Reopening your gym or fitness business may be essential to surviving the coronavirus pandemic, but knowing how to effectively communicate with your community, and navigate the wide range of opinions and comfort levels can be a real challenge.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Ready to Reopen: A Playbook for Your Small Business, “The businesses that will survive and thrive are the ones that can be flexible and adaptable to consumers' new and evolving needs. You'll need to plan carefully and understand not only what may need to change about your business, but what new growth opportunities may exist for you in a post-pandemic world.”
We’ve shared with you how offering small, or private classes could save your fitness studio as you begin to move beyond online classes, and how to start or continue to build your online fitness business.
Now it’s time to hone your customer service skills so that you and your staff are prepared to handle the inevitable situations that will arise as your business begins to reopen.
Here are our top 5 Customer Service Tips for Reopening your Gym or Fitness Studio During COVID-19:
As a fitness studio owner, your instructors and students will look to you for comfort, safety and leadership in terms of how to talk and behave. One of the most important things you can do as your studio crafts it’s reopening plan, is to practice compassion and understanding for all customer comfort levels with social distancing. You may have your own strong opinion one way or the other, but this is best kept to yourself.
When speaking with customers and staff, sending emails to your community, or in phone or in-person conversations, practice having a sentence or two that demonstrates your commitment to safety in a way that honors the different perspectives. For example, “At our studio we’re committed to everyone’s health and safety, that’s why we’ve developed strict guidelines for before, during and after each class, and are limiting the number of students per class. We understand that each of you have your own comfort level with social distancing measures. We know you may be feeling comfortable enough to have started to relax your practices at home, and outside the studio. Out of respect to the teachers and students who work out here, we ask that when you’re with us you follow the guidelines that we’ve set forth and be mindful of others’ space and practices.”
Even though you and your staff may feel comfortable with each other, practice wearing masks and staying 6 feet away from other instructors and students. This allows your students to feel comfortable doing so as well. Peer pressure in this case can save lives.
Be quick, calm and strong to correct any student who isn’t following the recommended social distancing measures. Your students might feel awkward speaking up, but it’s your job. Empower your teachers to do so as well, and let them know you stand by them and will speak to anyone who has an issue or complains about being asked to comply with your studio or public health department’s rules.
This is a time for patience and empathy. Don’t rush to encourage members to come back if they’re not ready. Do continue to reach out through emails, social media and phone calls to check in on your student base. Let them know that while you are starting to offer in-person classes again that you understand some people might not be ready. We encourage you to offer or continue to expand your online classes and programs.
Consider offering donation-based or reduced rate class passes and memberships. Chances are that your fitness business is going to be operating at a reduced capacity, with small group and hybrid classes for a while.
From the start of reopening, let your customers know that you may change your policies at any time as new health guidelines emerge, and as you track the spread of the virus in your local community. This way you head off the majority of upset if, for example, you find that you need to close down your bricks-and-mortar operations during a second surge.
Tensions can run high when people are anxious, as many of us are during this pandemic. Remember that you and your community have been cooped up for quite a while, and while there may be an eagerness to re-connect in person, many of your customers – and you – might be surprisingly nervous about stepping out again.
The best way to handle an upset, anxious or angry customer or customers is by being willing to listen. The key is to let go of your perspective needing to be the only one or the right one. It’s also extremely helpful to know that by listening, you’re not necessarily agreeing. You are simply allowing that other person to feel seen and heard.
Here’s a great way to do it: Say, “I can hear that you’re upset. Please help me to understand…” and then let them talk. You can always say, “Thank you, I get where you’re coming from, and here’s why we’re doing this or made this decision or can’t honor that request…What we can do is…”
Another way that makes a lot of sense these days is go ahead and guess what’s going on with them. For example, “Are you angry (fill in the emotion) because you’re feeling judged (fill in their “because.”)
When you have your rules and procedures for opening in writing – from how students will check in for class, and safely pay and make their way to the space, to how and where to wash hands, and who wears masks, when, - you give yourself, your staff and other students a clear, non-emotionally charged way to point them out to anyone who goes astray or asks.
Deliver these rules and guidelines in multiple ways to engender trust and help eliminate confusion. Post them on your website, email them to customers, and post them on the walls of your studio lobby, locker rooms and classrooms.
As you reopen, your teachers and trainers are going to have the same concerns that your students do. Be mindful of varying comfort levels with social distancing and in-person instruction. Your instructors’ health and wellbeing is critical to your success.
Have private conversations with each instructor. Let them know you are eager for them to come back to work, and consider offering them the option to teach online or in-person, and have several options. Some teachers may be ready and happy to teach a small, in-studio class. Others may be willing to teach a small group, but only outdoors. Others may be willing to teach, but only private lessons. And others may only want to teach online and record video classes.
Get creative with how your instructors can help you to re-build your business. Remember to practice your open-ended listening with them too.
Realize that you aren’t alone in wondering if you’re doing this right, or doing the right thing. One of the most challenging parts of living and working during the coronavirus pandemic, is that the advice keeps changing as the science evolves, and each local community is in a different place with its readiness to reopen.
As we move through these challenging times, let’s remember that we’re all in it together!