Formed in 1998 to manage four leisure facilities in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, Stevenage Leisure Limited (SLL) now works in partnership with four local authorities and three dual-use Academies, to bring people together and improve health and wellbeing across Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Rutland. The trust manages a diverse portfolio of 23 indoor and outdoor facilities, including North Herts Leisure Centre.
The centre received the highest scores for customer satisfaction in the 2019 National Benchmarking Service (NBS) Report and was the highest scoring centre overall, both of which came as a complete shock to General Manager, Robbie Di Rubbo.
“I was completely surprised when my line manager informed me of the email saying we’d won. We undertook the NBS to find out how our customers felt; I never expected us to win anything,” he says.
Located in Hertfordshire’s Letchworth Garden City, the centre has approximately 2,500 members and caters for some 2,300 children and adults in one of the largest learn-to-swim programmes in the country.
Its wide range of community services include a successful exercise referral scheme run by a full time member of staff, free use of facilities for those at retirement age on Mondays, cardiac and pulmonary rehab sessions and a new wheelchair dance class.
Di Rubbo puts the centre’s NBS success down to its philosophy of putting the customer first. “I believe leisure is all about people and that the customer comes first. If you can get your staff to believe that too, it will reflect in the service you provide,” he says.
The team works hard to engage with its customers. Examples include calling people rather than sending an email and encouraging regular customer feedback. Digital screens have been installed in the centre, allowing people to leave comments about anything they may have an opinion on. These messages are sent directly to the duty manager, who can act on them within minutes if required.
In addition, the centre has introduced a He Said, She Said, We Did board; a simple, but effective way of communicating with customers.
“Once a month, we have a team meeting to go through all the customer comments we receive and decide how we are going to respond. We then display our responses on the board. So, if a customer had asked for more kettlebells for a particular class, we leave a message on the board explaining that we’ve ordered the kettlebells and when they are due to arrive,” explains Di Rubbo.
“It lets our customers know we are listening to them. If a customer leaves their contact details, we will call to discuss their comments, but they can also post anonymous feedback if they choose.”
It’s important to display negative as well as positive comments says Di Rubbo. “Someone might complain that the changing rooms were dirty at 4pm on Wednesday. We will post this comment on the board and explain what we will do to avoid this in future. Sometimes we get it wrong, but customers appreciate that we are being open and honest with them and putting measures in place to improve the service in the future.”
Di Rubbo has a close working relationship with the local authority partner, North Herts. District Council , which he describes as very supportive. He meets his contract manager formally once a month and they speak on the phone every other day.
“We are all on the same page; we want to provide the best service for the community,” he says.
But what has contributed most to the centre’s success is the workforce, which is no doubt aided by Di Rubbo’s unpretentious management approach.
“I don’t believe in sitting in an office, I’m always walking around the centre, talking to people and staff. The first thing I do every day is say good morning to every member of staff on site – we employ 180 people here so it takes time, but I think it’s important. We are one team here – from the cleaners to the lifeguards to the café staff – there’s no sense of hierarchy. In fact, the most important person is the cleaner because cleanliness is the most important factor of a customer’s visit. We work together as a team and we have each other’s backs – and that comes across in our dealings with our customers.
“Our customers know they will be listened to and as a result they support what we do. We are not always perfect, but we do the best we can, always looking to improve every area and our customers are happy with that.”