“The Talk” – Setting the Foundation for Service Excellence

23 Oct “The Talk” – Setting the Foundation for Service Excellence

By Richard Ekstrom, President of Retention ManagementRich Ekstrom

In my past life as a club operator with an obsession for stellar service delivery, I quickly learned that your team is the face of the club.  They’re the ones who are face-to-face with your members’ day in and day out.  They’re the ones you have to rely on to open the club on time, to greet the members as they walk in (or say goodbye as they walk out), to give a great orientation or PT session, to keep the facility clean, to maintain the equipment, to make sure the towels are always plentiful, etc., etc., etc.  In essence although you manage the team, your team manages the club.  Your team is THE most critical link between the club and the member.

Every member of your team has differing specific duties or responsibilities related to their job description whether they’re a department head, trainer, group exercise instructor, receptionist or housekeeper and much of the time I wasn’t the one who trained them on their specific role.  However, I sat down individually with each and every member of the team, and thereafter with each new hire, to let them know what my expectations of them were.  I call it “The Talk” and have found it to be instrumental in the atmosphere, loyalty and overall success of my clubs.

Here’s typically how I’d have “The Talk” with a new hire:

“You have specific duties related to your job here at the club but I want to talk to you today about my expectations of you as a member of this team and an important cog of this club.

Let me start by saying I love this industry.  Our job is to help make people healthier and you see the positive impact we have on people every day.  We literally change people’s lives and this change impacts almost every other facet of their life in a good way.  There’s no other industry that I know of that comes close to the lifestyle enrichment that we provide.

However, there’s a problem; most newbies to exercise don’t want to be here.  They know they should workout but find it a pain, they’d rather sleep in, go to the pub with the gang, be with the family, and they don’t like to sweat or push themselves physically.  They don’t like the actual act of coming to the gym and working out.

Since we can’t workout for them our job is to make their time here as pleasant and stress free as possible so that 2-3 months from now we’ve got them hooked and they actually look forward to their workouts.  Do you understand?

You and everyone on our team plays a huge role in making that happen by being great at 3 things;

Cleanliness, professionalism and friendliness.”


“Let’s talk about cleanliness.  Let’s say you’re at a restaurant that always serves great food, but if they serve it to you on a dirty plate then you’re not going to eat it.  You may come back to that restaurant one more time but you’ll be more critical and if anything’s not clean you’ll likely never go back.  Right?  Keeping a clean club is the most basic and easiest thing we can do but it’s also extremely important because our members expect it and will cancel if it’s not clean.  Our club must be kept clean!

Cleaning is everyone’s job.  Whenever you see anything that needs to be picked up, wiped off or straightened out you do it, never ignore it.  This can be as simple as picking up a wrapper in the hallway to doing what we call a locker-room quickie which means whenever you go in the locker-room you should close any open lockers, pickup towels, wipe countertops if they’re wet and flush toilets, it’ll take two minutes at most but makes a big impact to the member if it’s not done.  If for some reason there’s something that you just can’t get to immediately or is too big for you to handle then let the reception desk know so we can get someone on it.  Never, ever ignore cleanliness!

Will you be great at cleanliness?”


“Next let’s talk about professionalism.  What does professionalism mean to you?”  I’ll typically get answers like “showing up on time”,” doing your job”,” being courteous”, etc.

My typical response to their answers go something like this; “Excellent, you have a good grasp of what professionalism means.  In fact, I’ve never heard a wrong answer but I’ve come up with a concise version of professionalism that helps me and I think it will help you also and that’s ‘use your best judgment at all times’.  If you do that it means you’re thinking before you act and I can’t ever ask for more than that.  I know this seems pretty simple but it does cover the essence of what professionalism means.

For example, let’s say a bunch of your friends want to go to a concert tonight and you’ll likely get home pretty late but you’ve got to open the club tomorrow morning at 5AM.  If you ‘use your best judgment’ then you should either pass on the concert or get someone to cover your shift tomorrow morning.

Asking yourself if you’re using your best judgment ensures professionalism with just about everything: Should I shave this morning?  Should I tuck in my staff shirt?  Should I accept cash for a training session instead of going thru the club?  Should I snap back at a member who says your equipment is always broken?  Should I park in the front row when arriving at work or leave that for the members?  Should I jump behind the front desk and help the receptionist when I see a line forming at check-in?  It works!

Will you be great at this?”

That’s my ‘professionalism’ talk and it’s a great tool to fall back on when someone does something that needs correction.  It enables you to pull them aside and say “when you showed up 5 minutes late for your member’s appointment did you use your ‘best judgment’?  You not only told me you would but you told me you’d be great at it.  You can do better and you need to do better, understand?”


“This last pillar I need you to be great at is most important in helping us create and maintain an upbeat, social and fun environment and I know you’re a friendly person because you wouldn’t have made it to this stage of the interview process if you weren’t.  What I need is for everyone you come in contact with to be able to see and feel your friendliness.  This includes all the members and our staff.  Never walk by anyone without acknowledging them, this can be as simple as a genuinely warm smile but never fail to acknowledge them.  In all your interactions I need your upbeat, warm and caring personality to be fully visible.  An outwardly upbeat personality is magically contagious and it’s an integral part of your job.

Even though I think this is the greatest industry in the world I’m not so naïve to think that every morning you’re going to pop out of bed and say to yourself ‘yes, I get to go work at the club!’ – every job, no matter how great can have its highs and lows.  However, never let the team or our members see your lows.  Perhaps you had a disagreement with your spouse, or your child kept you up all night with the flu, etc., those are the times when I need you to be a great actor.  Your role on the health club stage is to act as though you are happy, friendly and upbeat – the show must go on!  So when you walk in this club think lights, camera, action!

Will you be great at this?

To wrap this up; clean, professional and friendly are the pillars of our foundation and we can never underestimate their importance.  Can and will you be great at these?”

If at the end they didn’t give me a “yes, I will be great at these 3 things all the time” then we don’t hire them.  Having “The Talk” with every member of your team is not only easy to do but it’s the foundation for your club’s success.  Plus, I always found it enjoyable.  I think you will too!


Richard Ekstrom, President of Retention Management
Company Mission: Create a positive impact on a club’s bottom line by improving retention.
He can be reached at info@retentionmanagement.com.  Comments and questions are welcome and appreciated.
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