Many operators could be driving away potential new members as a result of not handling telephone enquiries properly or simply not answering the phone, according to a national survey by customer insight specialist, Leisure-net Solutions.
The findings from Leisure-net’s latest National call-Focus™ Survey, which tests and scores all aspects of a telephone membership enquiry against industry standards, revealed that the national average score is down by 8 per cent this year, making it the worst score in the survey’s five year history.
Mike Hill, Leisure-net’s Managing Director, said: “We set up the National call-Focus™ Survey in 2007 as a way of helping operators gauge the success of their telephone enquiry handling. Learning what we’re doing right and wrong in the telephone element of our service and how we can do it better is crucial to business success.
“This year’s survey results are certainly disappointing, and as sample sizes and mixes were very comparable to previous surveys it’s reasonable to assume we’ve actually got worse as an industry in answering membership enquiries by phone. The reasons for this drop in performance are likely to be varied, for example, staff reductions in terms of reception cover due to cost cutting, lack of good quality customer care training, and more enquiries coming in by email and via an operator’s website so perhaps less focus on the reception/telephone.”
More than a quarter of all enquiries could be lost at the initial call answering stage because the phone isn’t answered in time, in a professional manner or because the call isn’t passed on to a person trained to handle the enquiry, according to the survey. And half of potential sales could be lost because staff are not asking whether enquirers would like to tour the facilities.
The survey tests and scores all aspects of a telephone membership enquiry against industry standards. All calls are digitally recorded and then sent to the operators concerned. This year more than 70 sites were rung three times over a seven day period by the company’s experienced mystery callers.
According to the survey, the gap between the performance of the private and public sector is widening with the private sector answering calls significantly quicker on a regular basis than the management contractors and leisure trusts. “From the survey results overall, it appears that the private chains are getting relatively better at both processes and systems and trying to build greater rapport on the phone than the trust or management contractors. Their product knowledge is also greater and more detailed,” said Mike Hill.
The survey did find that public sector sites often scored relatively lower in telephone surveys than actual visits, as their telephone and reception operations cannot be as focused or specialised as their private sector competitors. However, according to Mike, physical limitations aside, there is still a huge difference between the operators in terms of putting good staff into place with excellent systems and procedures, support and training – aspects that don’t cost a lot of money, simply time and effort, but do make a massive difference to front line sales.
However, there are many not-for-profits tackling the problem. Karen Burrell, Head of Sales and Marketing, Freedom Leisure, explained: “The speed of phone answering continues to be an issue, and is mainly down to the number of customers visiting the centres that receptionists have to deal with. They are more likely to serve the person standing at the counter than answer a ringing phone and this is always a difficult one to balance.
“We regularly measure the speed of phone answering though external and internal research to ensure that standards are being met. To help us achieve expected standards we have introduced online bookings for classes and courts and have also begun to trial self service kiosks to enable customers to book in for activities on arrival, without having to go to reception. We are also driving more traffic to our website for general enquiries about the centres.”