The Blog of Dr Paul Bedford
The fitness industry is in the midst of a paradigm shift. Low cost has established itself as the new large growth area, boutiques and studios are emerging as an alternative to traditional clubs and new technology platforms like Class Pass are offering the public flexible methods to consume fitness services and products.
For operators that means member retention needs to be as high a priority as new member sales.
Retention strategies began around 20 years ago with human-driven, staff to member initiatives based on ‘we believe this is true’ thinking. In 2002, following the release of Melvyn Hillsdon’s Winning the Retention Battle research, we began to incorporate data analysis to identify where and why the problems existed. Now, third generation retention strategies will be built on a combination of staff, mobile apps, cloud services, Big Data analytics and social technologies.
Whilst operators would clearly like to run one automated software system that does everything from membership management to marketing e-blasts, the evidence is that human interaction still has a far greater impact than its technological counterpart. So the most effective use of technology is to empower staff rather than replace them.
The ability (or inability) to compete in the fitness market will be based on operators maximising this technology to provide insights and data that will enable their staff to enhance the member experience, particularly as companies find they are facing a new member-type with individual requirements and needs. Trying to serve them with systems that are built for mass deployment of a single member experience simply won’t work.
Equipment manufacturers are already working hard to integrate new technologies that provide more information about the individual member and, as such, enable operators to push targeted information to the member.
The sheer pace of change in technology and the options it provides the consumer means we have to explore new ways to provide member services and reassess the role of traditional models. For instance, smartphones and tablet devices are being adopted faster than ever, with consumers spending increasingly more time online, and we can already see members utilising their own devices to consume media whilst exercising. Operators should harness this opportunity, using these devices in club to assist staff in managing the member experience. However, this requires organisations to understand the full end-to-end member journey from searching the web for a suitable club right through to termination of membership, which can be done in a number of ways.
Online joining can provide opportunities to segment members by their experience or interest, leading to content rich communications, specific to the member’s requirements. During visits staff can then use this information to provide meaningful advice about exercise that assists the member in achieving their goals. Frequency of visit information can also be used as a predicator of behaviour and staff can provide appropriate support that encourages continued membership. When memberships are terminated or expire, information about the member can then be used to reconnect and reengage at a level that is more personal and relevant.
With member retention in transition due to additional communication channels that mean members can now choose their preferred method/s of interaction, the need to build a unified customer service approach, with integrated services that are seamless in their availability and proactive in their approach, is increasingly important. This is already being delivered in the boutique market, where personalised messaging or invitations for opportunities, such as one-off special guest classes, is relevant and delivered on time.
Despite these opportunities, many operators are struggling to develop a strategy that supports the individualisation of the experience. This is because they still use member service models built for the masses and continue to reduce member-facing staff to such a low level that customer service is ad-hoc and varying in quality.
Building Brand Fans
The Next Generation 3.0 retention approach is a platform member experience method that involves stored member data, the CRM system and the staff, and is built to provide personalised experiences within the club via a multitude of devices. This integrated approach is the foundation that Ken Blanchard’s revolutionary approach to customer service, Raving Fans, is built on.
Retention 3.0 will see social technologies becoming increasingly integrated into existing businesses within the next 12–18 months. In addition to being a strategic component in virtually all member engagement and marketing strategies, data from social applications will feed the product and service development process too.
As members evolve so must organisations. With similar products and services to the competition, there is a growing requirement to design unique member benefits, and service is becoming the primary differentiator in this competitive market.
Members are changing their behaviours and becoming ‘brand fans’ that engage with the brand as a way to build their own image - particularly true of those using boutique and specialist facilities.
This means companies need to grow more intimate relationships by leveraging their business analytics, CRM systems and social media platforms to understand member behaviour and requirements and anticipate their needs. Digital media can be the tool to introduce new levels of intimacy.
As customer service evolves within our industry, digital member care will also see the introduction of a video chat service for members. This FaceTime-style service will offer things like on demand video PT advice, class bookings and member feedback, as well as typical queries such as support with financial queries regarding memberships.
Building Your Digital Member Service Solution
When developing new services, it’s important to view the situation holistically. Service design is an interdisciplinary approach - an interactive tool to develop services that are competitive and act as a differentiator. Its design is the activity of planning and organising people, IT, communications and other parts of service delivery, and the overall goal is to provide higher quality service.
The purpose of these methodologies is to design the service based on documented member needs. The objective is to have a service that is user-friendly, competitive and relevant. At the core of this process is the ability to understand member behaviour, needs and motivations.
Service design can help organisations innovate and improve what’s on offer to make services more useful, usable and desirable for clients, as well as efficient and effective for the organisation. Some of the key imperatives that underscore a service design led approach include:
Better the self-service experience A poorly designed self-service solution can push members away. Use the time the member spends in the self-service solution to get to know them intimately. Understand their behaviour and their needs by asking relevant questions early on. Build dynamic scripts to respond to these needs instead of using fixed solutions. React to who the member is, when they are doing business with you, with what frequency, and adapt your responses to their needs, not to your schedule.
Improve the web experience Do you have the same persona on the web as you have on other channels? Does the member recognise you on the web or in social media? Use the time on the web to get to know your members and put dynamic web features in place to customise their experience with you. Be careful to avoid designing web-based apps for mobile devices as poor copies of your web page. Consider each screen as real estate that you need to optimise for that specific experience.
Your Journey to Retention Perfection
To begin your own journey, innovating customer experience by integrating human and digital member care, ensure you have a holistic view of your members and their needs, behaviour and drivers.
Define the timing aspect of your solution. Do experienced members and new members have the same need for careful explanation or should you provide an adapted response depending on how well the member knows your services?
Consider member care as unique to each person. Your solution should see the member as an individual, not as a group. Their needs are their own and their experience is personal. They are social and share their knowledge of your products and services. Be where they are and join them proactively on their journey.
Create your solution together by ensuring all staff are involved, from marketing to gym staff and group fitness instructors. Take competence from all elements of the business, and, if possible, your members too. Your member solution will need to develop over time, so allow feedback from members and staff, and prepare for continuous improvement projects. Member care is a journey, where your services evolve together as your members change.
Measure key metrics before, during and after a new feature is launched. Define those metrics ahead of time and follow them carefully. Let people know how you are doing and what you are doing to improve.