Before I co-owned a dance studio, I worked in hospitality—at trendy restaurants in France and Australia, and at sea with one of the world’s largest cruise lines. My role at these high-end establishments was to welcome customers with VIP treatment. Five-star service was our team philosophy, and in every job (and on the cruise ship in particular) it permeated every interaction, from simple handshakes to diffusing potential problems. We wanted each guest to feel as though we knew them personally and could anticipate their needs.
When I made the career change to studio ownership, I quickly realized my hospitality experience could elevate our approach to customer service. Translating the knowledge I’d gained at the cruise line into the studio environment would positively impact more families and increase our bottom line. And that’s exactly what has happened: our year-over-year retention rate is 90 percent; from last year to this year, sales increased more than 30 percent. Although my husband, Justin, is the one who choreographs for the classroom (in addition to our 12 other teachers) I’m the one who choreographs crowd-pleasing service from the lobby!
Are you ready to take your customer service “choreography” from great to exceptional? Here are 10 hospitality-industry extras certain to boost sales and increase client loyalty.
- Maître d, at your service! Take it from me: the people who work at your front desk don’t need a dance background! Look for candidates who are naturally outgoing and smile easily. They should be patient and caring, with a mind for sales and building relationships. It’s more important that they have a friendly personality than a knowledge of dance. You can train them on the latter, but not the former.
- Table for two, with a view. Make sure your studio is clean and well-lit, with a comfortable seating area (even if it’s small). Consider offering refreshments for parents, such as water, tea, or coffee. Train your front desk team to greet people with a smile, eye contact, and warmth in their voice.
- Comment allez-vous? Welcome people by name. Ask about their family, their weekend, or their pets. Reach out with a kind text, email, or phone call when they are going through a tough time (like when a family member is ill) or celebrating a special moment (like having a baby). Make them feel special—because they are!
- Order up! To understand your processes and policies—and make informed decisions—families need to have information presented to them clearly, early, and repeatedly. From the studio calendar to the class schedule, get the info out and into parents’ hands through a variety of communication channels.
- Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup! Practice your active listening skills when parents (and students) have questions or offer feedback. While they may not always be “right,” don’t dismiss their comments. They deserve respect and empathy. Earn their trust with your willingness to listen first and then offer a solution.
- Today’s specials. Offer a range of ways for students to be involved, with a variety of commitment levels. Monthly camps and weekly classes are enough for some; others want performance teams or student assistant programs. Try to meet the diverse needs of your studio community with equally diverse programming.
- Complimentary desserts. Make special moments—even those outside the studio walls—feel extra memorable by recognizing them at the studio or in your studio communications. Our “birthday wall” featuring students during their birthday week is prominently located where all can see. School achievements, like honor roll or graduation, are excellent milestones to celebrate. A student of the month program can highlight dancers who exemplify what it means to be a good friend or role model.
- Thank you, come again! Spread the studio love all season long by using appreciation to reach different client populations at different times. Send handwritten thank you cards or a thoughtful gift to your most loyal clients. Offer an encouraging text or phone call to clients who’ve been with the studio for less than a year. Give a special merchandise discount code to the clients who fly under the radar. Let everyone feel seen and loved!
- 86d and gone. In American restaurant lingo, to “86” something is to take it off the menu because it has already sold out or it is unavailable that day; it can also refer to a person who is no longer welcome on the premises. So if there is a class or program that isn’t serving your clients’ needs, it’s time to stop pouring resources into it and focus that time, energy, and people-power somewhere else. Ditto for clients who aren’t the right fit for your studio—it’s OK to let them go.
- Make them shout “encore!” It sounds cliché but it’s true: the extra mile is always worth it when it comes to customer service. Exceed expectations and reap the reward of parents and students who love your studio as a second home. Their satisfactory experience can easily turn into more referrals and positive reviews.
Hospitality and dance may seem like two different industries, but I’ve learned they have so much in common—and their biggest commonality is the priority to make people feel good. Bring more hospitality into your customer service and your clients won’t stop smiling. Bon appétit!