October 3, 2019 Beth Cadman
Should gym operators focus on persuading members to sign up for longer contract lengths, or is pay as you go better for retention? A careful combination might be the best way.
Understanding what effect membership plans have on gym membership retention rates can provide a useful insight to enable operators to market one or the other more strongly, and should be considered when devising a smart retention strategy.
There are, of course, benefits to both members and the club to offer different membership types. Most gyms can charge more if they offer a ‘drop-in’ or pay as you go service. However, convincing members to sign up for a 12-month contract means that the business has greater financial security and can forecast and make budgeting and growth plans more easily.
So how does each membership type effect retention rates?
Those who commit to a 12-month contract, be that by paying a monthly fee or paying the entire sum upfront, naturally have a higher retention rate than those who only pay from month to month or simply pay each time they visit. This, of course, is understandable as if a person feels tied into a service that they have committed to pay for for a particular length of time, they are more likely to use it to get their monies worth.
Persuading members to sign up for a 12-month contract can give operators more stability and financial security, and because this is the standard for many gyms, there is less likely to be much resistance if dealing with an engaged and motivated member.
However, it is important to acknowledge that offering flexibility and freedom in a members contract can also work well. Members who don’t feel ‘trapped’ and who see going to the gym as a choice that they are fully in control of, rather than an activity that they have been coerced into are perhaps more likely to remain motivated and inspired to continue. Exercise quickly becomes unenjoyable if a person feels as though they are being forced into it against their will.
Similarly, if a person can no longer afford to pay the monthly fee, and has the flexibility to pause their membership for a while, they may be more likely to return to the gym when their income increases again. Those who have committed to a 12-month contract they can’t get out of, who then fall upon hard times, may end up feeling extremely resentful towards the gym when they have to continue to pay even though they are struggling to afford it. This could lead to a negative association, and even if they then become more affluent and can afford to rejoin, may refuse to do so because of the negative experience they underwent the first time.
According to a study, numbers indicate that members who commit to 12-month membership agreements have a higher rate of retention than members who join month-to-month without any commitment. The research shows that those who pay month-to-month decrease significantly beginning at three months.
What is interesting to point out, however, is that the same study also revealed that of the 1.47 million memberships sold, 80% of these are month-to-month plans, and only 20% are 12-month agreements. This indicates that month to month contracts remains a more popular choice for people and that they do crave options, get-out clauses, and flexibility in their memberships. However, being given that choice, then makes it much easier to leave – and they are reminded of that possibility every month when given the option to renew.
The maths makes this even more plain to see. In short, those who have a month by month contract have 12 chances to leave every year, while those who sign up for a 12-month contract only have one chance. As a gym operator, it’s easy to see which odds are more attractive when trying to boost member retention rates.
In terms of revenue, however, it might not make a great deal of difference. Since the more attractive option to entice new members appears to be the month by month payment option, selling a greater number of these membership types could offset losses made when members do quit. What it does mean, however, it that gyms have to fight each month to find new members, where those who are signed up to a 12-month contract remain secure, for the time being.
The truth of the matter is that the more you can sell to a member, the better the chances are of them remaining committed to the gym. Joining fees, longer contract lengths, added extras, higher price points – these are all challenging to sell. However, if a salesperson is able to get a potential member to make that commitment, once they have signed on the dotted line, they will be more motivated to ensure that they obtain value from that commitment.
It is important, as always, for gym operators to gather data, research member behaviour, and offer tailored marketing plans, personalised memberships, and flexible options if they wish to optimise retention rates. For example, focusing on customer service, on excellent orientation and onboarding procedures can help to ensure a member remains more committed. Encouraging members to attend the gym more frequently and create a routine can also help to boost retention. In fact, doing so means a member is likely to stay an additional six months longer than one who visits the gym on a more ad hoc basis.
Certainly, operators have begun to change their business models, and brands such as The Gym Group and PayasUGym use these flexible contract types as one of their main benefits to entice members away from bigger gyms who want to tie them into a longer contract length.
Research from energy firm JD Power in the utility sector revealed that billing and payment factors could account for 20 percent or more of total customer satisfaction scores. Making sure that the payment process is smooth and error-free is, therefore, imperative. By paying attention to how much time the team spends correcting payment errors, gym owners can get a clearer idea of whether payment experience is positive or poor.
It also might be worth considering and revising systems for chasing those customers who fail to pay. Debt collection should be handled sensitively and if not done so could trigger a backlash from upset members, which could then damage the reputation of the gym.
Providing flexibility is also crucial. While collecting monies via direct debit is the preferred option, it could be well worth gyms offering different payment offers to suit various cohorts of customers, such as allowing members to pay on any day in a given month. Being sensitive to different members budgets can also help operators come up with a range of membership plans to cater to everyone. Offering different types of payment plans and lower-cost memberships can encourage members to commit for longer, and can also foster customer loyalty from a broader range of members. The rise in popularity of fitness passports which offers those who sign up access to a wide variety of gyms and other health and fitness facilities in their local area is also a consideration that gym owners should consider buying into.
Pushing for a 12-month contract can have a positive psychological effect too. If a member signs up for this length of time, they start their gym-going feeling committed to attending longer term. Statistics show that if a gym-goers attend more sessions when they first join, they are more likely to continue to use the gym going forwards.
There are pros and cons for both contract, pay monthly and pay as you go options, and it is important for a gym to be able to calculate how to achieve the best balance for optimum revenue and retention. While the evidence seems to suggest that longer, fixed-term contracts tend to improve rendition rates, month to month contracts to appear easier to sell. Gyms must be careful not to push too hard for one at the expense of the other, and as always it is by engaging with members, listening to their needs and investing time and resources into understanding their behaviour that gyms will provide unique, satisfying fitness experiences and retention rates will remain high.
September 12, 2019 Beth Cadman
Branding partnerships can be an intelligent move for those working on member retention strategies and can turn disengaged members into passionately loyal ones.
When it comes to driving new customers to your business, retaining loyal ones, and securing business growth and success, branding is everything.
With continuously increasing competition, gyms have had to fight harder than ever to attract new customers and hold onto their existing ones. When a customer feels connected to the gym, and believes that they are able to resonate with the brand or they feel that it aligns with their way of thinking, the more likely they are to stay loyal to that gym. The member will then continue to renew their membership and not be swayed by hovering competitors, however tempting an offer they dangle.
Developing a positive, smart company brand is, therefore, critical. Developing a loyal following of customers can ensure continued success, and boost sales of the associated products and services as well.
According to the Pareto Principle, 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base. This means that while focusing efforts on enticing new customers it is crucial to turn the spotlight on those you already have, as continually nurturing that relationship, is going to have a significant impact on your business going forward.
Discovering relevant brand partnerships can help gym owners deliver unique customer experiences, enriching their offering, and surprising the customer in unexpected ways. A successful collaboration will not only help to bring a more satisfying and positive product offering but will also boost the brand by affiliation and give the gym access to a broader customer base who are already primed to become loyal customers due to their association with the partner brand.
A loyal customer will not only continue to renew their gym membership year upon year; they are also likely to increase their spending if they feel positively towards the brand. In fact, 67% of millennials will spend more with brands they love compared with older shoppers, and with an increase in younger people joining the gym, this statistic is undoubtedly an important consideration to bear in mind.
Building brand loyalty is an evolving process, and gym owners must be prepared to adapt their strategies according to member data, fitness trends, advances in technology, and impactful events that can change perspectives and attitudes. If a gym wants to build brand loyalty, they must expect to be malleable and flexible and to understand that in the digital age there is a higher demand for more significant benefits, and for those benefits to be immediately available.
A successful brand partnership has numerous positives for the businesses involved, and if utilised effectively, they can:
Increase trust – partnering with a reputable brand gives an impression of being trustworthy. If the partner company is viewed positively and offers excellent customer experiences, this will reflect well on the other brand too.
Provide value: If a gym partners up with a brand that is relevant they will each bring something unique to the table that enhances their customer experience adding intrinsic value to the products and services that each of them provides.
Creates a buzz: If two big-name brands decide to partner together, this usually creates some buzz and excitement in the industry and beyond. This can help businesses reach new customers, promoting awareness, and also opening up PR opportunities that may not have otherwise been available to them.
A significant factor affecting member retention is brand loyalty. If a customer has a positive perception of your brand, they are more likely to develop a sense of dedication and emotional attachment to it. By partnering with another business, gyms should be able to offer an entirely unique customer experience which advances them ahead of their competitors and demonstrates that they are committed to continuing to evolve and improve and provide their customers positive, memorable experiences, thus rewarding them for their continued loyalty and motivating them to remain so.
Building multiple partnerships is a common feature of big brands’ marketing strategies. The smartest of these think beyond the obvious and instead consider creative, surprising alliances that make them stand out amongst the competition.
British Airways, for example, partnered with The White Company to try to provide an enhanced experience for those who find it difficult to sleep in the sky. Manchester United and Uber also teamed up to create a dedicated ”Uber zone” at Old Trafford helping fans to get to and from matches with ease. Dunkin’ Donuts and Waze were an even more surprising partnership but their offering of giving driving commuters the option to place their Dunkin’ order ahead of time was a clever one, providing something unique and valuable in exchange for downloading the Waze app and becoming a rewards member of Dunkin’ Donuts, of course.
Using member data to understand the current reach of your brand and where that reach falls short can help gyms ensure that they pick a brand partner that can reach the gaps they want to fill. If those in charge of the marketing strategy understand how to expand the reach in a measured and targeted way, the partnership is likely to be much more successful as it will be relevant and more natural to integrate. Picking a brand with common goals and values and making sure that agendas align is, of course, crucial to ensure that the partnership is valid.
Considering how members are engaged through CRM and assessing the popularity of the brand partner on social media and other platforms can also determine whether a collaboration will be beneficial. It may be that a potential partner has an influence on platforms where you do not, or that they have had success in areas and through marketing campaigns in the past that would address specific problems and challenges that gym members currently face.
Gyms have been facing an increasingly severe retention battle for many years now. Genuine and considered brand partnerships can undoubtedly be an impactful way to increase engagement overall and turn members into fiercely loyal customers. By building meaningful connections and collaborating with impressive partners, gym owners can hope to excite and inspire their members, thus influencing them to remain faithful both now and in the future.
September 5, 2019 Beth Cadman
Recognising the warning signs that indicate a member is at risk can help gym owners step in before it is too late, thus improving their retention rates.
Turning new gym members into loyal customers is a huge challenge for any gym, and seeing those churn rates increase no matter what you do can feel frustrating and make the future of your business seem uncertain. In fact, a study of behavioral statistics in the US by The Good Body found that 50% of the people starting an exercise program will drop out in their first six months. The ability, therefore, to identify when a member is becoming or has become at risk can have a significant and positive impact on member retention rates, as doing so gives gyms time to implement an effective strategy to re-engage those members and prevent them from terminating their membership.
1. A decline in attendance
If a previously frequent attendee starts skipping their workouts and you can see they are no longer following their usual routine, this could indicate that they are becoming disengaged with the gym or have found an alternative fitness regime elsewhere.
2. Increased dissatisfaction
If a customer starts to complain either to a member of staff or via telephone or email, they may be contemplating leaving the gym.
Training staff to be alert to complaints and to make a note of these can help gyms ascertain whether they are no longer meeting their customer’s needs.
3. Their workout partner leaves the gym
Customers tend to listen to their friend’s opinions over any type of marketing, so if one goes, the other could be on their way out too.
4. An inability to hit pre-defined fitness goals
If a member feels as though their workouts aren’t working, they aren’t going to feel the benefit of coming to the gym. Making sure you capture each members fitness goals when they join and monitoring their progress will ensure you can flag up any members who are struggling.
5. A change in routine
A change in routine could suggest a member is less dedicated to their workouts, is dissatisfied with the facilities or is having to wait to use certain equipment – all of which could point to them becoming at-risk.
6. Missed or late payments
If a member misses a payment or starts to pay late, they could be struggling to afford their gym membership. Most view their membership as a non-essential item, and therefore it could be the first to be cut if the purse strings are in need of pulling a little tighter.
7. A change of address
If a member changes their details and they have moved further away from the gym, this could be a warning sign as what was once a convenient location becomes less so.
1. Inspire attendance
Remind members why they joined the gym in the first place. Send aspirational emails that encourage fitness and health. A member may feel disengaged, but by providing motivation and inspiration, they might feel encouraged to stick at it.
2. Ask for and act upon feedback
Businesses tend to hear only 4% from customers, the other 96% will just leave. That’s why it is essential to ask for feedback from gym members.
If a customer complains or expresses dissatisfaction it is important to take this seriously. By listening to customer feedback and acting to make improvements, you demonstrate that you care, and this can help customers to feel valued.
3. Encourage member socialisation
The more engaged a member feels with the gym, the less likely they are to leave. Encourage inter-member socialisation and train staff to be warm, welcoming, and friendly to each member and treat them as an individual. Offering a group fitness class can also improve retention as members tend to visit their facility specifically to engage in group classes.
If at-risk members feel as though they are part of a community and associate the gym with having fun and being social, they will be less likely to leave.
4. Adjust their fitness plan
If a member feels as though they aren’t achieving their fitness goals they may wish to cancel their membership. Turn this around by offering a PT session and assessment to help them manage their expectations but also to reach their goals faster.
5. Assess facilities
If your gym has become more crowded or some facilities need fixing or replacing, make sure that you manage this and fix any broken machines or other equipment to ensure continued member satisfaction.
6. Offer discounts
If a customer no longer feels that the expense of the gym matches the value, they may be tempted to cancel their membership. It could be that they have had to reduce their spending and see the gym membership as an inessential spend. Offering discounts and free classes may help them to feel as though it is worth it once more.
7. Incentivise and encourage brand loyalty
While some membership terminations are unavoidable if gyms work hard to incentivise their members to continue to use their facilities over a competitor they can keep retention rates high. By offering excellent customer service and value, they may be able to retain those customers who are considering leaving the gym for reasons of convenience as it will be worth the extra effort to stick with the brand and service they love.
By recognising the signs that a member is no longer enjoying their membership, it is possible to intervene and change that customer’s perspective. If gyms make sure that they have the tools in place to capture customer data and monitor customer behaviour, they can ensure that they will be able to identify at-risk members and do something about it before it is too late.
If you want to easily identify at-risk members, our AI-powered retention tool can help you capture data the smart way.
August 22, 2019 Beth Cadman
Paying attention to your member onboarding process can have a significant impact on member retention.
The member onboarding process plays a crucial role in maximising retention and can help ensure that new members turn into loyal customers who continue to use the gym facilities and engage with the gym in a positive way.
The first four weeks are the most crucial in the membership lifecycle, and in this time frame, the more frequently a new member visits the gym, the better impression they have of the facilities and the more positive a customer experience they receive, the more likely they are to remain gym members.
A smart, thoughtful, cleverly designed onboarding process is crucial to ensure member loyalty, just as a poor, badly planned onboarding process can lead customers to terminate their membership.
Onboarding is also known as ‘organizational socialization.’ In short, it is the process by which a person acquires information, knowledge, and skills as well as learning appropriate behaviours to become an ‘effective organisational member.’ When applied to the gym member onboarding process, this is the way that a new member becomes familiar with the gym’s facilities, equipment, and processes via different interactions and experiences. Done well, and this process will positively change a member’s behaviour and attitude towards working out, as well as developing a positive relationship with staff, the gym, and the brand.
An excellent first impression will last. From the moment a new member walks through the door and is greeted by reception staff to how much they enjoy the facilities, the quality of their workout, the options for exercise available, and how they are treated by staff all form an opinion of the gym. If overall the member finds the experience positive and enjoyable, the benefits of continuing as a member will far outweigh the expense and effort, and therefore that new member will turn into a loyal customer – providing the balance remains tipped this way.
In a survey taken by the American Society for Quality Control, results showed that the number one reason why companies lose customers is down to an attitude of indifference on the part of an employee. This demonstrates the importance of building customer relationships, of getting to know your members, of showing that you have a genuine interest in their health and wellbeing and that you and your teams want to make their customer experience the very best it can be from start to finish.
Your gym’s USP might be state of the art equipment or offering the cheapest and most flexible deals, but without providing an excellent level of customer service, this may not matter.
By considering every aspect of the customer experience, particularly during the onboarding process, clubs can hope to provide a seamless journey that allows them to make the most of the gym and enjoy their visits time and time again. They will have certain expectations, and particular needs, and the more these are being met or surpassed effortlessly, the more likely a gym is to retain that member going forward.
Function – does the gym meet the customer’s needs? This encompasses everything from changing room and locker facilities to the provision of refreshments and training classes and equipment.
Accessibility – how easy is it for members to do what they want to do at the club? Be that finding their way around, getting information, or having flexibility within their membership?
Emotional connection – do customers feel valued and respected? Do they think staff care about them as individuals?
If a gym can better understand a member’s expectations of the club, as well as their interests, the goals and so on, that they can provide an onboarding journey that meets and surpasses them. It is through research and listening to customers that gyms can discover what is important to their customers and identify opportunities to provide them with satisfactory solutions and improve their service to align with customer’s needs and desires.
Talk to members about their fitness goals and help them to devise a plan that will help them achieve these goals. Create both short term and long term plans, so after they have finished their initiation, they still feel as though the gym is guiding and supporting them.
Train staff to greet each member personally, and take time to engage with them to develop strong connections and a social atmosphere.
Encourage a high frequency of visits. Attendance and retention are linked, and the more frequently a member visits the gym, the more likely they are to perceive value from their membership investment.
Manage expectations. The more information you can give members during the onboarding process, the better. If a member knows what to expect from the gym, they are less likely to feel disappointed when something they might have taken as a given is not a possibility. If a class always gets booked up in advance, for example, let them know this so they can decide whether that is important to them, rather than not letting them know and then risking disappointment or frustration after they have joined.
Provide incentives. Providing members with time-bound incentives can encourage them to continue attending the gym and will create a sense of urgency to do so. Anything from free PT sessions to vouchers in the cafe can help provide instant value and create a good first impression.
Track their engagement. Make sure that you have the tools in place to track member behaviour from the moment they join. Being able to use data collected and ascertain how engaged your members are will help you to identify when they are becoming at-risk and allow for intervention before the member is lost.
Follow up regularly. Don’t let a member feel as though they are no longer important to you. Make sure staff members follow up after the first 30, 60, and 90 days. Send induction emails and congratulatory emails when they have completed their first class, let them know of any discount, offers, or new classes – keep communicating and keep them engaged.
Ask for feedback. Remember, as part of your onboarding process you can ask new members what they liked, and where there is room for improvement. Take feedback seriously and act on it to demonstrate to customers that they are at the heart of everything you do.
“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
An onboarding process should be designed to educate, engage and entice new members so that they not only understand where to go and what to do at the gym but also start to build positive relationships with your team and fellow members, and provide them with excellent reasons to keep coming back time and time again.
To learn more about our powerful AI-driven retention tool, book a demo today.
August 15, 2019 Beth Cadman
Loyal customers can help to increase gym member retention. So gym owners should not only learn how to identify them but also discover what they can do to encourage more customers to become loyal to their brand.
Loyal customers not only stick with your brand, but they can also help drive growth by recommending others and creating a positive buzz about your business. All business know that, providing an excellent service that meets the needs and exceeds the expectations of their customers will help create customer loyalty and thus increase retention rates. But are gym owners doing enough to ensure they recognise their loyal customers and work hard to keep them that way?
They spend more
A loyal customer is invested in your brand and because they believe in what you are selling, they’re happy to part with their hard-earned cash to get more of it. In terms of gym members, this could be by paying extra for a more premium membership or an extra class or spending more in your cafe, indicating that they like to socialise at the gym and spend their leisure time there as well as working out. If you have merchandise or an onsite shop, a loyal customer might make several purchases here too. The more they buy from you, the bigger the indication of the strength of their loyalty, because they believe what you offer is the best quality and they trust you not to let them down.
They’re frequent attendees
It may sound obvious but it’s important to mention that your loyal customers are likely to be the ones who show up more. Pay attention to how frequently and how long your members turn up and work out for to get a clearer picture of those members who are motivated and happy with the service, and are getting the most ‘bang for their buck’ – compared with those who may feel demotivated, that they are wasting their money and therefore be at risk of quitting the gym.
Businesses should use the Recency, Frequency, Monetary (RFM) Value which suggests that loyal customers can be identified by how recently a customer makes a purchase, how often they do so, and how much they are willing to spend.
They get involved
If you set up a social event, host a competition or send out a discount or offer, your loyal customer is the one who is first to respond, apply, enter and share it. A loyal customer has a genuine connection with your business and so when they receive offers or hear from you they are happy to get involved and take part.
They advocate for you
One of the most obvious ways gym owners can identify loyal customers is by what they are saying about the gym when their backs are turned! It might be that they mention the gym on social media. Even if they are mainly talking about their workout, this demonstrates that they are proud of what they are achieving, and seeing the results they hoped for. Referring a friend and giving recommendations is also a clear sign that your member is impressed with the service.
They give testimonials and reviews
As well as word of mouth marketing, loyal customers are more than happy to give you positive testimonials and reviews. Remember, it is far more likely that a customer who has had a bad experience will speak up, where satisfied customers tend not to say anything. So, if you are receiving positive reviews from gym members, this suggests they are so impressed with your service that they are motivated to act and let others know.
They associate themselves with your brand
Loyal customers are proud of the brands that they have an affiliation with. They view them in such a positive light that they actively want others to know about their connection. In this way, the brand becomes tied to their identity. An example of this could be, wearing a branded t-shirt and taking a picture to post it on social media. The brand becomes part of their journey, their life story and therefore loyalty increases and intensifies as time goes on.
The Net Promotor Score is a key indication of customer loyalty and demonstrates that by anticipating customer needs, taking proactive communication and personalising interactions across all touchpoints in a customers journey can help to encourage customers to become more committed to your brand.
Know your touchpoints
Paying attention to touchpoints where a negative/positive attitude or emotion as a reaction to a particular experience could affect the customer’s thinking/relationship/ or behaviour towards the gym is imperative.
Gym owners will benefit from mapping out the customer journey from when they first decide they want to join a gym through to the onboarding process and then their continued usage. At each stage of the journey customers will have particular needs and expectations that are either met or not met and this will affect their attitude towards the brand and whether they will continue to be loyal to it, or go elsewhere.
However, analysis has shown that some touchpoints have a greater effect on whether a customer will become loyal or dissatisfied. Consulting Partner for Keepme, Jon Nasta, breaks these down into three distinct categories:
Barriers – the minimum expectations of a customer, which if performed poorly, could lead to a customer walking away, but if performed well won’t have any particular effect on customer loyalty.
Delighters – the ‘wow factors,’ the USPs, the things that surprise and delight a customer that they weren’t expecting but encourage positive connections and have a significant impact on customer loyalty.
Friendliness and helpfulness of staff members
Key drivers – how well the gym delivers the core elements of the business. If key drivers are performed well they can positively impact customer loyalty and retention rates. If performed badly they will have the opposite effect.
How easy it is to work machines
How exercise classes are run
It is necessary for gym owners to be aware of what their customer’s minimum expectations are to ensure that all new members aren’t immediately so disappointed that they walk away. Factors such as a gym having poor changing room facilities or not enough machines to workout or exercise classes being cancelled or starting late could be barriers that see retention rates plummet.
Jon goes on to say, “knowing what your customers are telling others about their experience with your business as opposed to what you think you are delivering through your customer experience is the difference between a decent business and a good business. Understanding what your happiest customers are getting from your business is the key that will take you from a good business to a booming business that has the potential to grow further than you ever thought possible.”
Spending time identifying what could make your gym stand out, and what wow factors you could provide, can also have an important influence on customer loyalty. A creche, free post-workout smoothies, a customer loyalty programme, tester personal training sessions and so on could help to see customers feel valued, surprised and delighted with the service you offer.
Of course, on the flip side, it is important to be aware that by neglecting your customers, not meeting their expectations and providing a substandard service you could not only be at risk of losing that customer, but also them damaging your brand by leaving negative reviews. So it is through a combination of taking the time not only to encourage more loyal customers but to ensure that no customer gains an unfavourable impression of your business that you will see retention rates increase.
Encouraging customer loyalty is more than just focusing on customer satisfaction – it’s more like solidifying customer commitment, and by focusing on building a retention strategy that turns everyday customers into committed, motivated, positive ones can help to increase the number of loyal customers thus improving retention rates and encouraging business growth simultaneously.
If you want to learn more about our smart AI-powered retention tool that could keep your retention rates high, why not book a demo today?
August 8, 2019 Beth Cadman
Encouraging gym members to set personal fitness challenges can have a positive impact on member retention. Improving health and fitness is one of the most cited reasons people decide to join the gym. However, regardless of good intentions, according to the Fitness Industry Association, most people who sign up to the gym have quit or stopped going after 24 weeks.
Encouraging gym members, therefore, to not only set goals and push themselves to achieve new levels of fitness but to stick to and surpass these goals, can be key to increasing member retention rates.
When a new member joins the gym, it is vital to capture their motivation for doing so. Make sure you identify each specific goal and encourage them to apply the SMART method of thinking to their fitness aims. That is, they should be:
Specific – ask your members to be detailed. ‘I want to lose a stone,’ for example, is better than ‘I want to lose weight.’
Measurable – fitness goals should be quantifiable. This could be in terms of weight loss, lowering BP, being able to run a certain distance within a certain time and so on.
Ambitious – encourage members to set ambitious goals, if they make them too easy they won’t get the satisfaction necessary to motivate them to remain gym members.
Realistic – at the same time carefully manage members expectations of themselves. If they aspire to unrealistic targets they are setting themselves up for failure and will find it difficult to succeed which could lead to feeling demotivated and disengaged.
Time-Bound – setting deadlines for goals creates a sense of urgency and will encourage members to return to the gym frequently.
By capturing a members personal fitness goals, your gym staff can devise a personalised plan to help them achieve them – simultaneously keeping them on the right track and sustaining a positive relationship with exercise but also showing individual members that you care about what they care about and are here to help, encourage and support them.
By focusing retention efforts on the “net growth” of the exerciser through the delivery of personalised workouts and management of their workouts, and by encouraging their efforts and rewarding improvement in an exerciser’s relationship with exercise, the gym can improve exponentially.
Personalising fitness challenges for individual members allows you to gain better insight into their behaviour too. Collecting data in this way can help gyms identify at-risk members and ensure that they intervene if a member becomes dissatisfied with their progress or the service that the gym provides.
While the majority of gyms as a minimum try to capture a member’s fitness goals and devise a plan for them during the onboarding process, what many fail to do is to take it upon themselves to monitor a member’s progress towards their goals, and to offer assistance if data reveals that they are not able to hit their targets. Not only that, but monitoring member behaviour in this way can also help gyms ascertain when goals have been achieved and intervene at this stage to help members design new personal fitness challenges to ensure their continued engagement and perceived value of the gym.
While fitness challenges can be set on a very individual and personal level, owners may also consider how to provide broader group fitness challenges that could appeal to a wide spectrum of members, and encourage them to develop a deeper connection with and loyalty to the gym.
Setting fitness challenges could take many different forms. For example, you could employ the use of wearables and set up competitions via an app. You could set leaderboards in the gym displaying members’ best times. You might consider setting up specific fitness challenges relating to a particular class or create group challenges to encourage member interaction. Equipment that stores information giving users a breakdown of their personal bests and encouraging them to do better could be the motivation required to keep members returning to the gym as well as feeling as though they are part of a wider community.
Social – members who feel as though they are part of a community, and who regard coming to the gym as a fun and social experience are more likely to remain gym members.
Rewarding – the ability to monitor one’s progress, to achieve predetermined goals and to set new ones provides satisfaction and motivation to continue.
Competitive – healthy, friendly competition can help inspire members to push themselves harder, thus increasing the likelihood of them achieving what they set out to achieve. Competition between members as well as competition with the self can both have a positive effect and therefore help to increase engagement and lower churn rate.
Aspirational – visualising what you hope to become, or seeing others push themselves or challenge themselves can be aspirational and help demotivated members to refocus and work harder to achieve the same level of health and fitness.
There is no denying the psychology behind goal setting, with those who take the time to set goals for themselves more likely to obtain higher levels of achievement. If a gym member feels as though they are making progress and moving forward towards a fitter, healthier, better-looking version of themselves, they are more likely to consider the gym as an effective and valuable organisation that brings great benefits and positives to their life.
Encouraging fitness challenges is an effective and strategic method which can be employed in a number of ways to help individual members feel connected to and engaged with the gym, and therefore increase member retention.
If you want to learn how to capture and use member data more effectively book a demo of our powerful retention tool here.
July 18, 2019 Beth Cadman
The Welltodo Summit in London took place on the 29th June 2019, and our Founder, Ian Mullane, was invited to share his thoughts on customer loyalty, data, and the growing role of Artificial Intelligence in gym member retention.
The Welltodo Global annual event takes place in the vibrant UK capital and brings together innovative, creative business people from many different sectors within the wellness industry to network, start conversations and learn how to succeed on a global scale.
Ian’s panel discussion, Customer Loyalty: The Secret To Success For Wellness Brands, provided attendees with some fantastic insights into how nurturing and developing strong relationships with customers is key in securing their continued business. From a data perspective, Ian discussed the different methods that wellbeing businesses can employ to better understand their customers and to preempt their needs. He emphasised the importance of collecting data as new data-driven technologies emerge, and how spending time to strategise a smart and measurable customer engagement plan is imperative.
Joining Ian on the panel discussion were two other industry leaders, namely, Tim Lee of Mindful Chef and Phil Coxon of MINDBODY Inc, both of whom provided additional fascinating insights into how customer loyalty can help boost retention rates.
Customer loyalty can not only help businesses to feel confident of secured revenue, but it also provides a stable platform from which a business can grow. Without loyal customers, turnovers remain high, member retention rates plummet, and new customers simply replace the old ones, meaning growth remains stagnant, unachievable and onboarding costs continue to skyrocket.
If you’d like to see your customer retention rates improve, why not take a look at our AI-powered retention tool – you can request a demo here.
July 4, 2019 Faith Christine Lai
According to Bain & Company, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a process that companies use to understand their customer demographics and respond efficiently to changes in their customers’ preferences.
A CRM system, in turn, is a tool that enables a company’s’ CRM process. A CRM system compiles crucial customer data across different points of contact between the company and customers. Such data usually focuses on the unique features of the relationship that a customer has with a company. For example, how many times a customer has been contacted, how much business they’ve done with the company, and what sort of conversations have taken place between a customer and the company.
Customers are at the heart of every successful business. Increasingly, it has also been shown that careful attention to one’s customers is an important factor that determines whether or not a company makes it or breaks it. It is widely predicted that, by the year 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator when making consumer choices. At the same time, customers are also growing increasingly discerning. More than ever before, customers are expecting higher standards from the customer service they receive, with many, as PwC found, even willing to pay more to ensure better service.
Thus, businesses must address the evolving demands of their consumers in order to supply effective customer service. As Harry Gordon Selfridge (the retail magnate behind department store chain Selfridges) once said: “People will sit up and take notice of you if you will sit up and take notice of what makes them sit up and take notice.”
And what do customers consider better service? PwC found that nearly 80% of consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as the most important elements of a positive customer experience. Think With Google insights also indicate that consumers also expect more personalised service, and a “frictionless” transactional experience.
Thus, CRM systems can be a great asset in ensuring that these customer service features are provided to customers to improve both customer satisfaction and membership retention. In the next part of this article, we’ll explore how CRM systems do so.
As briefly mentioned, CRM systems keep a log of the relationship between a customer and the business. It consolidates customer information and documents into a single database, so business users can more easily access and manage such user data. This increases the efficiency of customer service interactions (for both customer and staff), the effectiveness of your customer service strategy, and reduces avoidable human error.
Accenture found that 89% of customers get frustrated because they need to repeat their issues to multiple representatives. Since CRM systems keep a detailed log of the relationship between a customer and the business, any changes in the staff members handling a customer’s case can be done with ease, since the representative can refer to the CRM system without the customer having to go through the pain of repeating themselves. In addition, since customer data is not ‘tied’ to any particular member of staff, staff can join and leave the business without customer data (and customer-business relationships!) being affected by such changes.
While efficiency certainly plays into how effective customer service is, only having a quick response is not enough. Imagine having an urgent or important concern that you want resolved from a business that you patronise. Now imagine that concern not being resolved, not because you didn’t get a response quick enough, but because the customer service representative you are speaking to is not informed enough about the issue at hand. That’s got to be frustrating, right? Indeed, 84% of consumers are frustrated when the agent does not have information.
However, with a robust CRM system, members of staff can, at any time, easily access a clear picture of any customer’s interaction with the brand. When staff are able to get accurate information about the customer they are dealing with, they are better positioned to make the best customer service decision possible.
3. Error reducing:
Finally, having a CRM system reduces human error. Without a standardised CRM system, data about your customers is at the mercy of the way that your staff takes notes on their interactions with clients. Sure, some of your staff may be extremely organised, meticulously making digital copies of everything they note down accessible to the whole team. However, more realistically, you may find notes about your clients lost on post-it notes, scribbled down on napkins, or not taken down at all in the first place! A CRM system protects you from such ‘nightmare’ scenarios.
67% of consumers cite bad customer service experiences as reason for churn. In our other articles, we have also explored in greater depth how customer service and customer satisfaction impacts membership retention rates.
In addition, CRM systems are another way for you to get an accurate snapshot of your customer demographic and the segments that it’s comprised of. This is an important aspect of risk scoring and targeted marketing, another important part of improving membership retention.
In summary, a good CRM system can elevate the standard of customer service that you can offer your clients, increase customer satisfaction, and boost your customer retention rates. What’s not to love?
Book a 30mins demo, to discover more about how you can take back control of member retention with our powerful retention tool.
June 27, 2019 Beth Cadman
How can gym owners communicate successfully with their members? This article explores the different methods and discusses how gym owners can ensure appropriate, relevant and effective communication is delivered every time they reach out to both current and potential clients.
When it comes to ensuring member retention, communication really is critical. In fact, those who are able to consistently and effectively communicate with their customer base enjoy stronger relationships and increased sales success. As notable psychiatrist Milton Erickson pointed out, “the effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response.”
It is the way that gyms communicate with their members, not just initially, but over time, that nurtures and strengthens the business-customer relationship, promotes customer loyalty, creates a sense of emotional connection, and can help members feel valued, appreciated and motivated to continue to use their gym membership – and even encourage others to do the same.
Communicating with members can take place via many avenues and analysing how members are communicated with, as well as the types of content that are delivered to them should be part of any smart gym owner’s retention strategy.
It is essential to understand how members prefer to receive communication, as well as the types of messages that motivate them to act. The forms of content that help to develop brand loyalty or encourage members to react in a particular way and the timing that the communication is sent out to ensure the greatest effect are all hugely significant considerations that gym owners should be aware of and actively trying to improve.
However, developing an impactful and successful communication strategy is no mean feat. Controlled experimentation, research, and data analysis often concludes that there is still no ‘one size fits all’ approach, and instead, it is through the development of flexible, malleable and ever-changing communications that the most significant improvements will be seen.
Different types of content and messaging require different communication formats. A competition announcement will require a distinctive tone and message, for example, when compared to a new member discount. A business announcement or press release will need to be shared via different communication channels to general newsletters or social media messaging. Whatever makes it necessary or timely to communicate with customers, the one thing that is patent, as Technogym neatly summarises is the: “biggest mistake that can be made is to approach the communication strategy of the centre in a purist way.”
So what are the different types of communication that gym owners can use to reach out to their members, keep them motivated, create brand loyalty and reduce the likelihood of them becoming at-risk? What are the factors that they need to consider when devising a communication strategy? Let’s take a look.
Face to face communication takes place whenever a member attends the gym. This could be when they first enter and are welcomed into the gym, during their workout on the gym floor, and before they leave the gym too. Fitness instructors and other staff members who make an effort to be welcoming and friendly will be rewarded with loyal customers. As Lifetime training points out in their client’s workbook, “Instructors who work hard to build rapport and form good working relationships with their clients are likely to be rewarded with a good retention rate.”
SMS text messaging is a communication method that gyms use when they want to provide members with short, direct pieces of information that they can respond to quickly and easily or that don’t require a response at all. Smart text messaging is all about delivering a message that will capture interest and motivate customers to act without feeling pressured or hassled into it.
Email is usually the preferred communication method when gym owners want to provide more detailed content, so business news, announcements, fitness, and motivational tips, as well as promotions and offers. Emails should be personalised and engaging both from a content perspective as well as visually.
Some members will also use call lists to collect the phone numbers of members, so when their membership is coming to an end, or if they suspect them to be at-risk staff members may choose to call them to see if they can persuade them to renew their membership or stay on.
Less personalised communication methods come in the form of social media where members can opt-in to follow and therefore receive news and updates. Social media advertising is another way gym owners can try to target particular groups of people with specific messages via advertising campaigns.
When it comes to creating a smart communication strategy that your members will appreciate it is only through experimentation and data analysis that you will be able to decipher which kinds of communication are most successful, being aware, of course, that this may change over time.
Considering the context, taking into account the predisposition to technology that members have, and researching the types of media and content marketing that competitors are employing are all critical. It is also essential to bear in mind additional parameters such as age, gender, location, hobbies, and interests. These parameters will all need careful consideration when deciding how to present different messaging and when choosing which communication formats to employ. Ensuring that the tools are in place (such as capturing engagement, using the NPS method for detailed insights and so on) to enable gym owners to then measure the success of each type compared with sets of measurable objectives will influence their communication strategy going forward and help to to reform and refine it based on the historical data.
As competition between gyms becomes more intense, it is now more critical than ever for gym owners to communicate with their prospective and current members in an appropriate way. If communications are well received, appreciated, and thought to be valuable (by being entertaining, informative, timely, beneficial, etc.) the higher the likelihood that the recipient will act as directed (to sign up, renew, share, recommend, etc.) and the communication will, therefore, be successful.
Just as timely, considered communication can encourage members to promote and feel an affinity towards the brand, to become loyal to the gym, to feel as though they are part of the community, and feel as though they receive value for money and excellent customer service, poor, ill-timed communication can do quite the opposite. If customers feel bombarded, pressured, confused, hassled or overwhelmed by the communication they receive this could make them react negatively towards the gym, and leave them disengaged, demotivated, isolated and at worst actively frustrated or angry, which could quickly lead to them becoming at-risk.
The bottom line is that there are numerous factors to consider when determining how to communicate with gym members and defining these can only be done through trial and error, and by asking members directly. Capturing this data is essential if gym owners hope to create a personalised communication plan that members will be receptive to dependent on their interests, desires, and problems at the time.
It is worth remembering that the landscape of the fitness industry has changed dramatically over the last few years, and will continue to do so. The types of people who use the gym have also become more variable. With these changes, there will no doubt be more opportunities to communicate with members in creative and innovative ways and to keep testing and pushing the boundaries to devise a communication strategy that members will appreciate. Doing so can not only help to boost member retention but could also lower the number of at-risk members by applying the right kind of communication at the right time to capture members attention and deliver the sort of comms they would value to make them reconsider staying a member of the gym.
If you want to learn more about our smart AI-powered retention tool that could keep your retention rates high, why not request a demo today?
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.