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Health Club Management

Health Club Management

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Retention: Learning from clubs with high retention rates

Member retention is often a challenge, with operators typically losing 50 per cent of their membership annually. But a close look at the habits of clubs with impressive retention rates suggests that how you communicate with members significantly impacts their loyalty

Published in Health Club Management 2017 issue 11
People who work out on their own are more likely to leave a club / PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
People who work out on their own are more likely to leave a club / PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
If there isn’t a culture of interaction in your club, it’s going to take time for both staff and members to get used to it and results won’t come overnight - Dr Paul Bedford

People crave a great experience, yet not enough companies deliver this,” says Chris Stevenson, retention consultant and owner of Californian health club Stevenson Fitness. He adds: “Great customer experience comes through small interactions that ultimately have a big impact.”

When the industry’s first Net Promoter Score (NPS) study was carried out five years ago, the US had an average score of 44 and the UK just 22. Stevenson Fitness scored a whopping 77 – the highest in the whole of North America. The club now maintains a score well into the 80s. But how does it do it?

ENGAGING CHATTER
“If you work out on your own and leave on your own you are more likely to leave the club too,” continues Stevenson. “So we create a ton of systems to encourage members to engage with other areas of the club; anything from group exercise classes and personal training, to our social media channels, happy hours and holiday parties. If you’re interacting with a club on so many different levels, even if you try a class elsewhere you’re more likely to come back because you don’t want to give up those other things.”

Stevenson, whose retention rate is consistently above 75%, also has a clever way of getting members to commit to their next visit. As each member leaves, staff simply say ‘see you tomorrow’. Whilst most won’t be in the next day, stating when they will return cements that they are indeed coming back.

Globally-recognised retention expert, Dr Paul Bedford agrees that such ‘nudges’ towards how you want a member to behave are vital, but he’s keen to point out that members value interaction more at the place of their activity than anywhere else.

“If the front of house staff say: ‘Hi,’ it’s valued,” he explains. “But a group exercise instructor that says: ‘Hi, how are you?’ has an even bigger impact.” However, be mindful not to interrupt people’s workouts, he says. “Only use rhetorical questions if they’re working out. You don’t want them to answer, just to know you're prepared to speak to them.

“Introduce colleagues to the members you’ve spoken to. It’s much easier to start a conversation with someone you’ve been introduced to. The customer will also feel as though they know more than one person in the club.” But, Bedford warns, don’t be too ambitious to start with. He says: “If there isn’t a culture of interaction in your club, it’s going to take time for both staff and members to get used to it and results won’t come overnight.”

MEANINGFUL INTERACTIONS
Training staff to make the most of in-person discussions is, for Bedford, one of the most vital aspects of retention. “You don’t want staff rushing up and forcing themselves on customers just to show they’ve interacted,” he says. Instead, staff should be encouraged to create natural topics of conversations. For example, if a member is leaving the pool, an effective interaction could simply involve asking: ‘How was your swim today?’ Staff need to be specific, but not appear as if they’re trying to become best friends.”

Midway through training with Bedford is Suffolk-based trust, Abbeycroft Leisure. Its health, fitness and physical activity development manager, Matt Hickey, says he's seen the impact of trying to do too much too soon.

“One of our fitness apprentices was determined to work all of Paul’s advice into his next client induction. He was convinced it would be the best ever, but it turned out to be his worst as he was trying to remember too many different things,” he explains. “Reflecting on what went wrong, he moved forward by adding one piece of advice at a time until he was confident in his delivery. By breaking it into chunks he has really progressed and it’s now impacting on the customers he’s working with.”

Bedford also suggests establishing hot spots for interaction, so people get used to being spoken to in particular areas. “Surveys are a great way to kick this off,” he says. “The purpose is simply to initiate interaction and no more than five questions should be asked. Start with: ‘Can I take two minutes of your time?' so members know how long it will take and are also reassured for next time.”

FROM THE TOP DOWN
Bedford insists that training should empower everyone from managers and fitness staff down to front-of-house and cleaning staff to have positive conversations with members. “Most operators think of retention as a gym-specific activity,” he says, “whereas the entire building and every member of staff should be seen as a retention resource. Create a culture where everyone contributes in different ways".

Previously, Abbeycroft’s fitness team was solely responsible for the customer journey, with other departments unaware of their role in it. “One of big changes is the whole centre approach,” says Hickey. “Everyone has an active part to play.”

Hickey’s team were also big advocates of using technology to demonstrate and justify their retention activities. “We always had a culture of speaking to people, but it was focused around the fitness team and using technology to drive those conversations.

"We believed technology would be a game changer, but it, perhaps, dehumanised our service, because it was a system telling us who to talk to.

“Our challenge has been to believe in the intangible stuff, we’re spending more time making meaningful interactions without tracking and waiting to see if it relates back to a tangible number of members staying longer.

"It makes sense that if four people say goodbye to you when you finish your workout, you’ll feel more connected to the site, part of a community and not just a number. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”

Stevenson agrees and says that staff training is vital to ensuring every touch point is as positive as possible.

“There are seven points of contact to create awareness,” he says. “So we issue posters, emails and flyers for our holiday party, but then require every member of staff to personally invite a minimum of five people.

“We’ve coached our staff in how to invite people, and not just for social events. Group exercise instructors arrive early, check members in at reception, ask what they’re about to do and invite them to the class, creating a personal relationship. If you create relationships people will stay.”

This tactic is backed up through the club’s use of FORD (Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams). Each month staff are expected to create a relationship with two members with the aim of reporting back two FORD aspects about that person.

“We consider that building a relationship, and we use FACE (Focus, Ask, Connect, Execute) as a way to remember members’ names too,” Stevenson says.

The value of retention

There’s no doubt the battle for retention is one worth fighting. Insight from the Social Value Calculator of sport and leisure data repository DataHub found that a core member generates six times more social value, across improved health, reduced crime, increased educational attainment and improved life satisfaction, than a casual non-member. Added to this, says Bedford, an active member of nine months or more generates at least 40 per cent more revenue via secondary spending than a new member.

The value of retention / PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
The value of retention / PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

Case study - Hertfordshire Sports Village

Dave Connell, director 
of sport, Hertfordshire Sports Village
Dave Connell, director of sport, Hertfordshire Sports Village

Hertfordshire Sports Village, part of the University of Hertfordshire, has seen its NPS score jump from 29 to 69 since focusing on member interaction.

“With increased budget competition, we realised that to differentiate without reducing our pricing we had to deliver a superior service,” says director of sport, Dave Connell. “We were great at training staff on the skills we hope they’d never need, such as first aid, but poor on the skills they need to deliver service every hour of every day.”

The Sports Village worked with Dr. Paul Bedford to understand customer behaviours and the impact of interactions and within 12 months its NPS score has more than doubled.

One big change has been creating a back office function for answering phones, so receptionists don’t have to choose between talking to people or taking calls.

“It’s reduced our call drop rate from 30 per cent to just 2 to 3 per cent,” says Connell. “We only take calls between 10:30 am and 6.30 pm and have introduced an online booking app, so front of house can interact proactively with everyone as they enter.”

The site also introduced a daily interaction survey to ask customers when they were last spoken to and by whom.

“It’s just like secret eaters on TV,” explains Connell. “Staff think they are doing it, but often it was the customers saying hello to us. The survey puts just enough pressure on staff in the right way and our NPS results speak for themselves. Around 90 per cent of people giving a 10 mention the staff in some way. Any detractor comments are always about the facility or processes, such as booking.”

Hertfordshire Sports Village implemented a daily interaction survey
Hertfordshire Sports Village implemented a daily interaction survey
Members value interaction more when it's at the place where they exercise
Members value interaction more when it's at the place where they exercise
http://www.leisureopportunities.com/images/479675_286045.jpg
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