I swim a mile every morning at a local club. For some reason, the person who was supposed to open it on a recent Friday morning never showed, leaving a parking lot full of very disgruntled people. It’s happened nearly a dozen times or so over the past year and a half, and somebody usually shows eventually, but this morning it was getting later and later. I figured I was there for exercise anyway, so I walked laps around the parking lot while waiting.At one point, somebody who worked in the adjoining medical office building showed up, and I asked if he knew how to get in touch with the people who run the club. He didn’t, but there was a number on the door for the alarm company, and we decided to try that.Believe it or not, I got a recording! It did tell me to press “1” if this was an emergency, and I did. Yep, another recording! This one told me to call two different guys and gave me their numbers. I confess I ran out of patience and didn’t bother to see if those numbers were also just recordings.On the way out of the building, I must have tripped the alarm. Twenty minutes later, a police cruiser arrived. Somehow the police were able to get a message through to the management, and the club finally opened three hours late, too late for my swim.This health club is actually part of a chain, and other members waiting with me in the parking lot had called other locations. Interestingly, they couldn’t get a hold of their own management, but the police could.As I understand it, the guy who didn’t show got fired. That has been their “solution” in the past, but it never works. As the guy in the adjoining office building said, “I’ve never seen a club that fails to open so often!” I have to agree.The problem is really a management problem because their opening process is so woefully inadequate.There’s no backup, and even worse, there’s no system to make sure people open on time. When someone doesn’t show, only the customers know there’s a problem.They can fire people forever, but the problem will never stop. When someone who is paid minimum wage oversleeps again, the parking lot is full of unhappy customers. Firing someone doesn’t help us, and it does nothing to prevent the next occurrence.
Word of mouthWith today’s technology, a real solution is so easy. People are supposed to report at 4 a.m. to get ready to open at 4:30. If the opener hasn’t punched in by 4, the system should automatically call a backup as well as the manager. Yes, the manager too — his club is in danger of opening late; he should be involved in making sure it opens on time.I can’t imagine it would take too many 4 a.m. phone calls to straighten out the problem without and — this is the key — without inconveniencing the customers!This management doesn’t seem to have any idea what these late openings are costing them. After explaining to the police officer how I might have tripped the alarm, he asked me about the club. I told him everything I could think of that was wrong with it. I doubt we will see him as a new member.This happened on a Friday. The following week, the common greeting in the locker room was, “Were you here Friday morning?” And you guessed it — the discussions usually led to other things that were wrong.That’s word of mouth — it can work for you or against you, but you can’t buy enough advertising to overcome it.What are your customers saying about you? Are they trying to alert you to things that need fixing but just can’t get through? It’s a lot more profitable to get them to talk to you than it is to force them to talk to each other and other potential customers as well.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham who has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia, can be reached at 603-898-1871, firstname.lastname@example.org or bourqueai.com.
This article appears in the February 12 2010 issue of New Hampshire Business Review