June 13, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
Engagement is key to increasing member retention, and gym owners should focus their marketing efforts on nurturing relationships and communicating with members in the ‘right’ way to help lower membership cancellation rates.
Member retention continues to be an important focus for gyms and other fitness facilities and is one of the most significant considerations in terms of impact on revenue and ability to make reasoned projections for future earnings.
It’s reported that 67% of health club members in the U.S. and Canada retain their memberships for at least 12 months while that figure is even more troubling at 52% in the UK. This leaves considerable scope for improvement and gym owners are now investing both time and resources into exploring their options to help increase member retention rates.
There are, of course, many reasons why a gym member might decide to cancel their membership. Some are out of a gym’s control such as injury or moving to a different location; others are well within, such as motivation and provision of exceptional facilities.
One of the most important aspects to consider when analysing member retention rates is engagement. How engaged members feel can have a significant impact on whether they decide to continue attending sessions, how much they enjoy coming to the gym, how motivated (or demotivated) they become, their loyalty to the gym, and how they view the business and brand overall.
Engagement is all about communication, providing it’s the right kind. Bombarding customers with meaningless, impersonal information delivered in a way that they don’t like to receive it is akin to a pushy door salesman who keeps his foot over the threshold when you’ve politely told him you are not interested.
The importance of creating a strong, personal, emotional, positive connection with each member takes commitment. It takes research and resources and more often than not trial and error too. However it’s well worth doing, and the figures are there to prove it.
In one IHRSA report, the data suggests that members who received a “successful commitment interaction” were 45% less likely to cancel their membership in the subsequent month than those who had no such interaction.
Work the floor
One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to engage gym members is by training employees to communicate with them during their workout sessions. Gym members who are on friendly terms with staff members, who feel as though staff have a vested interest in their health and fitness and who receive encouragement, tips, and enjoyable conversation when they go to the gym will feel more motivated to keep up their fitness regime and achieve their goals. IHRSA’s Guide to Health Club Retention found that almost 90% of club members say they value communication from staff members, so encouraging employees to be friendly and familiar faces can improve customer experience and lessen the chances of them cancelling their membership.
Offer group exercise programmes
Group exercise can be another beneficial way to encourage engagement and communication between staff and members as well as between members themselves. Group exercise has been proven to offer many benefits relating to retention as exercising in a group can encourage healthy competition, heighten accountability, and make exercising more fun.
Encourage peer to peer interaction
Members who feel that they are part of a community when they come to the gym are much more likely to continue to renew their membership year upon year. If members meet like-minded people and make new friends, they are more likely to look forward to their gym sessions and view them as an opportunity to socialise. Having social spaces in the gym and encouraging community hangouts and events either physically or virtually can help strengthen member to member connections and build lasting relationships between them, which, in turn, will improve their relationship with the gym and how they view the brand as an entity.
One aspect that stands out when it comes to member retention is progress. A gym member who fails to see results can quickly become demotivated and disengaged. Therefore, gyms need to provide information to members to enable them to track their progress. Delivered alongside motivational messages, this could be a powerful retention tool. Workout tracking that allows members to set goals (and shows them getting closer to achieving said goals) will remind them why their workouts are so worthwhile.
Follow a consistent onboarding method
When a new member joins a gym the initial six weeks are crucial. According to the 2017 Club Industry Show Member Engagement and Retention report, without an effective onboarding process over half of your new members will terminate their membership within 12 months. Onboarding is a process whereby a member is gradually introduced to the fitness centre via a dedicated personal coach who works with them to ascertain their goals and develop personalised strategies for achieving them.
Keep employees happy
Happy employees can have a significant effect on the atmosphere in the gym, and a good atmosphere is contagious. If employees are invested in the gym and enjoy the role within it they are more likely to feel motivated to do a good job, therefore engaging with members more positively, and committing themselves to provide an excellent member experience.
Regularly reach out to members
Communicating via various platforms with gym members should also be an integral part of any engagement strategy. However, it is essential to get the balance right. Social media, email, TV advertising, mobile messaging, leaflets, surveys, case studies, and videos are just some of the content types you could use to promote the gym, your brand, increase trust and loyalty, and offer incentives to keep your members active and interested.
Use your data
Remember that having several software systems in place to capture and analyse data around member behaviour is vital. Programmes can provide a wealth of information to give valuable insights into how customers prefer to be communicated with, which marketing campaigns have been most successful and can help to identify at-risk members based on their behaviour too. These members can be flagged up and measures are put in place to encourage them to change their minds.
To implement the above gym owners need to fully commit to member engagement and be willing and able to filter instructions down to their employees as well as put resources behind them to ensure that they are consistently and properly carried out. Investing in member engagement and continuing to improve and explore engagement opportunities is imperative if gym owners want to see their member retention rates increase.
Do you want to take control of your gym’s retention? Request a demo of our AI-powered member retention tool to see how you can improve your retention rate the smart way.
May 30, 2019 Beth Cadman
Referrals are not only a great way to boost sales figures but can actually help keep member retention rates high too, and therefore should be part of every gym owner’s retention strategy.
Any smart gym owner knows that no matter how much time, effort and budget they put into their marketing and retention strategies, without loyal members who are so impressed with their service that they are willing to shout about it and encourage their nearest and dearest to join, their retention rates may remain unstable.
Every new gym member is another person who needs nurturing, encouragement and attention to ensure they remain with the gym. This takes work, time and money, and while a gym owners primary focus may well be on finding new members and retaining them once they join, it is also essential to understand how retention links to referrals and why boosting referrals should be an integral part of the retention strategy overall.
According to the Nielsen Global Trust In Advertising Survey, 92% of people trust recommendations from friends. This means gyms are missing a trick if they aren’t gently encouraging members to get their friends to sign up too.
Word of mouth marketing is hugely influential and cannot be underestimated. A person may be mistrustful of a salesperson who evidently has their own agenda, i.e. to close the deal and make the sale. A friend, however, or even a stranger who bothers to write a review or say something positive on social media is more likely to be doing so because they genuinely believe in the quality of the products and services offered. Therefore, people are more likely to trust the opinions they receive this way and be persuaded by what they say. In fact, word of mouth marketing is the primary factor behind 20 to 50 percent of all purchasing decisions. Having a robust strategy to utilise this, and ensure that your current members are not only spreading positive messages about the gym but actively working for you by encouraging new members to join, can have a significant and hugely positive impact on member retention rates.
So why are referred members more likely to remain members?
One of the important factors to consider when devising a member retention strategy is how to keep gym members motivated. One key component that keeps people coming back to the gym is if they feel it is a welcoming space where they can interact with other members, socialise and have fun. According to a 2014 IHRSA Member Retention Report, almost 60 percent of members credit social motivation as one of the main reasons they continue to use the club.
People who refer their friends and relatives to the gym already have an established relationship; they’ll come together, workout together, spot one another, try new classes, and keep one another motivated, this makes them more likely to stay loyal members and, as a by-product, keep retention rates high.
Social influence can also have a profound and exciting effect on member retention rates. Meaning that if members say positive things about the gym and convince others to join, the new member will also feel positive towards the gym, having had their opinion and beliefs already shaped by their social interactions with their friends. As this study on Social Influence and the Collective Dynamics of Opinion Formation states: ‘In many social and biological systems, individuals rely on the observation of others to adapt their behaviors, revise their judgments, or make decisions.’
Customers who are referred come with an already embedded sense of positivity towards your business and brand. While this expectation must be met, the initial positive perception helps get more members onboard (therefore making your sales teams jobs a lot easier) but also carries with them as they begin to use the gym. If you can continue to meet their needs and expectations, they will likely remain and turn into a loyal customer themselves.
It is also important to note that encouraging referrals can have a positive impact on the referrer as well as the referred. By asking your members to refer you are strengthening your relationship, you are doing business together. You are also asking them and in turn reminding them to think of all the things they love about the services you offer. This can help members feel more invested in (and loyal to) a gym.
Referrals are likely to breed more referrals, particularly if you are incentivising your customers to do so. This ‘snowballing effect’ means that if your members have a positive experience they’ll tell others, and if they have a positive experience, they’ll do the same.
At the heart of it all; however, it is crucial for gym owners to remember that these newly referred customers still require the nurturing, the attention and excellent customer service that your current ones do. If you put all your energy into referrals and hugely incentivise your members to help you but do not then match expectations, retention rates will continue to fall and the time and money you put into creating a referral campaign could result in a poor ROI. Incentivising customers for referrals is fine, but encouraging them to do so organically and naturally is better, and you can do this by providing an excellent service. Then appeal to their ego, let them know that their opinion counts and acknowledge that they clearly have influence and are doing you a favour. Flattery will get you everywhere after all.
A study in the Harvard Business Review showed that bank customers who opened an account from a customer referral were 18 percent more likely to stay with the bank than new customers who weren’t referred. This is because people who refer are kind of like matchmakers. They go out and find people who they think would be a good fit for your gym, who would like what you’re offering. They aren’t just grabbing anyone off the street, and they are finding motivated, interested, engaged people – people who are more likely to remain members and keep your retention rates high — because of this focusing on referrals can be crucial and should be included in every gym owner’s retention strategy.
Book a 30mins demo, to discover more about how you can take back control of member retention with our powerful retention tool.
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.