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.’