For 13 years, I lived in a gym.
I ran the largest kickboxing studio’s in Northern Ontario and I was, well, damn good at it.
I thought I knew everything.
I had taken it from a dozen students a class, to hitting 80 a class on a regular and consistent basis. I had expanded 4 times and was growing year over year over year.
Even when I decided I had enough and sold the company and it nearly fell apart with the new owner (It went from 495 monthly paying clients to 92 in 7 months!), I came to the rescue and in a year brought it back to over 400.
I know that industry like the back of my hand. I knew who the real competition was (no, it’s not other gyms, it’s not other sports, and it’s definitely not some big corporation everyone’s always crying about!).
I knew the real needs of the clients (and no, it’s not just to lose weight and tone up!).
And I knew how to keep those clients coming year after year. (Fitness has high turn over? Perhaps more than most businesses, but we had far less!)
The point is, I was great at it, and I’m humble about it 😉
Despite that, I made some major mistakes. And now that I’m “out of that business” I see those mistakes clear as day. Yet I still remember being in the business and thinking everything was fine.
Along the way, I learned many lessons, but there’s one very powerful lesson that’s stuck with me and that I apply in nearly every other business I work with. This lesson is the ability to TRAIN your clients.
I call it “Managing Expectations“.
Don’t ever be fooled, it’s is absolutely possible to train your clients and have them do just about anything you want – assume you’re meeting their needs and your method is ethical and orchestrated to serve THEM better (not yourself!)
Let me explain…
Going back to my kickboxing studio. We regularly had classes of 80 people in it, yet only had 45 heavy bags which meant that they always went two per bag, and sometimes even three.
Now, like most businesses, there were slow times and busy times. Our 4pm classes were usually much smaller, only 20 students or so, which meant that often students could go 1 per bag. Now if that student only ever went to that class, and then suddenly showed up at 6pm and had to go 2, or even 3 per bag, they’d get all annoyed and feel entitled to go on their own bag.
That’s because this student needed to be trained. They needed to be taught what’s appropriate, what to expect, and how it works.
They didn’t make a mistake, they aren’t wrong, they aren’t a bad client, they just aren’t trained.
The solution? We started enforcing 2 per bag in every class, no matter what. At first, it didn’t make sense, and a few complained about it because there was so much extra room. But the result was exactly as expected! From that moment on, no one ever complained about going 2 or 3 per bag, because they were now all trained.
Our beginner classes, where new people would go for the first time, was always full – and that’s exactly how we wanted it. When a brand new prospect comes in, it provides us with the opportunity to train them right out of the gate, and avoid any feeling of entitlement of a bag all to their own.
Of course, training doesn’t just stop here.
Another big pain point for some at the studio was the music. Listen, when you have 100 people in a class from all walks of life you CAN’T please everyone’s musical taste. Some are going to love the tunes, some are going to hate it.
We saw the challenge of satisfying everyone early on, and put means in place (i.e. training them!) to avoid even a chance of a music debate. For example, we created the playlist and the coaches had to use these playlist and couldn’t bring their own. We also explained that the music is based on it’s intensity, it’s beat, NOT how good the song is to dance to. And we talked about how if you’re truly going “all out”, you don’t have time to sing alone. And finally, we had numerous “NO WHINING” signs displayed 🙂
In nearly every area of your business, from your hours, fees and style, training your clients comes in very handy.
A few more “real world” examples of managing expectations and training your clients:
- If you have a client placing an order and it’s going to take 10 days to deliver, tell them it’ll take 12. They expect 12, and when it’s delivered in 10, you’ve exceeded their expectations and left them feeling wonderful.
- If you’ve always priced your services a certain way, you’re not locked there forever. You CAN change them. And over the next few months your clients will get “re-trained” to the new prices.
- If you know you’re construction crew needs to make a bit of a mess in a certain room during renos, walk your client through exactly what’s going to happen, and how great you’ll clean everything up after. Be up front.
- If you’re in retail and there’s a line forming at the cash, make an effort to look up at each new customer that joins the line, give them a quick smile of acknowledgement and, if possible, give a quick apology for the line and “we’ll be with you in a moment!”. Is this excessive? Probably. Does it make a difference? Absolutely.
Here’s the point: Don’t leave expectations to chance. The slightest forethought into the experience of the client will go a LONG way towards the happiness of your tribe.
Always remember, you’re not a doormat. Clients sometimes have this sense of entitlement, like you should be at your beck and call, and that’s simply not the case. BUT, “butting heads” with them isn’t the solution either. How you say things, how you set up expectations, how you manage the user experience and how you deliver on your promises all play a major roll.
It’s always better to under-promise and over-deliver.
Take a look into your business… Where are areas that clients are getting frustrated, or that you’re feeling like they are running the show? How can you manage those expectations? How can you establish boundaries? How can you create a better balance between client demands and delivery?
One last take-away… If you regularly let clients walk all over you, by letting them you’ve essentially trained them to do just that.
As the old saying goes “I’ll bend over backwards for my clients, but never forward!”.
To your success,