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One of the best things you can do to deliver outstanding service is making sure your processes are identified, documented, and followed.

But there's another aspect that even the most dedicated process people often fail to recognize: that processes need to serve the customer, and, whenever possible... should actually make sense.

A recent experience will give you some insight into how this can affect your own business.

Okay, I Think We've Had Enough!

About a year ago we decided to attend a new fitness center that had just opened up near our house, about a three-minute drive from the YMCA where we had been working out for the last six years.

The new facility was closer to our home and office, but really, it was just a difference of a few minutes. The real reason we switched was that the YMCA was so poorly run that the music equipment didn't work consistently; the cardio equipment was broken more than it should have been; and the instructors were often late and seldom prepared.

These are all telltale signs, by the way, of a complete lack of process, and an even more disturbing lack of management.

So there was a great deal of excitement when we learned about the new fitness facility that was due to open in January.

We're Out of Here, Dude

So when the grand opening happened, there was a mass exodus of people from the YMCA to the new facility. This could have been prevented, by the way, since it was common knowledge for at least six months that the new facility was being built-more than enough time for the YMCA to get a handle on its organizational problems and turn them around prior to the facility's opening.

Lorie and I, of course, were among the group who switched, both of us having a notoriously low tolerance for processes that make no sense, or worse-processes that don't exist at all.

Things at the new place were going really well. That is until last month.

What's Your Sweet Spot?

People have different "sweet spots" for their activities. Some people get their best work completed first thing in the morning; others are "night owls" and have their peak productivity long after the sun has set.

As far as exercise goes, for me it's early morning-that way, no matter what else happens during the day, at least I took care of myself first. I'm frequently at the gym at 5:30 am (yes, that's 5:30 in the morning), and on Saturdays, I often take the 8:30 am spinning class.

Help! I Can't Get In!

When I arrived at the cycling room at about 8:10 am, I was surprised to see a group of about nine people standing outside the door. Normally, the door is unlocked so people can prepare their bikes, and get in a short warm-up before class actually begins.

But on this day, the door was locked, and it was explained to us that it would remain that way until ten minutes before the class started. The reason they gave was that, "We want to make sure everyone has a chance to get a bike."

Several members' attempts to clarify this new policy or get more details on why it was implemented with, "That's what I was told to do, so that's what I'm doing."

Apparently, there was some concern about members "saving" bikes for themselves or others, which prevented other members from participating in the class. While this is certainly a valid concern, there are other factors that should be considered:

• If more people are milling about outside the room when it is "officially" opened ten minutes before class, then what happens? Perhaps a mad rush once the doors open? This sounds dangerous, and is an approach that could lead to unnecessary conflict among the members.

• As an alternative, if a bike is not in use two or three minutes before class, even if "reserved" with a towel and water bottle, then the towel and water bottle get put to the side, and the bike becomes available.

• Of course, the problem with that is that for members who have to put children in the childcare room (at least one member, and one instructor have had to do this) what happens then? Because the child-care facility only opens at 8:30 am-the same time as the class starts, another process glitch, by the way.

The previous policy seemed to be working, and if the class tends to fill up, well, that's a good thing, and the logical next step would be to add a second class immediately preceding or following the current one.

And, at the very least, if there is to be a change in policy, wouldn't it be a good idea to notify members by posting it on the door or alerting them through the weekly e-mail messages?

It's worth noting that several members observed that in recent months, many of the policies were starting to feel like the old policies at the YMCA-policies that seemed to fly in the face of good customer service programs.

Members also commented that it was situations like these that caused them to leave the Y and join the new facility in the first place.

Procedures are good. Procedures that address operational problems are even better. But remember, everything comes down to the customer experience, and you must keep that experience front and center whenever you create, update, and communicate policies that will directly or indirectly impact your customers, clients, or members.

Anything less will cause them to head for the exit to look for the next new thing in hopes that they'll find greener pastures somewhere else.

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