May 23, 2019 Dr Helen Watts
We are pleased to introduce the team of experts who sit on the Keepme Advisory Board, ensuring all our systems are reinforced by cutting edge knowledge of the fitness retention industry. We will feature their insights as part of our “From the Experts” series. Kicking off the series is Dr Helen Watts, a Registered Psychologist, Senior Lecturer in Marketing (Worcester Business School) and holds a PhD in Customer Retention. Helen has provided research and consultancy services to various, high profile membership organisations to help understand the drivers and barriers of membership, and how to provide value to members.
In particular, Helen’s research has been focused on the roles of emotion, anxiety and perceptions of quality and how they affect likelihood of retaining or cancelling membership. Further to this, Helen has explored the differences between high and low contact membership organisations, and the role of interaction and rapport in different types of membership organisations (personal and professional services).
For many gym members, the aim of joining a gym is to increase health, well-being and positive mood, and gyms should provide a service which helps members achieve these things. But, do they? Gyms can, unfortunately, often be a hotbed of stress, discomfort and anxiety, affecting membership retention. Why? Because any physical activity setting presents the threat of public scrutiny and evaluation (Martin Ginis, Lindwall and Prapavessis, 2007). Gyms provide a ‘high interpersonal’ service; reliant on, and at the mercy of, people (staff and other members) to shape the experience of its members. Where there are people there is ‘evaluative threat’; the risk of being judged. In my own research, anxiety was found to be a significant predictor of attrition of fitness club members; the higher the anxiety, the lower the likelihood of member retention (Watts, 2012). In particular, two types of anxiety are often experienced by gym members and can lead members to question their gym membership retention; state anxiety and social physique anxiety.
State anxiety refers to a form of anxiety induced by a particular situation, or state. Some gym members are naturally more anxious than others due to their personality (trait anxiety), but state anxiety can be induced in all gym members if the interactions with staff, instructors, other members, or equipment are not managed effectively. A gym member could be perfectly relaxed most of the time, but situations in the gym environment which make them feel judged or incompetent can soon change a relaxed, happy, loyal member into a nervous, uncomfortable member questioning their gym retention. Which buttons do what? Am I sitting right? Am I doing it right? Am I lifting enough? All questions that may create anxiety for members.
State anxiety has been extensively researched in fitness settings, and has been found to lessen motivation to participate in exercise (Leary, 1992). In particular, group exercise settings can create anxiety in members, due to fear of embarrassment by both the class instructor and other class participants, relating to co-ordination, physique, and physical condition. Class participants can all be provided with the same experience; same instruction, same equipment, but their changes in self-efficacy (how capable and confident they feel) can be hugely different dependent of whether they feel ‘they passed the test’ (Lamarche, Gammage & Strong, 2007).
All that to say, there are ways of combating state anxiety. In group exercise classes, the class instructor can impact the anxiety levels experienced; providing encouragement, social interaction, and positive performance feedback can put participants at ease (Martin and Fox, 2001). How sociable and warm are your instructors? Providing feedback of the member’s exercise performance relative to a ‘norm group’ (group of similar members) could help reduce the feeling of having done something wrong, or not having done enough (Marquez at al, 2002). Consumers are prone to ‘social comparison’, comparing themselves to others as a way of judging themselves, which can help gym members feel ‘normal’ or ‘better’ than others would be comforting and motivating. This is known as ‘positive framing’- presenting information in a positive way rather than a negative way, which can encourage consumers to perceive data in a more positive way, and feel more satisfied. What kind of feedback do your instructors, or machines, provide and how does this make participants feels? Making use of ‘green exercise’; connecting exercise with outdoor environments has also been found to lower state anxiety (Mackay and Neill, 2010) and represents a modern consumer trend to want to simple, connected, authentic, ‘mindful’ experiences. Consumer mindfulness is becoming increasingly associated with satisfaction and customer retention. Are you ‘keeping things real’ with your members?
A specific type of state anxiety, in a fitness club setting, is social physique anxiety. Not only is there the risk of feeling judged, there is the added fear of being judged when partially dressed or in lycra! Whilst body image is a key motivator for joining, perceived body image can actually be worsened through negative gym membership experience. This pressure to ‘look good on the treadmill’ is demonstrated by the rising trend of ‘fitness beauty’; cosmetics being designed specifically to maximise physical appearance during a workout. Ironically, for some members, the gym is an environment that requires you to look good before you sign up, not as a result of joining.
Social physique anxiety (SPA) is, as the name suggests, anxiety related to the physique (Hart, Leary & Rejeski, 1989). SPA occurs when there is a fear that others perceive you physique in a negative way, and can result in low physical activity (Lantz et al, 1997), as well as excessive physical activity (Frederick & Morrison, 1996). Common features of fitness environments (i.e., mirrors and the presence of other exercisers) can increase the perceived risk of evaluative threat and psychological distress during exercise for those who suffer with SPA (Focht & Hausenblas 2004). Mirrors present a reminder of our actual self (where we are now), not our ideal self (where we want to be) …which we prefer to visualise!
Members who suffer from SPA are less likely to be ‘intrinsically motivated’; less likely to be motivated to go to the gym because they ‘want to’, and instead being motivated by feelings of ‘need to’ or ‘should do’ (Brunet and Sabiston, 2009). Similarly, those suffering with SPA are often prone to worrying about not exercising properly rather than focusing on doing as well as they can (Hagger, Hein & Chatzisarantis 2011). SPA can create profoundly negative experiences for members in a group exercise setting who are more likely to stand far away from the instructor and choose to wear concealing clothing (Brewer, Diehl, Cornelius, Joshua, & Van Raaltel, 2004).
So how do we help members who suffer with SPA? How can we become more ‘body-positive’? Some research indicated that SPA can be decreased by including a group cohesion element at the end of the class e.g. a 15 minute discussion on healthy lifestyle and physical activity has been associated with reducing social physique anxiety (Lindwall & Lindgren, 2005). Do your members just exercise and leave? Or is there time built in for conversation and reflection? It is argued that SPA is often higher just at the thought of exercising in a group setting, but it can be reduced after a class has been completed (Lamarche & Gammage, 2010). Perhaps promoting friendly, happy, welcoming footage of a class might help alleviate anxiety and encourage members to come along and join in?
The word ‘provide’ has been used a lot in this article, but in order to acquire and retain gym members, we need to remember that membership is not something that is ‘provided’, it is experienced. This experience, the subtleties of how it feels to be around unfamiliar people, equipment, rules and instructions can impact member retention. What are your members experiencing?
If you want to see how improving gym retention can supercharge your revenue book a Keepme demo today – it will be worth your while.
May 9, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
When it comes to creating a good business strategy those in charge need to look at the different ways their customers can relate to their business. An individual customer can have many unique kinds of relationship with a company, and each one must be nurtured in order to not only maximise revenue but to boost their reputation and reach, increase customer loyalty and improve customer retention.
With 53.5% of all new members terminating their memberships within 12 months, addressing the problem with customer retention has never been more vital. In the world of health and fitness, the levels of retention can be separated into various categories. In this article we explore each one in detail examining how gym owners can tap into them, communicate and resonate with their existing and potential customers, and help ensure that their relationship remains strong and positive, therefore lowering the number of members who may become at-risk.
For any business, getting the branding right is essential. Good branding will ensure that your company’s unique voice is heard, that what your business stands for is clear and that your tone appeals to your target audience. It needs to make a memorable impression and for that impression to be impressive. It gives the company identity and creates a sense of trust within the marketplace.
When creating their branding, gym owners should think about who they are appealing to and what they are trying to say. In the Harvard Business Review’s ‘Elements of Value Pyramid,’ social impact comes top, that means that customers care, perhaps now more than ever, that a brand is socially responsible and holds similar values to their own.
Branding is uniquely powerful in that people can feel they relate to a brand without actually knowing much about it or having any direct contact or experience of that brand. However, in terms of health and fitness, a good branding strategy not only attracts new gym members but also benefits levels of retention and reduces the number of at-risk members by creating a sense of pride in being affiliated with the brand and increasing members sense of loyalty towards it. Gym owners should be alert for anything that might damage their branding and reputation as even a perfectly satisfied member could become at-risk if they no longer feel that their views align with what the business stands for or if a once favorite brand falls from grace and is viewed as unethical or uncool – think the Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad.
How a member associates themselves with the gym as a brand is naturally linked to levels of retention, as while a member can be connected at a product level, i.e. connected to their gym membership, if they are not connected to the brand, the provider of that membership, they won’t feel that sense of loyalty to stick with that particular provider, and are therefore more likely to become at-risk.
People can relate to an industry if it aligns with their interests and beliefs. A person can also be persuaded to take an interest in an industry that they had not previously cared about if their interests dramatically change. For example, a person previously unbothered about health and fitness may have a health scare and suddenly want to know everything about it.
Businesses, therefore, must pay attention to what is happening within the industries in which they operate. For example, new trends in the health and fitness industry, if incorporated into the gym, may impress current members thus increasing member retention rates, as well as attract new ones. Paying attention to the latest news in the industry and communicating this back to members also shows that the gym has a vested interest in their health and has positioned themselves as an expert on such matters, and with over 38,000 fitness centres in the US, it is important to stay ahead of the competition!
Becoming a thought leader and incorporating new trends into the business demonstrates a level of care that goes above and beyond just providing products and services and thus strengthens the relationship gym members have with their gyms. Having an emotional connection is imperative, and the more a member feels looked after on a personal level, the more motivated they are to become part of the community and less likely they are to leave the gym.
The quality of products and services a business offers are naturally linked to how satisfied their customers become. Even if a company has excellent branding and has proven themselves to be experts in their industry none of this will matter if the products and services they offer are not adequate. Nothing is more damaging than negative reviews and the most frequent cause for complaint is if a customer feels short-changed by the quality of products or the level of service a business provides to them.
In terms of a gym membership, this means that owners must continuously review their pricing strategies, the range of services they offer, the quality of their customer service and the standard of gym equipment and facilities provided. Staying competitive in all categories is essential for it is important to note that while a customer can be extremely connected to the services the gym offers if they are not loyal to that particular organisation or it no longer provides them with what they need, they could become at-risk. Members who don’t have to queue for equipment, who are impressed with the standard of equipment and classes, as well as additional facilities such as changing rooms and social spaces, will feel as though they good value for money which is imperative in keeping levels of retention high.
The way a member relates to the gym is also deeply rooted in how connected they feel to it. If a gym dedicates time to nurturing positive relationships with individual members, for example, by motivating employees on the gym floor to talk to members and encourage them, or by organising social events or group exercise sessions, even offering free classes, competitions or discounts they can strengthen the sense of community in the gym. Doing so can increase positivity and encourage members to keep returning to exercise because they view the going to the gym as a positive and sociable experience. This Forbes article discusses why relationships matter as much as products and services in greater detail.
From the above, it is evident that there are different levels of retention and for gym owners to operate at the highest level, they need to devise smart marketing and retention strategies to nurture each one. It is a combination of engaging members across all levels that will lead to minimising the number of at-risk members and improving retention rates overall, as even failing to do so on one level, despite having continual positive engagement through the others, could mean a member decides to cancel their membership regardless.
May 2, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
How can gym owners, fitness coaches and fitness leaders ensure they don’t become redundant when so much information and technology is now available to gym members?
Fitness coaches and leaders are facing new challenges in the changing landscape of the fitness industry. With technology ever improving and the opportunities for members to learn and take charge of their individual fitness goals increasing, they have been forced to adapt their services to provide something fresh, engaging and more valuable to their clients.
The 2018 State of the UK Fitness Industry Report revealed that the fitness industry continues to grow, and now at least 1 in 7 people in the UK are gym members. This growth means fitness coaches have even more potential customers to whom they can market their services. However, the expectation of what a fitness coach should offer has also shifted, and customers who choose to employ their services expect tailored fitness packages that can do something over and above what now can be delivered through an app, wearable technology or even the gym equipment itself.
So how do gym owners guide their fitness coaches and leaders to find their place in this new era?
Previously a fitness coach may have discussed a client’s individual fitness goals, and then developed a workout programme that, if followed, should enable them to reach their targets. In recent times, a different approach is beginning to emerge whereby coaches instead encourage learning through experience. Their position now is rather to inspire members to take a vested interested in their fitness, to improve upon their knowledge, and, ultimately take charge of their workouts. This calls for a more fluid attitude to working out, with the individual modifying and developing their exercises as they become fitter, meet and surpass their original goals and set new ones.
Fitness leaders also have added pressure to increase their knowledge and understanding of fitness in addition to related subjects such as health, sports injuries, nutrition and so on for them to continue to remain valuable to clients. Without such expertise, members, who now have so much health and fitness information now available to them at the click of a button, may not see the benefit in hiring a fitness trainer in the first place.
More knowledgeable clientele further supports the idea that fitness coaches and leaders should use their (inevitably limited) knowledge to promote self-teaching. Doing so would enable them to become part of a cycle that continually encourages people to develop an interest in and understanding of their own fitness and health goals, passing on their wisdom, and then moving onto the next.
A gym member who feels in control of their workouts, who feels knowledgeable about their health and who has a desire to continue to learn and improve has a vested interest in their fitness and is, therefore more likely to remain a gym member in the long term.
Personalising a member’s experience is one of the most successful tried and tested remember retention strategies. At-risk gym members could also be targeted by fitness leaders and coaches who could offer their services to work with them to develop manageable but effective workouts that make them feel empowered, and that their fitness goals are within reach.
One of the main reasons gym members quit the gym is because they don’t feel part of a community. A member who feels welcome and who views going to the gym as a social activity is more likely to remain one.
Encouraging this sense of community has become another responsibility that gym leaders and coaches are taking upon themselves to perform. Where a few years ago, a fitness coach would focus on obtaining as many personal clients as possible. In recent times, gym owners have identified further opportunities for them to act in the capacity of teacher and guide, motivator and moral support – all of which encourage members who are demotivated or uninspired to reconnect with the gym and influence them to become active participants in their fitness, giving them the drive to continue towards their personal goals.
The digital age has also significantly impacted on the way personalised fitness coaching is delivered to gym goers. It is no longer necessary for a fitness coach to be physically present, and employing the services of a coach remotely has meant this once exclusive service is now eminently more affordable and accessible to the masses, and this personalised attention encourages demotivated members to continue using the gym.
Over the last decade, the group training sessions that were once so popular are being forced to step aside as the demand for more tailored 1:1 training sessions increases. People no longer want to feel lost amongst a crowd of others and are beginning to favour the benefits that personalised training techniques from a certified fitness professional can bring.
However, with growing market competition, it is up to gym owners to encourage fitness coaches to offer something more than just a tailored workout programme. Building close relationships with clients, providing dedicated training options and using technology to incorporate fun and contemporary approaches into workouts, such as gamification will help to see gym member retention rates increase, and ensure members are not lost to those gyms which can offer something more.
Offering specialist training in a particular field such as yoga, boxing or even sports nutrition could also give some gyms the edge over their competitors when it comes to attracting new members and increasing member retention. Similarly creating a USP around coaching where specialists in a particular area of health can offer their expertise to clients could also help gyms to gain an advantage.
It is important to remember, however, that there is nothing more impactful in business than good communication. Employing excellent communication strategies is where any successful fitness coach or leader will take advantage of advances in technology and learn how to use different platforms efficiently to entice new members as well as motivate existing ones. Personalisation is also vital and can increase click through rates by 14% and conversion rates by 10% on average.
However, the power of face to face communication and the ‘human’ touch should never be undervalued, and it is through a combination of embracing technology, developing new services and offering a personalised experience that fitness coaches, leaders, and the gyms that employ them can hope to see continued growth and increased member retention rates in the new ‘knowledge’ era.