Become a Better Business Owner by Experiencing an Employee's Role

Once a week, on Saturday mornings, I “return to my roots” and assume the responsibilities that come with managing the front end of our business.  Clients check in, make payments, schedule future training sessions, and more.  It is the definition of a customer service job, and for the first 5 years we were in business, it was my primary role.

There was a time when I knew the name of every person who came through the door, parents included.  Now that my energy is typically directed toward business development endeavors, I seem to have lost my magic touch at the front desk.  Many faces are unfamiliar to me and I’ve lost the intuition necessary to seamlessly anticipate client needs and questions.  I’m just not as good as I used to be. 

The good news is that this isn’t a problem.  I hired Stacie to be good at running the front desk, and she is.  She’s damn good at it. 

My first 5 years “out front” were spent creating and defining the role that would ultimately become the CSP Office Manager.  I now take different value away from the experience each time I sit down and start greeting clients.  Here’s a look at three ways that running the front desk at CSP just a single day each week makes me a better business owner and manager of people:

1. I manage better when empathetic to the current demands of the role

The role of Office Manager here at CSP is probably the most underappreciated and misunderstood.  It is easy to stand on the customer side of that desk and assume that the key to success is simply incessant smiling and maintaining an upbeat attitude, but you really have no idea how challenging that is until you’ve had the pleasure of enduring a 5-7 hour shift in this position. 

There are impatient parents.  There are young athletes who continuously disregard our requests for advanced scheduling.  There are those who “forgot” to let us know they needed new programming until the moment they’re due.  There are the athletes who repeatedly ask you to reprint their programs because they forgot or lost their copy.   There’s the insufferable caller who refuses to leave a voicemail and would rather hang up and redial 15 times in a 3-minute span until you answer. 

These are all issues that you could encounter during the first ten minutes of a typical front desk shift.

It is important that I periodically expose myself to this collection of unavoidable headaches so that I have an appreciation for the daily hurdles Stacie needs to get over as she does her job.  Greg Robins once told me that the definition of true leadership is being willing and able to do what you ask of others, and I think this applies to my weekly participation at the front desk. 

2. Better understanding of my staff’s soft-skills

I have 100% confidence in each of my coach’s capacity to deliver quality training advice and instruction while on the gym floor, but their ability to sell varies dramatically from one staff member to the next.  Some of my coaches find themselves at ease while explaining to an athlete that two weekly training sessions at CSP would be far more appropriate than one, while others are terrified to ask for the additional investment from a client. 

Every time I operate at the front desk I have the chance to observe these staff members in action as they engage with parents in the office.  There’s more to excelling as a coach at CSP than being the best at program design.  Those who demonstrate a capacity to articulate our training model and pricing structure prove to be especially versatile as we continue to grow our business. 

Some staff members could stand to be better at closing a sale, while others need to improve their ability to articulate assessment findings and training objectives in layman’s terms.  In any case, I am only able to assist in personal or professional development of my team if I am aware of room for improvement.  My time at the front desk affords me the chance to identify these opportunities. 

3. Engagement with customers allows me to better understand client perspective

My understanding of “the state of the CSP family” is typically guided by what Stacie chooses to tell me at any given moment.  She’s got her finger on the pulse of our business and routinely brings me in the loop as it relates to client gossip, trends she’s seeing among our clientele, and any other noteworthy happenings in and around our gym. 

The only better way for me to go about acquiring this information is to go directly to the source by chatting with clients and their parents every Saturday.  Our clients are dying to give us feedback…we just need to remember to ask for it.  Could we be open at more convenient hours?  Have any of my employees provided a distinctly memorable service experience?  Are we doing a good job of explaining our service model before, during or after an initial evaluation?

I can’t make modifications to our systems and services if I’m unaware of our client’s wishes, and the most effective way for me to identify these wishes is with face-to-face conversation.   

Entrepreneurs should never stop wearing many hats

The key to maintaining my entrepreneurial spirit is remembering that this business we’ve created actually found its identity while I was sitting at the front desk.  My understanding of our niche, the psyche of our clients, and the personality of my team is almost entirely founded in my time spent greeting clients upon arrival, and sending them on their way at the conclusion of their training sessions. 

I am not now, and never will be, above the customer service role of running our front desk.  Wile the bulk of my time is best spent creating and executing a growth and development plan for CSP, I should never stop making time for the occasional shift "out front" in order to stay in tune with the needs of our business.