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Gym automation: Why (+ where) gyms still need people
December 16, 2021 •

“There’s something the fitness industry keeps getting wrong, and it’s this: we keep looking at where gym automation and AI can replace people.

“The question we actually need to be asking ourselves is: ‘Where do we need people? Where is human interaction, personal connection and a dose of humanity adding real value to the customer experience?’

“Identify those touchpoints first. Then turn to gym automation as the answer for everything else.”

This was the thought-provoking comment made by one of our team recently, and it’s so spot-on that we thought we’d share it.

Because automation isn’t about replacing the people in your gym. The machines aren’t taking over. Technology is, in fact, there to turbocharge your team and give them a new lease of life.

How gym automation can turbocharge your team

What gym automation does is ensure the mundane (but nonetheless experience-critical) tasks are actually done, without your team having to remember to do it all themselves.

In the process, by taking some of these basic yet time-consuming jobs off their hands, your team is suddenly freed up to devote more hours in the day to face-to-face, human touch personalization of customer interactions. They now have the bandwidth to focus on engagement and relationships in a way that only humans can do. Far from replacing them, automation gives your team a chance to play an even more valuable role at your club.

Which is why, when it comes to gym automation, we don’t believe the starting point should be identifying where staff can be replaced. The starting point should be identifying where they absolutely can’t be. Automation can then fill in the gaps around those vital, value-adding human touchpoints.

Gym member retention programs: Secrets of success

For the purposes of this blog, though, we need to discuss automation before we can talk about human touchpoints. Sorry about that, because we know we’re recommending you do it the other way round.

In our sector, there’s often a reluctance to allow technology to drive the engagements with members, because operators believe their people are doing it, and/or they fear the automated experience will be too impersonal.

Our response to these two beliefs is simple: they are not, and it will not.

To the first point, it’s our very consistent experience that even organisations with comprehensive customer journeys – journeys that span the full membership duration – tend to find, on closer inspection, that the process isn’t reliably or consistently delivered.

At the heart of this lies one simple truth: too many member journeys require human intervention at some stage, and it is this that increases the likelihood of failure. Too many actions fail to occur, despite the leadership believing they are happening, because of a requirement for humans to execute them.

Quite simply, member retention is the result of many correct actions performed consistently – more consistently than a human can achieve. Automations provide that capacity.

To the second point, the often-heard “it’s too impersonal” is a hugely outdated understanding of what’s now possible with gym automation.

The role of automation in your member retention program

It will probably help if we dive straight in to some examples, so let’s kick off with consistency in delivery of the member journey.

Of course, there’s no silver bullet, no magic formula when it comes to member retention, but one thing is certainly true: doing the right thing, at the right time, consistently should be at the heart of all gym member retention strategies.

This is where automation comes in. We’re talking about things like welcome emails, milestone emails, happy birthday messages and surveys, just to offer a handful of suggestions of simple member engagements that can be automated.

Unquestionably, these are best practices. Unquestionably, doing them consistently will play a part in building rapport and engagement with your customers. Yet you’d be surprised by how often, and for how many different reasons, these aren’t consistently executed.

Welcome, milestone and birthday comms are time-dependent. They rely on you being informed there’s an event to mark in the first place. Then they require somebody to do something about it.

It’s this “somebody” part where things tend to fall down – not due to incompetence, but mostly due to the challenges presented by existing systems and processes. Milestones and birthdays are then missed. Opportunities to build the relationship are lost.

So why not start by automating these? It’s easily done and will improve efficiency, consistently delivering actions that add up to powerful results.

Gym automation can also be intelligent. You can easily set it up so, for example, it knows to send out NPS fitness surveys to members each year, 180 days from the anniversary of their joining. If it happens to be the member’s birthday on the same day as the survey is due to be sent, it will automatically send the birthday greeting on that day and send the survey, say, seven days later. All without any manual intervention.

All it takes is for you to set up your workflows – your playbooks – and then let the automation do its thing. We’d be more than happy to share some of the many workflows we’ve seen where gym automation has been used to great success; there’s a link to book a demo with us at the end of this blog.

Sell more personal training

When you add AI into this mix, you have both the rocket fuel and the rocket. Let’s take a look at another example: how to sell more personal training (by doing it in a personalized way that makes members feel you’re meeting their needs rather than selling to them).

Ask Keepme’s AI gym software to look through your entire customer base and identify members with the highest probability of purchasing personal training. Then ask it to segment those members by the pack sizes they’re most likely to buy.

Mike, if offered a 10-pack, would find that too expensive, but would happily purchase a five-pack. Julia would accept an offer for a five pack, but is just as likely to buy a 10-pack, so serve her that offer. Stefan, on the other hand, hasn’t done PT before – but if we offer a single starter session, chances are he’ll accept.

What’s great about this is that we aren’t just identifying which members present an opportunity to increase non-dues gym revenue. We’re also ensuring we aren’t leaving money on the table.

Add automation and these offers are served automatically, in real-time, whenever the AI identifies the right opportunity for each member.

Even better, your gym automation can deliver those offers in a way that further boosts the probability of engagement, by using the right language, imagery and comms channel for each recipient.

It ensures that every single hour, every single day, operators can serve personal engagements at the right pricing levels, to the right individuals, with the right visuals and the right text – all without any human engagement.

One of our clients did exactly this and their upsell campaign saw an 85 per cent email open rate. In total, around 60 per cent of those contacted went on to make a purchase.

Let’s quickly look at the alternative: asking your team to use a generic gym email template to send out your current PT offer to your entire customer base – all however many thousands of members you have. Cue unsubscribes, low open rates and a general lack of engagement.

Now tell us which of these feels more impersonal.

Increase gym revenue, the member-centric way

And how about this as another great example of AI + gym automation actually enhancing the level of personalization – and in turn, boosting gym membership retention and increasing gym revenue?

Say you’re an operator providing a multi-activity facility: alongside fitness facilities, you also have an outdoor pool and racquet sports. These outdoor activities are somewhat seasonal and, in the late spring and summer months, you duly see a surge in membership joiners. You then see a rise in terminations as autumn draws in.

Introduce AI + automation, however, and you can now offer memberships that suit customer requirements. Your AI will predict which of your newly-signed members will prove themselves to be summer-only, and which are likely to extend past that.

For the summer-only members, an offer is dynamically served to them at the optimal time to propose another tier of membership – one that reflects the reduced facilities in the winter months. Then, as winter passes and spring commences, the automation will serve the revised Summer Upgrade membership, seamlessly and without the need for staff intervention.

Gyms already offer a number of different membership plans that incorporate entitlements around facilities and times of day when members can access the premises. With AI + gym automation, each member could be provided with a dynamic membership price – each quarter, say – that best reflects their use of the facilities. Adoption of this approach would move us away from the binary member/non-member relationship and provide a more customer-centric approach – one that would drive lower attrition and build longer-term relationships as members see the commercial part of the relationship centered around their specific requirements.

The role of people in an AI-enabled gym

But as we say, even with all this technology in place, gyms still need their people. There are some situations, in fact, when manual communication should be your go-to.

The first is when you require absolute certainty that the message got through: “Hi. Just to let you know, all classes are cancelled today due to a health scare in the club.”

The second is when it’s utterly critical that you understand the feedback or response to your message, both of which can get lost in digital delivery.

Delivering bad news is another scenario that demands manual communication: a change to the timetable, for example, that you know certain members won’t like (your AI can identify who those members are). Break the news via email and you can pretty much guarantee those affected will respond negatively. Deliver it personally – however uncomfortable that process might be – and you have the chance to listen, empathise, address their specific concerns and hopefully turn the situation around.

There are also times where manual communication is required as part of your gym membership sales strategy – most notably, asking for business. Yes, you will likely have sent a series of emails, but if these have been met by radio silence, the next step is a phone call, not yet another email.

There’s a nice example from one of our clients in Australia which ties in with the second scenario outlined above – the times when it’s critical that you understand the feedback from your members.

At Willows Health & Lifestyle Centre, the member retention strategy includes a policy of picking up the phone to all at-risk members. Those members are identified by Keepme’s AI, but that’s as far as the automation goes. The call is all about a human touch.

“Armed with information about each individual, these are personal calls – conversations about them – and the members are genuinely appreciative. They don’t feel like ‘save a member’ calls,” explains CEO Troy Morgan.

How an AI-enabled gym actually empowers your team

In fact, there are many examples – like the above – where gym automation and the human touch complement each other in the overall process.

Let’s take the PT sales campaign as an example. Here, AI + automation is great at doing the ground work, opening the door and beginning to build trust. But there is absolutely a human element to all of this too: it just comes a little later, when the member follows up and wants to know more, or perhaps comes in to request a chat with their prospective personal trainer.

Willows’ Morgan sums it up perfectly when he observes: “Within all areas of our gym marketing strategy – retention and sales – automation plays a key role in understanding the needs and wants of members and ideal prospects, and in turn what the marketing messages should be.

“The manual aspect then becomes how our staff deliver on the promise of our marketing.”

But even here, as the human touch comes to the fore, AI plays an important role, increasing the probability of a great delivery by your staff.

How so? By providing accurate insights and predictions around each individual gym member, AI hands your team unprecedented levels of knowledge that they can use to nuance their interactions and make each member feel valued (and in turn, in this PT example, boost their probability of completing the sale by telling your team member what they need to know/do to make that happen).

So, this really isn’t about gym automation and AI replacing your people. It’s about empowering your team and maximizing their opportunities to add value, handing them the time and the insight they need to deliver effective, personalized engagements that boost gym membership retention and increase gym revenue.

Look around your business, look at where your people can add genuine value, then let gym automation do all the rest.

To see first-hand how powerfully gym automation can transform your business, book a Keepme demo now.

Read more on the perfect blend of automation and manual processes in your gym marketing campaigns here.

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