Whether you are a swim school or a community recreation program, the learn-to-swim market is a competitive business, plain and simple.

One its own, recruiting new customers and retaining existing ones presents a difficult challenge – let alone fighting against your competition. While new programs, innovative marketing strategies, and competitive pricing count as important factors, one simple element can make or break your learn-to-swim program: customer service.

As simple as it sounds, the customer experience plays a huge role in customer retention, so aquatics facilities must excel in this regard.

Here are four tips for successful customer service in the learn to swim world:

1. Remember: It starts as soon as the customer walks in the door.

A customer’s experience begins the moment they enter your facility. Whether you are teaching in a small pool or a large aquatics center, your customer should feel welcome immediately. The visit starts out on a good foot with a simple greeting, exchange of pleasantries, and a check to make sure they know where to go and how to get there. For new customers, this is an extremely important step. A new customer likely doesn’t know your established procedures, where your locker room or changing facilities are, and where to meet the instructor. For returning customers, a friendly welcome is a simple reminder that you appreciate their business.

2. During the lesson, engage the parents in three stages.

It is easy to think the customer service piece is done after a customer is greeted at the door. However, the customer experience isn’t over by a long shot.

During learn-to-swim, the parent experience should receive as much attention as the child’s. This should occur in three stages. First, the instructor or another staff member should greet the parents at the beginning of the lesson. A short welcome and brief explanation of the lesson’s objectives assure the parents you are prepared for their child.

Next, parents should be provided a space to watch the lesson. This can be difficult in small facilities, especially if parents become a distraction to the instruction. However, it is important to provide parents with a clean, comfortable and inviting atmosphere to the best of your abilities. You can offer parents other ways of occupying their time during lessons, as well. If the facility has a fitness center or other wellness features, open these up to parents during the lesson. This may kill two birds with one stone, allowing the parent to complete their workout while their child is learning to swim. This can also be an excellent time to provide parents with important water safety information.

Lastly, the most important customer service engagement comes at the end of the lesson. The instructor should take a few moments to speak with each of the parents and inform them of their child’s progress. This is why they are paying you, and it is your time to shine. Providing parents with a brief overview of their child’s progress shows you care about their child, are tracking their performance, and want them to succeed.

3. Understand that people will talk about you.

It is something we hear all the time with department stores, airlines, and restaurants: If someone had a great customer-service experience, they may tell you about it; but if they had a bad experience they absolutely tell you about it.

Word of mouth is an uncontrollable variable and has the potential to help or harm your business. You may think it’s not the same as an airline rant you read online from an angry customer or someone writing a negative restaurant review on Yelp. Unfortunately, it may be worse, because parents talk to each other all the time. Watching sport practices, play dates, and school events, are just a few places parents will meet and converse. Parents also trust other parents, so what they hear is more likely to have an effect versus a short rant online from a stranger. If one parent has a bad experience at your program, they will tell others.

Good customer service is a means of preventing this from happening. If you respect your customers, they will likely respect you. Positive word of mouth PR is great for a program, bad word of mouth PR is a program killer, especially with parents.

4. Engage every member of your team.

One key element to a successful customer service plan is having your staff buy into it. Your staff is the face of your programs and facility, and you are only as strong as your weakest link. Everyone must buy into the customer service plan and remember that they have a role in its success. One bad apple spoils the bunch. Rewarding employees for excellent customer service is an absolute must!

While this same topic may be applicable to every business category, it is especially important in the learn-to-swim world. Parents have so many options for their children’s activities, so it becomes tougher every year to get and keep their business. Implementing the recommendations above will help separate your business from the rest.

Remember: Customer service may be a simple concept, but it is one of the most important aspects to a successful business.