// Broken windows broken business

by Kevin Dwyer

When Rudolph Giuliani became Mayor of New York CIty in 1994 he worked with his police commissioner to implement a ‘zero tolerance’ broken windows policy. Graffiti was promptly cleaned up. Turnstile jumping wasn’t tolerated. Laws against petty crimes were enforced. Over the following few years, the number of murders, assaults, robberies and other violent crimes declined by approximately 50 per cent.
The policy was inspired by a 1982 article titled ‘Broken windows’ by criminologists James wilson and george Kelling.

Wilson and Kelling suggested that when laws against minor crimes, such as graffiti, vandalism and turnstile jumping are enforced, major crime rates will decline. They drew an analogy with a warehouse that has a broken window which is not repaired. Pretty soon elements of the local population think the owners don’t care about their property and for a bit of fun throw rocks at other windows to get some destructive pleasure. If these windows are not repaired, the whole neighbourhood starts to believe that a state of disrepair is normal.

Michael levine’s book Broken Windows, Broken Business draws an analogy between the broken windows one might see in a warehouse in a rundown neighbourhood and the seemingly minor things which are broken in a failing business. he draws on the same theories of human behaviour that Wilson and Kelling did.

Levine postulates that when staff fail to pay attention to the details of the provision of customer service and the image presented by a business, the whole of the business begins to accept ‘broken windows’ as the norm.

Of course, in a competitive environment customers do not accept ‘broken windows’. so, what does this mean for your club?

Customer concern
The first, and most important, element of providing service that a customer of your gym will remember and perceive as being a positive experience is the level of concern shown by your staff.

How do your staff show concern for your customers? here is a non-exhaustive list of how staff can show customers concern and avoid broken windows:

• greet customers as they arrive rather than talking to a colleague about their weekend
• acknowledge customers, even when they are busy, by making eye contact
• remember regulars by name
• scan the gym to be alert for customers working out who may need help even though they have not requested it
• be clear about contracts and setting customers’ expectations
• be helpful rather than ‘on-the-sell’ when they interact with customers.

The second most important element in providing service is to provide a congenial atmosphere. a congenial atmosphere is one in which your customers feel comfortable. broken windows can be avoided in providing a congenial atmosphere in your gym by, but not limited to, the following:

• equipment being clean and well maintained in working order – an ‘out of service’ sign does not cut it
• spas and pools being obviously clean and the water being clear
• the temperature of the pool and the air conditioning must suit your target market’s preferences, not your energy bill requirements or staff preferences
• weights being where they should be
• music, if it is played, has to suit your target market not your staff
• the gym area must be free of drink cups and other litter. if a customer leaves litter behind then staff should immediately clean it up
• the gym area must be clean from dust and moist areas free of mould or visible signs of rust
• customer behaviour must be monitored to ensure that one group of customers does not alienate other customers
• staff being groomed in a way that members find welcoming. if you want to attract ageing punk rockers to your gym, have your staff dress with facial piercings and gravity-defying haircuts. if you are trying to attract the before and after business crowd, set a more conservative standard for grooming.

The last, but still important, element that influences customers’ perception of service is civility. civility is not only what people say, but how they say it. ‘how’ comes in three parts; the tone and pace of voice and body language.
broken windows in a gym environment, in terms of civility, would include;

• slouching
• speaking in incomplete sentences
• using slang and ocker expressions – ‘no worries’, ‘she’ll be right’, ‘g’day mate’ are friendly, but not professional
• fiddling and fidgeting while allegedly listening to a customer
• saying ‘have a good day’ or other such parting comment in a tone that indicates it is not a genuine wish but a management requirement
• speaking in a curt tone
• mismatching the pace of voice with that of a customer, e.g., speaking fast when the customer is speaking slowly.

Moments of truth
To know whether you have broken windows in your business, map the ‘moments of truth’. Moments of truth are those experiences which afford your members the opportunity to form a lasting impression of your business and professionalism, and include things such as interactions with your staff, use of equipment, advertising, change rooms, billing and contracts.

Map these moments first to understand what processes actually go on and then use customer and staff focus groups or surveys to find out what people think and feel about each specific moment as it exists. Then ask them how they would like the experience to be.

When you have gathered this feedback, go about changing the experience for customers one moment at a time. In times of economic uncertainty it will pay to fix your broken windows and avoid a broken business.


Kevin Dwyer
Kevin is the founder of Change Factory, a change management consulting firm specialising in customer service and the hospitality industry. Change Factory helps organisations change the behaviour of their people towards providing customer service. For more information on leadership, people management and change management,visit www.changefactory.com.au