March 28, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
Has the introduction of group exercise classes improved gym member retention rates, and if so should gym owners and employees be encouraging members to join them?
In the past, joining the gym was a fairly solitary experience.
A person could sign up, and then they were free to use the equipment as and when they wished. However, there was little interaction between gym goers and staff (unless hiring a personal trainer), and the communication between members themselves rarely extended to more than a sweaty grimace as they queued for the water cooler.
Individuals were responsible for their workouts, set their personal goals and if they didn’t achieve them it was nobody business apart from their own.
Nowadays, however, the landscape of the fitness industry has changed dramatically, and gym members now face many choices. While there is still the option to workout solo, with the introduction of classes and group exercise sessions, it seems like almost every week there is a new trend for an exercise class that promises to give attendees their dream bodies in no time at all. But do these classes live up to the hype, and are they helping or hindering gym member retention?
Is it possible that the introduction of group exercise has helped to improve member retention rates? Or does choosing to participate increase possibility of failure, create confusion and a loss of ownership of one’s own workouts? Let’s examine the pros and cons of each:
Group exercises encourage members to do their best. Those who work out with peers around them are more likely to push themselves further, so their workout is more productive. People don’t want to be the first person to drop out or refuse to participate appropriately, and research demonstrates that the healthy actions of others do influence us. A study published in the Journal of Social Sciences found that participants gravitate towards the exercise behaviors of those around them.
Group exercises can be helpful to those new to exercise as they can try different kinds of classes out and see which ones suit them best. Group exercise gives people the opportunity to socialise while working out and gives newbies more confidence and knowledge without having to hire a personal trainer. A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity reported that overweight people lose increased amounts of weight if they spend time with their fit friends, and weight loss continues to grow the more time they spend together. People who workout in group sessions also feel more accountable to others and are therefore less likely to skip workouts and will keep coming back for more.
A group exercise class can help those lacking in motivation feel encouraged and energised. The ‘we’re in this together’ mentality of a group exercise class means that participants are more likely to encourage one another, engage with one another and spur one another on to make it through to the end. The sense of satisfaction and achievement is also a shared experience which can help motivate members to commit to the class and continue to return to the gym to participate.
Researchers from the University of Southern California found that people who worked out with friends (or a spouse or co-worker) reported that they took more enjoyment in their exercise than those who worked out solo. The variety provided by the range of classes also mixes things up, keeping workouts fresh and exciting and helping members improve their health, fitness, body shape and strength in different ways.
Group exercise can have an adverse effect if people start to view the class as a punishment and a chore rather than a fun and social activity. If members begin to feel pressurised and guilty, this could be a recipe for disaster, and they may start to avoid the classes to negate these feelings.
Group exercise classes could also negatively affect retention rates if a member starts to feel as though they can’t keep up, or begins to compare themselves to others in the class. A study reported that exercising in mirrored environments could make some women feel more self-conscious.
Lack of individual attention
In group exercise classes instructors rarely have the time to give participants individual attention, and therefore there is the increased chance of injury if an individual does not perform an exercise correctly or pushes themselves beyond their limitations. The lack of personalised attention could also result in some participants not having their needs or goals met. Classes are usually created around the based common needs of everyone who takes part, and therefore there is less scope for members who wish to push boundaries beyond this.
Increased focus/ reduced distractions
Those who choose to work out in the gym alone may find that they have more focus than participants in a group setting. They can work on personal goals and don’t have the distractions of others around them so can zone in on their workouts and prioritise their unique fitness goals.
Classes can sometimes focus on just one area of fitness, those who choose to work out in the gym alone can take advantage of all the different machines to add variety to their workouts. If there is a particular area they want to focus on, they can choose the equipment and exercises to allow them to do so, rather than being dictated to by the class instructor.
Can workout at own pace and set personal goals
Group exercise classes cater to the needs of the masses where those gym members who have specific, individualised goals can create their own workouts to maximise effectiveness and achieve them at their own pace with no external pressure.
The solitary nature of just working out in the gym alone can have an adverse effect on members motivation. Without the social aspects and feeling part of a community, if gym goers don’t see their desired results they could quickly become at risk for cancelling their membership. They may feel less connected and loyal to the gym and therefore may find it less affecting to stop coming to the gym than members who feel as though they are part of a community and enjoy the social aspects of their workouts too.
By not getting involved in group exercises a gym member has no one to be accountable for their workouts other than themselves. There is no one to encourage them, nor anyone to make them feel guilty if they choose not to attend. This can result in those gym only members to slowly decrease their attendance until they stop coming altogether.
It shows that by encouraging gym members to attend group exercise classes, retention rates should improve. Therefore gym owners may wish to consider investing more time and resources into providing and marketing group exercise classes to their members and motivating employees to sell these classes to gym goers.
It is important to note, however, that there are downsides to group classes that could also result in a negative impact on retention, for example, if a member pushed themselves too hard and got injured or felt as though they couldn’t keep up and became demotivated. Therefore gym owners should take care when pushing group exercise classes onto members and should really target the right cohort when encouraging either group or solo
March 21, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
A healthy membership retention rate is absolutely vital for any businesses’ success, especially in the increasingly competitive fitness industry. After all, acquiring a new customer can be up to 25 times more expensive than retaining an old one – membership retention doesn’t merely affect who walks through your doors, it also affects your bottom line.
Member loyalty and member retention are often seen as heavily synonymous. If members are staying with your brand, that means they’re loyal, right? Not necessarily. Membership retention measures whether or not an existing customer continues to do business with you. In contrast, loyalty measures a customer’s attitudes towards your brand. Do your customers actively prefer your brand over your competitors, or are you at risk of losing their business to that new business on the block?
Of course, there is still a relationship between retention and loyalty, since a loyal customer will almost every case also be a retained customer (barring factors such as a sudden inability to pay). Furthermore, there is a relationship between retention and rewarding loyalty – a staggering 82.4% of respondents said they would be “more likely” or “much more likely” to shop at stores that offered loyalty programmes.
It’s not hard to imagine why this is the case. When people are rewarded for loyalty, they feel appreciated, something that is being increasingly important in business – 68% of customers said they left a company because they believed that they were not cared about.
If customers are not rewarded for their loyalty, they have less incentive to be loyal, particularly in an industry like fitness where new competitors crop up every day with attractive deals designed to draw new customers through the door. A loyalty programme also helps to cultivate a sense of community and belonging in members. For instance, Harley Davidson customers, who call themselves “hogs,” frequently develop bonds with their community members. When customers strongly identify with a brand, they are less likely to switch to a competitor.
Loyalty programmes take many different forms. In its most basic form, a loyalty programme is a points-based system, such as UK supermarket giant Sainsbury’s Nectar Points scheme. However, many businesses are adding on to the classic model, providing special features to members as well as points. For example, the wildly popular Sephora Beauty Insider scheme, which has over 17 million loyal members, organises exclusive member events and makeup classes. The Starbucks Rewards™ scheme gives members free in-store refills and the ability to order drinks in advance. For a gym, non-monetary incentives like exclusive fitness classes and the use of special facilities like saunas or access to sports therapists could also be extremely effective. One might also consider pricing strategies that directly reward loyalty as another way to signal to loyal members that you value their business.
However, according to The Loyalty Report 2017, the average consumer is involved in 14 loyalty programs but only has the capacity to engage with half of them. Companies lose money on time and effort, and customers get no more value from the businesses to which they are “loyal.” Here are two important things to remember when designing a loyalty rewards scheme:
1. Keep it simple
If you can’t explain your loyalty programme to a customer in two sentences, it’s probably too complicated, and it will probably be ineffective. Keep things simple and easy to understand! For example, one H&M Club has designed their programme so that one point is worth $1. Structuring your rewards scheme in an easy-to-understand way means that customers are more likely to understand what’s in it for them, and subsequently more likely to engage with the loyalty scheme.
2. Offer a personalised experience
Increasingly, customers are demanding personalised services. Think with Google discovered that 63% of people expect brands to use their purchase history to provide them with personalized experiences. Every demographic is different, and you must first know what your customers actually want. If you don’t, there is likely to be a mismatch between the rewards you offer and what would actually incentivise your customer base to stay loyal.
Rewarding loyalty can be an extremely effective way to boost customer loyalty, and consequently, customer retention. Take the time to assess what sort of loyalty rewards scheme will work best for your demographic, keep it as simple as possible, and you’re likely to see great improvements in both loyalty and retention.
March 15, 2019 Tina Ahmed
“The Keepme product captured my full attention from the minute I first heard about the concept. The service delivers on every aspect of members communication, engagement, and retention that I have worked towards over the last fifteen years.”
Nasta comes to Keepme with 15 years of experience in the retention management field. Most recently, Nasta worked as Director of E-Commerce & Marketing for UK gym chain, Xercise4Less, where he helped to drive the gym’s ambitious expansion programme around the region. Previous positions have seen him as COO of Retention Management LLC, and Sales Director for Matrix Fitness.
Nasta combines his expertise in consulting with many other relevant skills, such as public speaking at core fitness industry events (The 2018 IHRSA European Congress & The Scottish Leisure Network Group), implementing effective loyalty/ rewards schemes and improving communications & engagement with health club members. Nasta’s knowledge and commitment to retain members within an industry that faces challenges to achieve a consistent retention strategy, is inspiring. His passion, experience and work ethic will be an asset for Keepme, and we are thrilled to have him on board.
March 7, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
Artificial intelligence (AI) has, in recent years, continued to develop and infiltrate many aspects of the fitness industry and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Be it through sales and marketing, customer service, or data collection, the influence of AI is extending its reach and affecting how gym owners and other fitness industry operatives create more meaningful retention strategies to keep existing members renewing their gym membership contracts time and time again.
The Encyclopedia Britannica definition of AI is “the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings.”
However, in reality, the term AI is much more fluid then this and, over time has been adapted and modified to better match the goals that a particular system is designed to achieve.
But how does the fitness industry make use of this technology? And is it necessarily a good thing?
People who join the gym are interested in their health and fitness and self-improvement. For a gym to be invested in AI and to be willing to utilise this new technology to improve their systems, to gather data, to inform them on customer satisfaction, and to tailor their service to better suit the needs of the individual is likely to appeal to gym goers across the board.
The implementation of AI in the fitness industry can not only serve to attract new members with its shiny, hi-tech promises but also convince longer serving members to continue to use the gym as they see it reacting to their ever-evolving needs.
According to Gartner Inc., only 2% of businesses in 2017 used virtual customer assistant (VCA) or chatbot technology for customer service and support, but by 2020, this figure is expected to increase to 25%.
AI can also be used to gather intelligence on messaging interactions, phone conversations, gym attendance records, and other communication between a club and its members. This information enables marketing teams to identify when customers might be at-risk and to act by creating personalised incentives to draw customers back in and keep member retention rates high.
Gyms are also beginning to see how the application of AI could be used to offer virtual personal training programmes to members, lowering the cost for them of hiring an actual personal trainer while giving them a similar option for customised workouts and even individual motivational strategies delivered in a virtual form.
By using a mobile app, gym owners can gather data on how individuals workout – which machines they use and how long for as well as other useful information such as their heart rate. This data can be used to devise bespoke training programmes as well as other nutrition and fitness advice tailored to the individual.
As AI continues to improve members can expect even more specific advice, for example when coupled with motion sensing technology, suggestions on how to improve movement to make the most from a workout are possible. This kind of personalised experience is likely to help members remain motivated and engaged in their workouts and renew their gym membership when the time comes.
Wearable technology and connected fitness machines will allow trainers to get real-time information on gym members activities both inside and outside the gym. This data again can be used to help identify less engaged gym members and to flag up at-risk members thus informing retention strategies to help keep those members motivated.
The development and refinement of AI opens up a whole wealth of possibilities in the fitness industry increasing productivity, gathering and analysing unprecedented amounts of data and taking over routine tasks which could free up gym owners and their employees to spend more time improving customer experience.
However, there are some drawbacks. For a start implementing AI doesn’t come cheap, and for low-budget gyms purchasing the necessary equipment and systems to apply any meaningful AI into their club may, for now, be out of reach.
It is also important to note that humans crave human contact, communication, and company and the importance of face-to-face interaction with customers cannot be underestimated. As Mina Chang writes for Forbes: “you do business with people, not entities. The beauty of communication is found in the nuance that’s only felt in face-to-face conversations.”
This sentiment rings true for gym members who rate having no gym buddy, lack of guidance and feeling out of place as their top three reasons for wanting to quit, problems that are hard to rectify without human contact.
AI certainly has its place in the fitness industry, and it is up to health club operators to strategise how they can implement the technology available to them to best effect.
If they can successfully implement AI systems to automate the more routine conversations or demands that take up employees valuable time, while simultaneously gathering data to improve facilities and offer personalised experiences they could have the best of both worlds. Intelligent, productive systems that inform sales and retention strategies in addition to a team with more time to be out there communicating, motivating and engaging with customers and providing that irreplaceable ‘human touch.’