When was the last time you left a restaurant or hotel feeling more at ease and content than when you arrived? Where you found yourself telling your wife, coworkers, and complete strangers about this amazing meal or hotel stay. What made the experience so memorable?
Sure, I imagine the food, service and atmosphere were all above par or special in some way. And the company was pleasant too. But that wasn’t what did it for you.
Time and again, what we find is that the meals and experiences that resonate the most with us share one thing in common – that they had something unexpected. Think back: whether it was that surprise ingredient or a friendly greeting; a gift given for no reason; or a touching detail, thoughtfully attended to beyond what was necessary – those are the things that you find when you peel back the layers of a pleasurable experience.
Too much time is squandered in our industry placating the bean counter within us with seemingly intangible virtues of being generous beyond the sharp lines we see of what’s expected or necessary. We dissect operations in pursuit of optimal efficiency and highest profit yield rather than the highest pleasure yield for our gymnasts and parents. Much of the gymnastics industry (sadly including USAG) strategy has become number-driven. It has lost the essence of hospitality — the whole purpose behind the business. And in so doing, the thing that would most drive loyalty and long-term financial victories is dismissed as an idealistic fantasy.
I am a BUY LOCAL guy but let’s take a look at Starbucks.
When artist Phil Hansen was searching for a new art medium, he walked up to the counter at Starbucks and asked for fifty cups. Rather than turn him away or limit him to one cup, the barista simply handed over fifty empty cups.
Those cups cost money. But the guest requested them. So what did Starbucks get out of this generosity?
These cups and their origin story of true hospitality were seen by the audience of Phil Hansen’s “Embrace the Shake” TED talk along with over 650,000 viewers between TED.com and YouTube. That’s a lot of publicity for the cost of a few cups.
Starbucks could have said no. They wouldn’t have lost anything by saying no and would have even been justified – they’re a coffee shop, not an art supply store after all – but that’s not who they are. They believe in going above and beyond for each one of their guests and that is why there will always be a stream of stories flowing in about how amazing Starbucks is.
Show me a company that has been a game-changer in any industry and I will show you a company that was once led by an idealist, one who was considered unreasonable in his/her quest to do something amazing. History sees them quite differently AFTER they’ve achieved their success than how their boards and investors saw them in those early days.
There are the big examples like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, or Richard Branson, who put the guests’ needs and experiences above anything else. In the fast food industry there are examples like Ray Kroc of McDonald’s, it was his unbending fanaticism with instilling consistency and cleanliness in his restaurants. Dave Thomas of Wendy’s, it was his insistence on using fresh, never frozen beef. Howard Schultz of Starbucks, it was his dedication to creating a safe and happy work environment for his employees who, in turn, provide better service to the guests. Can you imagine being in the board room with one of these guys proposing to spend extra money on organic produce? In the board room it often doesn’t make financial sense to make sure your employees are happy or that your clients leave feeling not good but GREAT. It doesn’t make business sense. But then, what would those brands be without it?
That same sort of conviction and passion can AND SHOULD be just as present throughout the gymnastics industry. Starting at the TOP and spreading through each region, state and individual club or organization.
Think Magic, Not Marketing
Marketing is often associated with principles of economics, the dreaded marketing P’s diagrams, and advertising people proclaiming some new scientific black box contraption that – if you pour money into it – will grant you increased sales and brand awareness. The reality, though, is that the best gymnastics marketing has more to do with magic than advertising. And I don’t mean magic like the magician who uses sleight of hand and trickery. I mean it from the point of view of the spectator, who desires to be enchanted and transported, to have their disbelief suspended, to feel a childlike sense of wonder and excitement again!
When was the last time a parent/client left your gym looking that happy? In fact, when was the last time you even had a one hour meeting to discuss how to make your clients this happy?
It’s not a mystery.
Give Them Something Extra
Do something unexpected. Something more than was necessary. With your clients and your employees. Surprise them. Delight them. Generosity is the glue of hospitality! Bring in donuts! Bring in a Box of Coffee. Get some umbrellas made with your gym logo and hand them out on the day of an unexpected rainstorm. A dollar less on an class or a dollar more per hour on a paycheck doesn’t go nearly as far as the act of exceeding expectations. Being cheaper or paying better than the competition is just one of many tactical approaches to this strategy of doing more than was expected, but it’s the most expensive and least effective of all of the choices.
Getting your Inner Accountant/ Bean Counters On Board
I do stand up comedy. Every audience has its heckler and in every crowd gathered to watch a magician, there is someone looking for the hidden strings and trapdoors. In marketing planning, this person is usually YOU. You view it as your job to do this, but in reaching for that bottom line, it’s important not to dig yourself into a hole.
Your gymnastics club isn’t four walls and a coach. Your clients aren’t looking at your gym as a service rendered: it’s a home away from home. It’s an experience they’re looking for and that’s why the bare minimum doesn’t cut it.
The point I want to make is that, as the owner, your job is to be the most unshakably determined force in your gym. You must be fixated on infusing the magic back into your clients experience.
Call a meeting with everyone in your gym. Not in a conference room or office, but in your gym. Look at your operations through the lens of the parents and the kids. Sit in your waiting room and look at at the gym to get the parents perspective. Spend one hour discussing how to add some more magic to the experience for your clients and your staff. It’s time well spent. The extras you give that go above and beyond what was expected isn’t a cost but an investment, and what you will find is that your clients and your staff will do all they can to surprise you in unexpected and meaningful ways too that you never could have anticipated.