"What can I do for you?"

This article first appeared in  Fitness MANAGEMENT international (Germany)

In this article, we want to explain the factors that have a lasting influence on member retention for fitness studios, as well as provide food for thought and possible solutions for your studio practice.

In the first part of the article in fMi 1/2021 we illustrated the two basic factors for effective retention of your members in your studio: the regular visits of your members to the studio as well as the finely "dosed" interaction with members and prospects.

3. Programming

As the third most important aspect of member retention, we have identified "programming" in the team. This refers to the training offered in the studio in general as well as its individual design in the form of training plans. What training options does the club offer its members and how does it communicate them to its members and interested parties. In order to be able to better understand the mechanisms in this area, we divide the exercisers or interested parties into three groups.

1. The experienced exercisers: They can go to any club in Europe and do their workout without much instruction. They may not know every piece of equipment, but they can tell a chest press from a shoulder press.

2. The newcomers, who have never trained in a studio before, for them everything is new. They need help, lots of support and guidance.

3. The third group is found between the experienced and the newbies. We call them the "yo-yo exercisers" because they start exercising, stop and start again - they never stick with it long enough to make progress.

When a yo-yo exerciser (yo-yo for short) walks into a gym and is asked if they have ever been a member of a gym, they say yes. Accordingly, the yo-yos are treated by the staff as if they were experienced exercisers - but they are not. In fact, they should be supported in their new start as if they were newcomers. Instead, they are largely left to their own devices. But since they lack experience, they again hardly achieve any results.

We recommend that gym staff ask newcomers the following question: Which statement best describes you as a fitness enthusiast?

  1. A) I have never done anything like this before and I am grateful for any support I can get.
  2. B) I've worked out in the gym before and I know some of the equipment, but I need help to find my way around better.

The yo-yos can immediately say you are type B and then be supported accordingly like a newbie. The studio staff can now assess who they have in front of them and can help the yo-yos better so that they don't fail again but stay on the ball.

Driving without a licence?

This point is crucial for member retention in studios because most training programmes are developed precisely for newcomers and the yo-yos. Both types of exercisers tend to need fewer exercises so that they can learn them first.

learn them. They need to learn a lot at once and need the ability to exercise first. It is important that they build confidence, find their way around the gym and develop a feel for their body before it is all about muscle building and fat reduction. That takes time.

I like to compare this part with the driving licence. There you first learn the theory of road traffic, then you get to know the car, drive for several hours with an instructor under different conditions and finally take a test. You only get used to the actual driving after the test, because then you drive more and alone. If we transfer these stages of learning to a gym, many newcomers are left alone in a new environment after an hour or so. They know what a treadmill or chest press is, but they certainly don't feel comfortable and anything but safe. These people need more and continued support until they are confident enough and feel comfortable. If this feeling does not happen, they will not remain clients. The training programmes must be designed and accompanied in such a way that they do not overstrain people.

Clients need to understand their training plan

The second important factor for individual training design is that members understand exactly why they are doing a particular exercise. At this point I am a good example myself: I am passionate about cycling. I go to a studio and tell the trainer that I am an experienced fitness athlete and would like a training programme that will make me better on the mountain bike. Suppose, for example, I am recommended an exercise with kettlebells: If I don't understand why this exercise makes me better on the bike, the next time I train, I will go back to training the exercises that I think would be better suited to mountain biking. Trainers need to explain exactly the meaning and goal of each exercise, this is as important as the correct execution of the exercise.

It is crucial that clients associate the exercise and the effort involved with the benefit to their health and their training goal. Exercise programmes must be all about the client and must be well explained so that clients understand them and stick with them. This applies to beginners and yo-yos to a greater extent than to experienced fitness clients.

The "mountain of uncomfortable"

Our research has also shown that exercises for beginners and yo-yos should not be too intense. Experienced gym members are happy when they are completely exhausted after a workout. Untrained people are quickly overwhelmed by this feeling or even perceive it as pain. That is why it is important to first increase the training frequency before increasing the volume and finally the intensity. We call this point the "mountain of discomfort" that the new members have to climb. They have to experience that exhaustion pays off.

What journey do our members take?

Our industry must learn to better understand the so-called member journey: Where do members come from? How high is their individual "mountain of discomfort"? What do they experience as newcomers or yo-yos with us? In many studios, staff take care of the newcomers during the first two, maybe three visits, but after that they are unfortunately too often left alone. We have done a lot of research on what are the best contact points in the clubs to interact with prospects and members so that they feel well looked after on their journey in the facility. To do this, we identified some simple but very effective forms of interaction that significantly intensify member engagement.

Two questions can make all the difference

Most members are in a hurry on their way to the gym these days. They have a schedule for their training or have something to do afterwards - especially the members who come in the morning. During the workout - we already talked about this briefly in Part 1 - trainers can approach members when they are taking a break or going to the next machine and ask them about their workout. The best time for a short conversation is when clients are on their way out of the studio.

Two short questions interspersed every now and then are quite sufficient. The first question should be something like, "How was your workout today?" It gives members the opportunity to reflect on how they feel after the workout. If they feel good, the question reinforces that positive feeling in the gym. If they have anything to complain about, they can get rid of it on the spot and don't take it home or to work.

As a second question, I would suggest: "When may we welcome you back?" By asking this question, we both give the member appreciation for his visit and cause him to give serious thought to when he will come again. If he says: "On Friday", then the probability that he will come on that day is very high, because he has not only thought it, but above all said it out loud. The client makes a kind of agreement for his next visit with the staff member, but above all with himself.

It is important that these questions are also asked with honest curiosity - every time! If the questions are asked in a routine or even bored manner, you might achieve the opposite.

What do fitness members want?

We asked around 10,000 members from 26 clubs what they would like to see from their clubs. To summarise: members want to be asked, "What can I do for you?" It doesn't even matter if they need something right now or not. They could say "yes" or "no, thank you". What is crucial is that on the part of the clubs, there is an active willingness to do something when it is requested.

It is worth comparing this to a restaurant: there it is common for the guest to be asked if everything is OK. The guest is actively asked for his feedback. If he has a problem, he can express it here and now. It is important that the host takes this decisive step towards the guest. If the guest perceives that you really want to improve his member experience or his member journey, then he will give honest feedback - and that is the most important thing: he will come back.

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