by Ed Shanaphy, USPTA, PTR
When I started in marketing and advertising at the tender age of 22 in London, England, I kept hearing the term “The Back End.” In the days which will be known as P.A. (Pre-Amazon), the “back end” referred to the fulfillment side of any direct marketing business. Taking or receiving the order, applying that order to the correct advertising outlet, picking and packing the order, slipping in additional up-sells, whether on the telephone or in the outgoing shipment, and then following up the order with great customer service… this was “the back end.” Seems simple, but I spent more than 50 percent of my time working on the back end. I’m a marketing guy – I love the print ads, the outgoing emails and catalogs, the creation of radio and television spots. I didn’t like the back end, but it took most of my time. It does for any excellent Director of Tennis or Fitness too.
How many times have I heard the expression: “You just chase fuzzy yellow balls around the court all day.” This is the viewpoint most have of tennis professionals. I wish it were that easy.
Slowly, the club world is getting smarter. They are realizing they are indeed a business that has to show profit in all divisions, whether it be tennis, fitness, golf or food and beverage. I advise all the clubs we work with to put in a limit to the number of hours a Director of Tennis or Fitness should be on the court or gym floor. Why? Because the back end takes more and more time as you produce a better and better product. Amazon changed the “Back End” to “Cascading Fulfillment” – which was that software would go through the closest warehouses to the customer and assign the pick and pack at the first warehouse that had inventory. Interesting to note that I now see Amazon with its own delivery trucks – they too are always enhancing the back end.
The back end starts with the order. Your marketing strategies have worked and you have a member that wants to book a clinic, a lesson, a personal training hour, or a yoga class. Great! Now make that as easy as possible. Members see different avenues to bookings. Older members like the paper signups on the wall or bulletin board. My age group (40s and 50s) seems to like computer-based software. The younger generation wants to simply text their order and let us deal with it. All are possible and offering many different ways to booking an hour or a group instruction session enhances the ordering experience. Think about this, you can still mail an order to Vineyard Vines, you can call with your order or you can email directly off the website. Three different ways to order. No one way is the best way in tennis or fitness either.
I’ve worked at clubs where all bookings had to go through the front desk. What a slow, sloggy and sloppy way to deal with members. A lot of times, the front desk is too busy to take 100 percent of the bookings in a meaningful way. They are not sure of the intent of the member given they probably only have a few seconds to deal with the booking. Lighten that front desk staff’s load and let members order online or by text. Let the professionals, either on the court or on the floor, have access to the books and use their phones right on the floor or court. When you go to an AT&T store, the advisor walks around with you and books your order right on an IPAD. We should be doing the same at country clubs whether it’s for a tennis lesson, a Pilates class, or even a food order in the restaurant.
Perhaps the best opportunity to upsell another session is right after that member has enjoyed the session and wants more. In fact, if your trainers or pros are independent contractors, they really have to control their own books 100 percent of the time. So they should have access to the booking software system at all times, from anywhere. Yes from anywhere, because a member may text that pro while the pro is at dinner asking for a lesson the next day. Don’t miss that revenue stream.
Software is only as good as the people using it. Ensure that all staff understand the club’s booking and billing software thoroughly. There is no longer a position known as just a “teaching pro”. All teaching pros and fitness instructors are actually club ambassadors, always looking to enhance the member experience. Most teaching pros are independent contractors, and under that status, have to indeed complete their own billing at all times. If the Club does the billing for the pro or fitness instructor, the classification of that worker just became an employee.
Software can be progressive. If the database in your tennis software is up to date with cell phones, why not download that member database to a google voice account and add texting as one of your communication streams. We advise to confirm every lesson, every clinic and every tournament via text. Great way to limit any questions later on about billing.
Reserving courts was often a rush to the phone at 7am the day before where a member of staff was taking the calls on one line. With software, 16 courts can be booked within 30 seconds and members can see the courts being populated as they put in their own reservation. How truly transparent is that? No one can complain they didn’t have an opportunity or were a victim of favoritism by the front desk staff. It is, in fact, “Cascading Fulfillment” which seeks the next available stock item – in this case, a tennis court. If you have your software right and you know which professionals are available, you can cascade fulfill your instructors as well! “Joe is not available for a lesson, but Joanne is if that would work for you…”
Upsells and Customer Service
In the marketing industry, this is when we have the customer on the phone line and say: Would you like a second item and receive free shipping and handling? Why don’t we do more of this in the tennis and fitness industry? Why not, after a clinic try this: “Did you like your clinic? Well book the next three clinics for 20% off right now on court.” Or, would you like to combine a healthy lunch at the Clubhouse with your personal training session today? The revenue streams and combinations are endless – but we seem content to sit back and let the members come to us. This isn’t helping the member and it isn’t helping the bottom line, either.
Excellent customer service comes with follow-ups. Follow up emails to the member perhaps outlining the exercises they completed during their personal training session that day, or reviewing the grip change you made halfway through the tennis lesson on their volley. Reinforcement creates progression and change, and it’s not an easy battle to get a western grip volley to a continental grip! But during this follow-up process, you’ll be amazed at how many bookings you might take during a follow up phone call or email.
Thank your member for taking the clinic or the lesson and then thank them again at the end of the year or season. Take the time to introduce them to the new staff and watch the bookings come in. It’s all about the back end. No matter how well you can hit a ball or how fast you can run a mile, you’ll find that the back end brings in more revenue than any other factor within a club’s department.
Ed Shanaphy is Director of Tennis at Sippican Tennis Club in Marion, MA and a USPTA teaching professional who constantly realizes that his marketing is better than his backhand. He is President of SBW Associates, a leading consulting service in the country club industry.