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Questions from Coaches

Coaching and customer service

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Q: As a Masters coach, how can I improve my customer service skills?

A: In order to provide high-quality customer service, first determine what the customer wants. Your customers may be your athletes, coaches, facility staff, sponsors, community partners, or volunteers. When thinking about serving your athletes, remember that most Masters swimmers want:

  • Convenience and a respect of their time
  • Access to coaching knowledge and wisdom
  • Lack of obstacles
  • Immediate fulfillment of needs
  • Meaningful experience
  • Consistency

Learning to qualify your customers’ needs will be helpful before developing your customer service philosophy. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Develop an evaluation form for your swimmers to complete annually to evaluate your performance and to make suggestions.

I recently attended a conference in Colorado Springs, Colo., sponsored by USA- Swimming. One of the speakers was John Cashion, the Corporate Director for the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. John has been with the Ritz-Carlton for 20 years, rising through the ranks from an entry-level position to general manager of a property, to his current role today in charge of customer service and cultural transformation training.

As a frequent traveler, I was especially interested in learning how the hospitality industry trains its employees to give exceptional customer service. All too often, I'm astonished at the poor customer service I receive or that I’m willing to accept mediocre service – service that only meets my expectations – and rate it as good customer service. With that in mind, what's missing from your customer service approach in a Masters coaching context?

Let's assume that there are three levels of customer service:

  1. The expected
  2. The requested
  3. The memorable

The Expected
When I check into my hotel, I expect my room to be clean and unoccupied. Recently, I checked into my hotel room, received my key card, and proceeded to my room. I noticed a large number of law enforcement officials occupying the hotel lobby. As I approached my assigned room I found a “Do Not Disturb” sign hanging from the door handle. Certainly, the maid must have forgotten to remove the sign after cleaning the room earlier in the day. As I began to insert my key into the door lock, I thought, "what if...?" I turned around, headed back to the front desk, and sure enough the room was occupied. Needless to say, my expectations were not met.

Now take that example and angle it towards swimming. What are your swimmers expecting from you? Knowing your swimmers and their expectations is the first step in giving quality customer service. Write these expectations down, review them regularly, and edit and update when necessary.

The Requested
In addition to the expected, you may have certain additional requests that require a response. I’m a light sleeper and prefer a quiet room on the top floor—with no one above me—away from the elevators and ice machines. Too often, other guests treat the halls and areas around the elevator landing as common areas for social gatherings, creating an environment that is not conducive to me getting a good night’s sleep. If I make my requests known to the hotel staff and they do not meet the requests, I view this as poor customer service.

So, again, think about what your swimmers requests might be. Are they asking you to teach them a new skill, modify their stroke technique, or organize a social gathering?

Masters coaches wear many hats; educator, motivator, entertainer, social director, friend, family member, and in many cases a psychologist—and sometimes you’re called upon to be all of these people in a single workout! How you choose to react to your swimmers’ requests determines the level of customer service you’ll be able to provide. Maintaining a positive attitude, along with a smile, when fulfilling requests ensures the most success.

The Memorable
Can you create an experience that won’t be forgotten? Over time, most of us won’t remember anything about our expected and requested experiences, but we’ll always remember something that was a delightful experience. Some time ago, my wife and I checked into a resort hotel for a short vacation. May, the front desk attendant, greeted us by name and asked us what special occasion brought us to the hotel. Having just become grandparents for the first time, I told May we were celebrating grandparenthood! Now, I’m not sure if the resort had this type of celebration listed in an employee handbook or not, but what happened next surprised me. Upon returning to our room after an afternoon at the pool, we found a tray with a delicious dessert and heartfelt handwritten note from May waiting on the desk. Next to the tray was a wrapped gift—a baby blanket for our new grandson. Quite a delightful and memorable experience that I’m sure May and the management of the Aruba Marriott Resort had no expectation that I would be sharing with the 65,000 members of USMS and the thousands of visitors to our website.

As you can see, there’s clearly a spectrum of customer service experiences available out there, and it takes a little bit of thought and consideration of your swimmers’ needs to become great at customer service. But it’s definitely something you can achieve. Go create memorable experiences for your swimmers. Greet your swimmers by name, celebrate their daily accomplishments, and be sure to invite them back. And above all else, practice kindness, exercise empathy, and most importantly, share a smile.

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Updated April 18th, 2016 at 03:36 PM by Bill Brenner