Move Congress - Top 10 Retention factors (short)


I was asked to represent the fitness industry at the physical activity and community sport conference in Budapest in Hungary. I thought I had 90 minutes until I got there when I was told you have 15 minutes. So this is the result. 

Below is a transcript of the Move Congress 2019


I'm Dr. Paul Bedford. I have a PhD in behavioural psychology, applied to fitness environments. I started in the fitness industry having spent 12 years as a plumber. So by trade I'm a plumber. And then I got into fitness because I was into exercise and I worked in my local YMCA, which is a charitable organization in the UK as a volunteer instructor. They then gave me a job. I moved up through that organization till I was running their facilities and then I've moved on to work in both public and private sector. But there was, I've always been a drive for me to understand why people start, but don't keep going with exercise. So after a number of years, I did a master's degree at City University in London, looking at Exercise and Health Behavior, and every module I had a chance to do elective modules.

 (00:58): Backgound

I chose psychology modules. So I sat with the counselling psychologists and, there's another title for psychologists. But I just sat in all these psychology things and lapped as much as I could. And then I sort of stepped away for a while, went back into education, ended up being invited to do a PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, which is the school for public health in the UK it's the place where Jerry Morris, who's been mentioned already twice today actually used to work. And even when he was retired he was still there walking the halls and I did a master's at the same time as doing my PhD because I'm stupid. And I did my master's on social science research and my PhD, as I said, was looking at behavioral change interventions, particularly in the joining phase for physical activity and exercise.

 (01:52): My PhD

In order to fund that, because I wasn't supported to do that, I took on work within the university that was called intervention mapping. I would look at other people's studies and check that the interventions that they designed included all the components that intervention was supposed to have. So it gave me a real insight into how studies are designed, how you include certain elements when you put them in and the effect they have. And my own PhD was a 17 month randomized controlled trial. So we use pretty decent statistical methods. After I'd finished my PhD I thought I was going to become an academic, I wanted to work in a university. The only problem was I couldn't find a university that wanted to study what happened in fitness environments. It was either physical activity, medical correction or Sport, and when I said I want to study what happens in gyms and health clubs, they said we don't do that.

Our track here is this (physical activity, sport or rehabilitation) or our track is that and that's fine.

So I started a small consultancy business, that business has grown over the years and now I work with some of the largest health club operators in the world and we do, we use academic method to analyse their data and then develop interventions in their business to keep their customers for longer. Now I had a misunderstanding of how long I thought I had today. And so I had a hundred and something slides ready to go. This is the first one. I have three more after this or two more after this one. So now as a business we call our business Retention Guru because we're interested in how you keep people exercising. The only reason we use the term guru was a guru is someone who's further along the path than the students who following.

And we spend every day, all day looking at anything we can that we think is going to affect people's behaviour. So from copywriting to physical activity change programs, look in all the different behavioural models and so on. But each day we share some of our research under what we call lunchtime lessons. In the UK, it comes out five past one because that's just about the time people have lunch and they look at their phones so we know it's going to be top of the list in LinkedIn. And we do, all right, we get about 11,000 views a day. We're not just in Bieber, I'm not the Kardashians, but we've got a fairly good reach and we've got a very interactive community that talk and discuss what we report, but what I want to talk about today are these 10 factors.

 (04:34): top 10 Factors Impacting Retention

These are the top 10 factors. I'll tell you what nine is if we get there, I'm going to focus on the first three if you want me to go through in detail, you want to see in detail there's a 40 minute video where I described each of these factors. That's not 40 minutes for each factor. It's 40 minutes overall and it shows the type of research we do and this is us using Stata to run survival analysis and looking between, this is a cluster randomized trial. The number one thing for us in the health and fitness industry is visits, because if they don't visit, it doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter what your intervention is. It doesn't matter how good your facilities are. It doesn't matter how good your staff are, how well trained they are, it has no impact. So the number one thing we focus on is driving visits. Now in the fitness industry, and I mentioned this earlier on, the average visit frequency is just about one visit per week. Now there's a large proportion of people who don't visit even that amount of time. I will take advantage of that slide. If you look at the bottom two 11% of members in a study we did in a thousand didn't turn up once in 21 weeks, 31% use the club less than once per week. Now we normally draw the red line there and say, those are your at risk members. Those are the ones that are most likely to quit in the up and coming months and we're now in a position where with machine learning tools and predictive modelling, we can actually give an operator a list of who that would be and we get it right about three out of four times and the time we tend to get it wrong, they weren't going to leave.

(06:31): Visits

So we're, it's, it's a, it's a fairly robust model, but we don't worry about the people who are coming twice a week, three times a week, four times a week. We just want to get them up initially to this at least once a week. Now I know that once a week isn't sufficient for someone to have an impact on their health, but it's a start and it keeps them going. And then what we look at is what are the types of things that you can do to get them to once a week if it's less or more than once a week up to two. Now I've got to say also when, when I work with my clients, we don't talk per week. We talk per month, sessions per month and rather than giving an absolute figure like you must come three times per week, we say things like you should aim to come somewhere between four and 12 times per month, because that gives people some latitude where they can still be successful at the minimum, their amount, but they can aim to be higher than that and the reason we cap it at 12 we've got enough data now that shows us particularly for new exercises who've never been members of fitness clubs before, never trained it in a physical environment like that.

More than 12 visits in the first month, they quit even faster. It's actually too much too soon. They generally haven't accommodated that behavior changing to the rest of their life. So they start off with full enthusiasm and then they realise, actually I'm spending less time with my kids or it's affecting my work habits or so we talk about building them up over time with visit frequency rather than having an absolute.


Then we say if someone visits a facility, if you have staff, it's imperative that the staff talk to the customers. They've got to talk to them. They've got acknowledged, they attended, and provide a fond farewell. Now you'll see if you watch the video, but we've been able to map that, if I have one interaction with you this month, the chances of you turning up next month increased by 20% so the probability changes by 20% if I speak to you on two or three occasions, which requires two or three visits, the probability of you turning up next month goes up by 50%. If I speak to you on four or more occasions, which means you must visit four times, it's not four conversations in one visit, the likelihood of you turning up next goes up by 80% now that's useful for an operator because it means they keep them customers in their business, so they have a vested interest in actually helping their customers stick to exercise.

Now, one of those simple ways we do that with operators because they're within a facility is, as someone's leaving, rather than just saying goodbye, farewell, Cheerio. We start with at least two questions. The first one is "how was your workout today?" So that we get some instant feedback. If it's negative, we tend to get it as a conversation rather than the complaint. If it's positive, the person's talking positively about the experience they've just had, which can be associated with Peak End Theory, which we like talking about things we've experienced and if we can do it at the end it reminds us of that going forward. The second question we ask is "When are you in next?" We're trying to prompt the next visit and the presupposition in. "When are you in next?" Is I will see you again.

If you've just finished exercising, you're on your way out.

"How was your workout?" If you haven't got time to talk, we let just let you go. But if you've got time we say, "How was your workout?" Get some feedback, "When are you in next?" And we take it as far as saying, what are we today, Thursday "Are you in again before the weekend?" When are you in next week? If it's early in the week, Monday, Tuesday, "When are you in before the weekend?" So we're constantly prompting the next visit and that's what we talk about as our currency. We want people visiting.

10.35 Programming

Then we have to look at the programming, we have to look at program and it's appropriate for the level of skill and the intensity, and they separate things of that potential customer or that customer because you can make an excise program very low-intensity but very complex or very high intensity and very simple or you can do both.

You can make it low intensity in simple or high intensity and complex and unfortunately there's a, they are trends within the fitness industry that fully promote, high intensity interval training (HITT) for everybody. And their argument for it is people are time precious, so we might as well train them really hard while they're here. The problem with that is for the new exercise, it's so high intensity they can't walk for five days afterwards because of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). So their experience that Kate was talking about in terms of I had a negative experience when I tried it. It just perpetuated. So we keep programming to a simple thing, make sure the customer understands the relationship between the exercises they're being asked to do and their end goal. I love stability balls , and for a long time in the fitness industry, every time you joined you had to use one of these.

Why? Because all the fitness staff had been trained how to use one of them and it was interesting to them, but it may not have been interesting to the customer. So it's about getting the right activity to the right customer.

Group Exercise

We've moved group exercise up. Group exercise used to be at eight, but we now have more information about group exercise. How do we know more? Because now more people in the excise environment book their group exercise through an app. We're able to track whether they turned up to the club and whether they book their class and it's not a perfect method, but if they turned up to the club and they book the class, we make the assumption they were in that class because they wouldn't normally book and turn up and then not go in and we can see that there's some relationship between people who do both group and individual exercise, like use the gym or swim and staying longer, but group on its own doesn't seem to do it.

Gym on its own doesn't seem to do it. Swim on its own doesn't seem to do it. It's when you start combining two activities that tends to happen the longer someone's in within a membership. So if you join today to be a member of the gym, it's usually around about seven to nine months. Someone says, I'll try a class I will also include swimming. So they increase the diversity of activity and we are making some assumptions here, but we're making some assumptions around Self-efficacy. People have a greater self-efficacy and feel more confident in that environment, therefore they're more likely to try other things that they wouldn't have tried in the past.


Social is really about the interconnectedness and we do a lot of stuff with digital media and one of the things we identify within digital media is that particularly around social media, if you have a website and it was nice to see it on the, 'this girl can' that you want 75% of that content to be generated by the participants and only 25% generated by the organisation because otherwise it feels like a sales page.

It doesn't feel like something that the community owns. It feels like this is the business just trying to be social and get us to buy things in other ways. Goal setting is important, although what's really interesting is the goal setting people achieving their goals doesn't seem to be as important as the social factor in the interaction. So we see lots of people who join health clubs achieve no results apart from turning up and going through some basic movement in terms of their weight loss or their body tone, but continue to go because they're constantly spoken to or they feel like they're making progress even when they're not.


Now we have a contractual thing within a lot of our businesses which is around finance and that does have an effect whether you enforce the contract or not. So if you go month-by-month-by-month and don't enforce it, people quit really fast.

If you signed people up to 12 months and don't enforce it, they stay longer, because mentally they're actually committed to longer. Even if you don't enforce the contract, which a lot of people would think actually if you made it really easy to join and really easy to leave, they just stay, they don't. They just leave and they leave really, really quickly, which is from a financial modelling perspective is a real challenge for the operators because people don't want the commitment, but not having the commitment means they actually don't stay.


Older, if you're over 35 in the fitness industry, you're old. Your behavioural patterns over 35 are very different than your behavioural patterns under 35 and we know that if all customers were over 35, 30% of all cancellations would be avoided. [inaudible].

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