doing it better. Exceeding expectations is a relatively easy thing to do, but also easy not to do.

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As consumers, you have had each one of these experiences yourself and each time that experience left you with a lasting impression. It’s these impressions that determine your future and on-going relationship with that brand.

It is what will bring you back, it is what determines whether you will recommend it to someone else or whether you’ll discourage someone else from it. It is what business owners need to understand because it is what drives our customer long-term value (LTV).

Think about the last time you went out to eat.

  • Was the table clean when you sat down?
  • Or did you put your arm in something sticky left over from the previous customers?
  • How were you greeted by your server with friendly “hello”?
  • Did they tell you their name or just ask you want you wanted?
  • Did they thank you for coming?
  • Did they ask you about what brought you in?
  • Did they ask you about your preferences and make a recommendation or did they just read you off the list of specials being pushed by the chef?
  • Did they make you feel welcomed?
  • When you were getting ready to leave, did your server check to see how your experience was?
  • Did they thank you again or recall something you said during the dining experience?
  • Did they tell you to come back soon and to let them know how your experience was on their FaceBook or Yelp page?

The sad thing is for most of us – if we reflect on that experience and what happened, it probably just met our expectations, but for most of us it probably failed to meet our expectations and that impression is now with us for the foreseeable future. Sometimes it’s completely subconscious too. But, it’s what will kill your business.

Aiming to Exceed

It’s not enough to meet expectations you must exceed them. I can’t say this enough.This means you have to know what your customers want and you have to know what you want to give to them and then do those things 10 times better. Put yourself in your member’s shoes, what would you want from your experience?

Think about the best experiences you have had. What made them so awesome? Talk to your members. What do they want from your experience? Research the best customer service brands out there, like the Ritz-Carlton, Zappos, Disney, Dollar Shave Club, and Trader Joe’s and learn from them. These are successful brands who have done the work for you. They know what consumers are looking for and they know what it takes to get consumers to buy their products.

Once you’ve done all this research then you have to decide what it means for you and what you want your customer experience to look like. How will you EXCEED?

For my studio, I’ve defined it as our 6 C’s of Customer Service

1. Community – Build strong relationships and create members for life.
2. Commitment – Be committed to our members and your team.
3. Communication – Create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
4. Continue to Grow – Continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve yourself to ensure you’re delivering the best experience you can.
5. Care – Create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our members.
6. Cleanliness – Ensure uncompromising levels of cleanliness and create a safe and accident-free environment.

My customer experience lives and dies by these 6 C’s. They are the core of every experience I create for my members and they are critical to my success. Overlook them, and I lose members every time.

We recently just overhauled our music experience. Our sound didn’t match the customer experience I wanted and we had everything from ZZ Top to Rhianna going on. It was a hot mess. We had let members dictate the music thinking we were doing the right thing for our community, but what we didn’t realize was by letting a few members play DJ we were hurting the larger community.

I knew something had to change the day a member showed up with wireless headphones on. Fail.

To fix this problem we went back to our brand and to customer service standards. Our music had to support our community, but it had to be inclusive and it had to align with what we wanted the member experience to be. If we needed our members to push themselves, then we should inspire them with the right music.

If we needed our members to focus on recovery then we shouldn’t have a dance party going on. Easy to do, but it would have been easy to ignore it too. Music is a tough one for you sure. It’s a personal preference. The trick is to not make it personal, but use it to create an awesome experience.

Getting Your Team on Board

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It does no good for you to act one way and for your team to act another, so ensuring your team understands your standards of customer service is critical to your businesses success. You should have a huge section devoted to customer service as part of your on-boarding syllabus.

You should assume that anyone you hire knows nothing about customer service, even if they’ve been in the business for years, and you should train them all like it’s the first time they are being introduced to the concept.

You wouldn’t let a coach on the floor train someone without ensuring they coach the right way, so why would let you him talk to your customers without ensuring he knew how to and that he would treat your customers the way you wanted them treated at your studio?

Use your team meetings to reaffirm your customer service standards. Test your team to see who can articulate what they are. Ask them if to tell you about an experience where a customer was wowed that week or an experience where they didn’t do such a great job. Then ask them how they would fix it.

When you’re talking about changes at the studio connect the change to a service standard. You have to always be talking about customer service. It’s too important to be a footnote or just a sign on the break room wall.

Consistent Checking Ins

You can never take your customer experience for granted and you must never settle. You must always be exceeding. To ensure this is happening, you must check yourself, your experience and your staff on a regular basis to make sure everyone is delivering the best customer experience.

Here are 3 recommendations for how you can do this well and more importantly get a ton of information you can use to make your customer experience awesome.

1. Hire a Secret Shopper. Have a family member in town? Know someone who doesn’t regularly workout at your facility for whatever reason who you can trust? Give them $100 and ask them to shop your studio. Give them a report card to fill out that starts at the beginning and takes them through a least a week after their visit.

Have her grade her experience with your website and social media pages. Have her grade the responsiveness of your studio and staff. Have her grade her in-studio experience. Have her grade what happens after she leaves. Use your standards of excellence as your guide for creating the report card to make sure you get a grade on all the points of contact.

Then collect the form and use it as an audit tool for your customer experience. Where did you exceed, where did you meet and where are you failing? Then start with your failures and fix those things right away. Then you can move on to the areas you’re just meeting and determine what you can do to exceed.

2. Ask your customers! And ask them all. Don’t just ask the noise-makers or the everything-is-perfect customers. You have to ask everyone. You can expect a percentage to give you fluff, but you’ll be surprised at the amount of quality feedback you’ll get. Especially if you tell them it’s ok to be honest. Bonus, give them something if they complete the survey. This will ensure you get a ton of responses, but studies also show that people are more willing to give you something if they are getting something in return.

3. Shop around. Go to other studios and gyms. I’m not saying go to the gym next door, but drive a few towns over and check another studio out. Ask yourself what are they doing better for their customers than you. Don’t be shady doing it. Be honest that you’re a gym owner and you’re interested in learning from them and you’d like to observe.

If you’re honest you’ll find most owners are cool with this. It’s when you try to be sneaky and steal proprietary stuff that you end up looking like a jerk. Then return the favor invite them to come to your studio. Ask them for feedback too. It’s free advice!

So how do you stack up? Are you failing, meeting or are you exceeding? If you’re not exceeding then what will you do today to change that? Remember it costs you nothing to say “Thank You for your business” to your customer, and you have a ton to gain.


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Ian Nimblett

Ian Nimblett, CFSC, CSCS, NFPT-CPT and is a functional strength & conditioning coach, personal trainer, and author. He is the founder and owner of Premier Fitness Group LLC in South Salem, NY, a world-class functional training facility that provides private, semi-private, and group training.