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Elegant Simplicity to Enhance the Member Experience

Bacon, Jennifer L. M.S.

doi: 10.1249/FIT.0000000000000321
Columns: Business Edge

Jennifer L. Bacon, M.S.,has 18 years of experience in the health and fitness industry in the commercial, corporate, and community settings. Her education includes a B.S. in Natural Science and Mathematics from Muhlenberg College and an M.S. in Applied Anatomy and Physiology from Boston University. Jen’s had the benefit of experiencing the industry from several vantage points as a trainer, program manager, general manager, human resources director, and in several corporate leadership roles. Her areas of focus include project management and team engagement. She is currently leading the fitness line of service for Premise Health as the Assistant Vice President, Fitness.

Disclosure:The author declares no conflict of interest and does not have any financial disclosures.

It can be a challenge to provide programs and services to your members that are simple without being too simplistic and lacking real value. On the other hand, it can be a challenge to provide programs and services that are thorough without being complex and overly cumbersome. Are there ways to improve your member experience by evaluating where more simplicity is needed and alternatively where a more thorough approach could be valuable? Finding balance between simple and thorough will help you to create an elegantly simple member experience.

Let’s consider several areas of the member experience where a few tweaks might be worthwhile.

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A simple onboarding process for new members makes sense. We don’t want to put barriers in front of our potential participants and risk losing them in the enrollment process because there are too many steps. It is better to get the new member enrolled and started with exercise. However, oversimplification of the enrollment process has the potential to underserve your customer and miss an opportunity to help and engage your new member.

I’ve joined or visited countless fitness centers in my lifetime. Some of them had very good sales processes where we sat down to discuss my goals and talked about my exercise needs and interests. The service before the sale (before I laid down my credit card) was good, even great in many cases. In general, once I agreed to sign up, the enrollment process was simple; fill out these forms, submit your payment, and go. Most of the time, no one offered to help me once I had paid; no introductions to the staff, no orientation, no explanation of what to do next, and no recognizable attempt at customer service after the sale. Yes, it was a simple enrollment process with no barriers, but it lacked an experience that made me feel something and drew me in as a new customer. The key is to be able to get the member started quickly while creating opportunities for staff engagement and interaction points. This will ensure that the new member feels welcomed and supported. Here are some ways to elevate the simplicity of your enrollment process by creating a more customer-centric experience:

  • Make introductions. Walk around the facility and introduce the newly minted member to staff who are on shift. Simple introductions to the team will allow the member to feel more confident in identifying the staff members who can help out when they need it.
  • Impromptu triage session. At the time when the member completes his/her paperwork and joins, have a fitness professional sit down with him/her on the spot for a 5- to 10-minute interactive triage session. This triage session creates an opportunity to get to know the member, discuss his/her goals, and share how the fitness team can support him/her. The goal of this brief interaction would be to point the member toward resources and services that would best address his/her needs. The next step is to schedule a follow-up appointment based on those needs. Perhaps it’s a simple equipment orientation, exercise prescription, fitness assessment, nutrition consultation, or any other complimentary appointment that you offer.
  • General facility orientation. Provide a brief orientation to the facility to make the member feel more comfortable. Provide simple information such as how to sign up for a class, where to get a towel, what services are available, and where to find them now that they are onboard. Think of this orientation like welcoming a guest into your home. Show them around and let them know where to find everything they need to feel relaxed and at ease in your space. It’s ideal if you can provide the orientation in a one-on-one setting just after the member completes the process, but depending on your staffing structure, you may want to provide group orientations as an alternative. This may seem like such a simple concept but I can tell you that most of the centers I’ve visited do not do this as a regular practice.
  • New member appointment. Offer an opt-out new member appointment. I’m such a proponent of an opt-out process. Making things mandatory can be off putting (i.e., you are not a member until you have your mandatory new member orientation), but making something seem like the next natural step in the process is easy and highly service oriented. You might say something like, “Congratulations and welcome to our center. You are now a member with full privileges and can use the facility anytime. The next step is to meet with a fitness professional to discuss how to enhance your ability to reach your fitness and health goals. When are you planning to come in next so we can schedule that appointment?” With a statement like this, 90% of the time, the new member will open up his/her calendar and schedule an appointment. Ten percent of the time they won’t and may say, “Is this appointment mandatory?” You can then share that it’s not mandatory, but it is a really worthwhile opportunity and members who participate seem to get a lot more value out of their membership. This approach is elegant and simple and maintains momentum with your new member by incorporating more engagement opportunities.

Regarding the title of this new member appointment, you might try exercise consultation or a similar name that suggests they will get advice and benefit no matter their level of experience with exercise. I would not recommend calling it complimentary personal training. For many people, a complimentary personal training appointment is a vehicle for a sales pitch for personal training. We certainly can sell personal training if appropriate, but most people who know they do not want a trainer will say no to scheduling an appointment described as a complimentary personal training session. The other title to avoid is an orientation or first workout. These names seem to be geared toward a novice exerciser and may cause your experienced exercisers to steer clear. With our goal of getting every member to schedule an appointment, the appointment name should have broad appeal and the appointment itself should be about engagement, not about selling.

  • Personalized email outreach. Have a manager call or send a personal email to the new member. Welcome them, offer to answer questions, ask how their experience has been so far, and invite them to take part in a class, program, or one-on-one appointment.

Each time we engineer a member-staff interaction, even when it’s simple and brief, we are creating engagement opportunities or touch points. Aim to create as many positive engagement opportunities as possible over the course of your onboarding process.

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When conducting a one-on-one appointment with a member, being thorough is important but perhaps not in the way that one might expect. If I asked one of the fitness professionals at your club how to do a thorough member one-on-one, my guess is that they would say something like, “You first collect a full exercise and health history with fitness and movement assessments followed by writing a comprehensive program that addresses the needs/goals of the member related to cardio, strength, balance, stability, and flexibility.” There is no doubt that this kind of process is thorough but perhaps it’s thorough in the wrong way. Member one-on-ones need to be focused on “really” listening to the member and drawing out what he/she is ready to do, what he/she wants to do, and what will make him/her feel successful. Sometimes the most well-engineered exercise prescription fails because instead of figuring out what the member wants to do, we tell him/her what he/she needs to do. Be thorough in the way that you ask your member open-ended questions; be thorough in the way that you draw him/her toward identifying his/her own plan; be thorough in your ability to help him/her identify an intention for his/her exercise endeavors. Develop your listening skills so you can meet the member where he/she is with just the amount of support he/she needs to succeed.

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Motivational programs for our members are a great way to keep our active members exercising. They help the member avert boredom, add a fun element, and lots of opportunity for staff-to-member interactions. It is critical that your programs remain simple for the member to understand and simple for him/her to participate in. The tried and true programs usually focus on miles traveled, minutes exercised, classes attended, visits accumulated, or weight or inches lost. It’s OK to stick to the basics. In some cases, fitness professionals allow their own boredom to lead them to create increasingly complex motivational programs. If it takes you several minutes to explain to a member all the ways that points can be accumulated in the program, then you definitely have overengineered it. We used to say that the program explanation had to be like a 30-second elevator speech to keep someone’s attention, but today’s attention span only allows for about 8 seconds. If we cannot convey what the program entails in 8 seconds (FYI, that’s shorter than a goldfish’s attention span), we will lose many of our potential participants. Introduce elegant simplicity by keeping the program mechanics simple but creating program themes and marketing that feels fresh and current. Link programs to current trends (mindfulness, obstacle course fitness, sitting less/posture, sleep, recovery, etc.) and use themes that may attract subsets of your members (new moms, new members, seniors, runners, busy professionals, weekend warriors, etc.) versus just a general audience. Could your annual Walktober club program become a Mindful Movement Club for moms with a mindfulness moment before and after the walk? Could your circuit training class become an obstacle course fitness class for weekend warriors? Move on from Maintain Don’t Gain, Fall into Fitness, and Wellness Wednesday and introduce some freshly packaged concepts with targeted participants but keep it simple on the mechanics.

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How do you structure retention programming at your fitness center? Member retention can be an extremely daunting topic to tackle because it can be so broad. In a sense, everything that we do for or offer to a member from the moment he/she joins is a retention program. All of our touch points, programs, and services potentially and hopefully are contributing to member retention. Where do you start in developing your member retention plan? Why not simplify and consider all the programs and services you offer to be retention programs and focus on adding a nonuser recovery outreach program. A nonuser recovery program is an elegantly simple protocol that kicks in once you identify that a member is no longer participating in your retention offerings and has become a nonuser. To start a nonuser recovery outreach program, create a list of your nonusers in a given month. Compare this month’s nonusers to last month’s nonusers and determine who is new to the list this month (i.e., a member had one or more visits in March but had zero visits in April). The first month that someone becomes a nonuser is the time when the outreach recovery program goes into action. Once the new nonuser is identified, the recovery effort involves a staff member reaching out in a personal manner to the member expressing that he/she is missed and inviting him/her to come back. You might offer something special for their return like a water bottle, a complimentary appointment with a fitness professional, or a free pass to bring a friend for more support. Your new nonuser outreach message might sound something like the message below.

Dear <Member Name>

I noticed that it’s been a while since you’ve visited the ABC Fitness Center. We care about you and want to make sure you have the support you need to be successful with your exercise program. How can we help? Please let me know if you would like to schedule a complimentary appointment with one of our fitness professionals to help invigorate your workouts here at our center.

If you have any questions, I’m here to help.

Looking forward to your next visit,

<Your Name>

P.S. I’ve attached a coupon for a free 2-week pass for a friend. It’s always easier to exercise with a little support from a friend.

As a side note, most club management software goes a step farther and can help you to identify a decline in member visits before they become a new nonuser. This puts you ahead of the game so you don’t have to wait until they register zero visits in a month.

By reaching out to a member as soon as he/she becomes a nonuser, you will have a good chance at getting him/her to come back. If you wait until they have been a nonuser for several months, they are more likely to terminate their membership than they are to come back. Extend a helping hand to your nonuser to improve your member retention and customer experience.

We live in such a fast-paced world with an incredible amount of chaos. Create a sanctuary from that for your members by making it simple for them to become involved and stay involved in your program. Ensure plenty of opportunities to connect with a staff member, provide them with programs and one-on-one appointments that keep them energized and interested, and if they happen to fall off the wagon, find a simple way to invite and support their return. Your members will be happier and so will your bottom line.

© 2017 American College of Sports Medicine.