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COLUMNS: The Business Side

Building the Trainer-Club Connection to Boost Service

Bacon, Jen M.S., guest columnist

Author Information
ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal: May/June 2013 - Volume 17 - Issue 3 - p 33-34
doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e31828cb699
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In Brief


In most health and fitness centers, there are more trainers on the payroll than any other nongroup fitness position. Trainers set the tone and energy levels for customer service in a club and influence member perceptions about the club’s overall service level. Having loyal committed trainers is important for member retention and long-term success. Despite the huge impact and value our trainers can provide, some managers purposefully keep a separation between trainers and the core mission of the club. Clubs may even view trainers more as a challenge to manage rather than as valuable contributors. It is sometimes assumed that trainers have a low commitment level to the club, and as a result, they are kept at arm’s length — a step that often succeeds in alienating them from the team’s mission. Alienation further fuels the lack of commitment, and it becomes a vicious cycle.

To break the cycle, action must be taken on the part of both club management and the trainer. Club managers should actively seek to connect with trainers and tie them to the club’s mission. This ensures that trainers feel allegiance not only to their training clients but also to their employer. Trainers should focus on fostering their connection to the club as a means to open future career opportunities and to create the optimal environment for their clients to achieve goals. Achieving this type of mutual commitment takes a purposeful plan and requires reprogramming your culture.


Create Learning Opportunities for Your Trainers

Good trainers want to learn and need to learn continually to stay in tune with the ever-growing body of research and training methodologies. If your trainers are employees, create in-house trainings, organize article shares, offer an in-house library of resources, and purchase memberships to online resources, such as “PT on the Net,” for their use. If your trainers are contractors, create regular opportunities for them to interact with and learn from each other and share with them additional industry resources and opportunities for training.

Create Opportunities for Social Connections

By and large, trainers are highly social people. Connecting with co-workers and management socially will fuel professional connections and cohesion. Some ways to accomplish this are; organize a healthy happy hour, celebrate team member birthdays with fruit instead of cake, go mini golfing, or run a 5K together.

Create Team Rally Points and Include Them

Share the club mission, vision, and goals with your trainers and make it fun! Help them connect the dots between club goals and trainer daily actions. Invite them to team-building events, include them in monthly staff meetings, and share club expectations regarding their role.

Ask for Their Input and Share the “Why”

Trainers are vocal about club policies, especially those that impact their clients. Ask for input before making decisions and explain the rationale when a decision is reached. “Because it’s our policy” is just not an adequate explanation, and it creates an “us” versus “them” atmosphere. When trainers don’t understand policies, their perceptions can leak to clients, creating a sequence of misunderstandings.

Recognize Their Accomplishments

Create a recognition system to highlight top performers (top revenue generators, most new clients, greatest revenue growth, etc.). Establish a program to thank trainers who go over and above (thank you notes go a long way) and share stories with the team to recognize trainers who are “caught in the act” of doing something wonderful.


Avoid Asking Trainers to Conduct Unpaid Sessions

Nothing undermines the value of what a trainer offers more than asking them to do it for free. Consider providing floor work opportunities during which a trainer could book complimentary PT sessions and get paid a floor rate for delivering the session. Document purchases that result from these types of sessions to establish a conversion rate that helps demonstrate the value for the trainer.


Build Solid Relationships in This Business and Think of Your Future

Chances are good that you will not be a trainer 20 years from today. Invest effort and energy in your role now to help you get to the next phase of your career. It will pay off. Never miss an opportunity to leverage your strengths and make a good impression; your connections will likely lead to your next job. This is a close-knit industry; connections are important, avoiding a burnt bridge is vital.

Contributing and Connecting Is Worth It

People who have more positive high-quality connections to others are happier and healthier. Connecting with others at the workplace is truly another attribute of health.

You Are Always “On Duty” in the Club

Members do not know when you are on the clock or on your own time. Make sure you are creating an “air of service” to all members at all times within club walls (cell phones are the antithesis of this concept!). If you cannot help a member with a need, seek out a warm transfer (facilitate an introduction) to someone who can assist them.

Talk About the Club Like You Are Part of the Club

Use “we” or “ours” not “they” when referring to club operations and policies. It is unprofessional for a trainer to speak about the club as if they are somehow a third-party entity and not part of the club. Whether you agree with a policy or not, your personal view should not filter down to a client. Seek to understand the “why” behind the club policies, ask questions, and be open minded. Often, there is a logical reason that things are as they are — even when it’s not obvious.

Put Your Energy Where It Matters

Trainers are somewhat easily caught up in things like boycotting the uniform policy or not following payroll submission or equipment cleaning procedures. Why? Isn’t it better to put your effort into something that will benefit your clients and increase your business?

Offer Solutions

Trainers have a bird’s eye view of what members need and are often confided in regarding concerns that members might not share with club management. Pass on your observations and insider knowledge to management to help improve the product. If you disagree with a club policy or decision, talk to your manager and provide an alternate solution. Advancing well-thought out recommendations will position you as a leader.

Get Involved, Be Present

“You get out what you put in” could not be a more true statement than when applied to one’s fulfillment as a professional. Show up ready to work and view each day as an opportunity.

When clubs spend time and energy building strong relationships with trainers and when trainers go the extra mile to commit to the club, simply said, members benefit. The result is a club atmosphere that draws members in and allows them the ideal setting to enjoy their workouts and reach their goals.

© 2013 American College of Sports Medicine