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The other day, while visiting Columbus for a wedding, I stayed at a Marriott-Renaissance hotel. I was immediately greeted by the staff, thanked for my enrollment in their Bonvoy card, and offered a bottled water and a smile. The amenities (though I’d not planned to use them) were explained in friendly detail, as were the checkout time and directions to the nearest elevator. I pushed the elevator button moments later, smiling.

But, the big kick came when I entered my room. Of course, it was spic-and-span clean and decorated well, but the big bang was on the TV screen: “Welcome Judith Christy. We’re happy to have you here.”

Golly. I giggled — they were expecting me.

After kicking off my shoes and flopping on the comfy bed, I started thinking about my work as the marketing and communication director of a mid-size YMCA association.

How do we make people feel welcome? Really?

Sure, we train our front-line staff — we call them “member service representatives” — to live by the “10-5-1 rule”. In our business, we see it like this: When a person comes within 10 feet of a staff member, the staff member should cease their conversation to acknowledge the person. At approximately five feet, the staff member should acknowledge the person with a nod or greeting and, if the person is within one foot, a verbal greeting is imperative.

But is that really enough? And is it always done?

Unfortunately, the answer is no. Staff get busy, distracted, overwhelmed and overworked. They are folding towels, giving kids basketballs and answering the same question about the pool schedule for the 10th time that day. They may even be checking their cell phones or hearing about the latest Netflix binge from someone else.

They are human, after all. But so are our members and prospective members.

So think about it: What’s happening when you walk through the doors of your facilities? What are you seeing? What are you hearing? How are you feeling?

Many of our staff do not know me by sight. If I pop in to ride a bike or walk, I’m not wearing my corporate name tag, my heels, or in most cases, my glasses. I’m just a regular member, swiping my card and going about my business.

My personality and my training prods me into offering the greeting and acknowledgement to the staff many times before they do. But what if I didn’t? I’ve tried it takes a lot of self-restraint.

The results were mixed. Sometimes I get a head nod and a half smile, once in a while a “hello,” and a bit too often, no acknowledgement at all. Phone calls continued as did typing, talking, and dare I say, clock watching.

I was disappointed and a little irked — these folks have been trained. Maybe it was just an off day.

But what if that off day was the only day I came into the facility? Would I feel my presence was appreciated, or that I was expected? Would I feel that they were happy I was here?

Or would I be better served to give my time to the big box down the street, who, by the way, is continually offering one heck of a discount (no judgment)?

Here’s my point: I don’t expect our staff to jump across the desk and hug every person who walks through the doors we’d probably have a lawsuit. But I do expect them to smile and say hello. Offering members a cold water and a comfy bed would be a little much, but there’s nothing wrong with constantly using phrases like, “Welcome back, “Thanks for coming in today,” and “See you soon.”

There should be nothing and everything routine about this practice. In this sense, we are all part of the marketing department selling and delivering service every time to everyone.

But when they walk through our doors the first time and every time what are we doing to really make them feel welcome?

My goal is to reward them with their own delighted giggle.


Judi Christy is the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA.

Judi Christy

Judi Christy is the director of marketing and communication at the Akron Area YMCA.

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