A number of years ago, we headed into the Canadian wilderness, young kids in tow, for some time off the grid. With life’s comforts heaped into a wobbly canoe, we left the portage store hoping nothing vital was missed in all the chaos.
After a wonderful week of sun, we packed up the canoe for a three-hour paddle in the rain — my wife at the bow, me at the stern and the kids playing under a makeshift tent in the middle.
With the main dock in sight I mentally prepped for unpacking and the long drive ahead. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t remember where I packed the car keys. To help clear things up, my oldest son popping out from under the tarp, “You left the car running on the dock.”
Upon arrival, a panicked run through the parking lot turned up nothing. My only hope hinged on staff moving the car to another lot for safekeeping.
It was an anxious 20-minute wait in the busy portage store but I was relieved to find the manager recalled my car. “We towed your car to the gas station outside of the park — about 30 minutes east.”
No, he wouldn’t drive me. No, I couldn’t use the phone — “park policy.” His advice involved a 20-minute hike to the main road and my thumb. (By the way, they towed my car 50 kilometres because they didn’t want it damaged by moving it six metres to the adjacent lot.)
I located a pay phone and tried my best to weave through a tangled web of government administration. Unfortunately, everyone had attended the same customer service training as the store manager. I was informed that park staff were not permitted to assist customers in need because they were tied up with important tasks.
As I pondered my predicament, a park truck pulled up to the store. I explained our situation and pleaded with the driver to transport me (illegally), east of the park. She said sure! (She was a summer student yet to be indoctrinated in the ways of government service.)
While driving, I asked about her demanding role. “I hand out poop bags to tourists with dogs at various trail heads. It’s pretty laid-back. On rainy days, like today, we’re supposed to make ourselves scarce.”
When we arrived at the gas station, the owner’s plea for patience was a bit concerning. I found out why when he informed me that he couldn’t release my vehicle until I settled the $350 bill to cover the tow and parking ticket.
I paid the fine and headed back to the portage store. Note: I’ve edited my departing dialogue with the portage store manager who dropped by as we packed the car and asked, “Hey folks, were you able to figure everything out?” Let’s just say my response resulted in a sizable donation to the kids’ swear jar when we got home.
There’s an important quality often overlooked in the service industry. It’s something that makes a huge difference to customers — especially in the health field where people feel vulnerable. This valuable trait can ultimately determine client commitment and overall, long-term success.
With escalating obesity rates and low industry retention rates (averaging around 50 per cent and dropping after year one), many large gyms need to figure out how to make their inexperienced customers feel more welcome.
“Just do it” campaigns, while iconic, do little to inspire millions of sedentary North Americans, slumped with channel changer in hand. It only serves to spur on the converted.
People need to feel comfortable and cared for. They need to feel empathy.
Soothing paint colours, comfortable chairs and plants won’t cut it. Inexperienced exercisers must be taken by the hand and escorted to a place of empowerment. Yes, this requires more than a one-hour orientation.
The vice-president of customer service for a large gym chain once told me their mandate was less about keeping existing members than finding new ones. (Also known in the industry as filling the bathtub without a plug.) It is not overly effective in the long run.
When touring your next fitness facility, don’t compromise your expectations — elevate them. Make sure that staff are attentive and listen. Take the time to observe the fitness staff. Ask about their personal philosophy. The answer is sometimes less important than their body language.
Whether lost in a forest of trees or a jungle of exercise equipment, an ounce of empathy from a friendly face can make or break the success of any journey.