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Keep Your Members

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“When people come in we know their children’s names, their names and maybe even what station they like to watch when they exercise,” said Paul Hodges, the general manager for O2 Fitness Brennan Station. There’s a woman at the Brennan Station location that loves the “Food Network.” Hodges and his staff make sure that whenever they see her coming in, they change one of the TVs in the viewing bay for her. Easy enough to do, and yet sends a great message to the member.

Members can find a new gym in no time. Customer service is of the utmost importance in the fitness industry and is the secret to retaining members. Sure, amenities may attract your members at first, but what will keep them there depends entirely on how valued they feel.

Staffing

It all starts with the right staff. Without a well-trained, friendly staff there isn’t a foundation for customer service.

“Customer service doesn’t begin with customers,” said Shawn Stewart, the operations manager at Gainesville Health and Fitness Centers (GHFC). “It begins with how you treat your staff. There’s not nearly enough time invested in staff.” At GHFC there is a five-step interview process, where they interview about 10 people for every one open position in the club.

Front desk staff employees need to understand, from the beginning of their training, the importance of their job. They are typically the first impression a member gets of any club, setting a tone for what members can expect. What member would choose to continue to go a gym where they are not greeted and no one makes an effort to know them? Simple, they wouldn’t.

How you train your staff makes a difference. “We preach from the very beginning in the interview process, that the most important person in the club is the member standing right in front of you,” said Tag Entwisle, the regional president of the Minnesota region for Titan Fitness, a franchisee of Gold’s Gym. They also have a “Get to know your members” system in each club. The front desk will introduce and get to know 10 new members every shift they work and managers go out on the floor and meet five new members.

Customer service doesn’t stop at the front desk. The responsibility should be extended to all employees to make members feel comfortable. At GHFC, there are floor instructors (different from personal trainers) on their circuit line and in other areas on the floor to help members get set up with the right workout and give them the education they need to have a smart workout utilizing the proper weights and repetitions. “There’s nothing we hate worse than a member who is paying good money and doesn’t know what to do so they’re just randomly doing exercises,” Stewart said. Members do not pay for services provided by floor instructors.

Taking Care of Your Members

Members expect the basics that they may receive from any business out there today, good customer service, friendliness, clean facilities and for everything to be in working condition, said Entwisle. “We tell our members we will ‘be there’ for them and help them in any way possible to reach all of their goals.”

Delivering on these expectations will keep members at your gym. Stewart said at GHFC they strive for every member to get a “hi and goodbye,” that every section of the gym is staffed and to create connectivity with members. Connected members will want to stay.

O2 Fitness’ primary focus is on members walking into the club and feeling noticed, said Hodges. “Members are thinking ‘am I going to be taken care of?’ and we want them to know we are going to do whatever we can to make sure their fitness goals are met,” he said.

After members sign up with O2 Fitness, they can expect their gym to follow up with them. They receive a hand-written letter thanking them for joining, a follow-up phone call making sure they have signed up for their free fitness assessment and a monthly call to ensure the gym is meeting expectations.

Keeping your equipment up-to-date and operating in good condition is important to a member feeling valued. Maintaining equipment is critical according to Stewart. “You can’t even play the game of customer service if you don’t have functional equipment,” he said. GHFC focuses on a 24-hour turnaround time for broken equipment.

Members know equipment is not always going to be brand new, but they rightfully expect it to always be working. “Enhancing member experience by having clean, safe equipment that functions in the manner intended by the manufacturer is important in a membership environment. It doesn’t have to be brand new, but the expectation is that the equipment would work like it’s brand new,” said Randy Bergstedt, the executive vice president for Total Gym®.

Convenience is key for members. They want to be able to come into the club and get things done, Entwisle said. “It’s usually early morning when they are on a time schedule or after work when they’ve had a long day. It’s extremely important to supply them with everything they’re looking for and expect from us on a daily basis,” he said. All of their district and regional staff are required to walk through the clubs every day when they enter and before they leave to make sure everything is in working order and clean.

Keep in Touch

Communication with members is huge. Think of your member as having a relationship with your club. Who wants to be in a relationship where only one party is communicating?

Listening to your members and responding to them in a timely fashion is pivotal to your relationship. O2 uses an online system called “Open Line” to encourage members to leave a compliment or praise, suggestion or a complaint that the staff needs to know. Hodges said they usually get way more compliments or suggestions than complaints, but it’s an important system because it allows them to gain insight into what works for the member. He and his staff respond as soon as possible to the comment to let members know they were heard and what may be done about their situation.

Stewart’s staff picks up comment box responses on an hourly basis. If the staff sees someone filling a comment card out, they are to go up to them and address their concern or comment in the moment. Everyone that leaves a comment gets a phone call so that they know their comment was actually read.

GHFC also has an “Eagle Program” that allows members to write about a staff member that has gone above and beyond for them. To compare, GHFC receives about 700 Eagle comments a month versus about 100 regular comment cards.

“If you can get members to find positive things about your club their mentality shifts,” Stewart said. Staff members who have an Eagle card filled out about them receive a “Gainesville Buck” that can be used to purchase merchandise and gift cards from the gym as part of a reward system. Stewart and his management staff take the 20 or 30 best Eagle card recipients, who have really done something extraordinary, out to dinner every month to celebrate and appreciate what they have done.

Good customer service is synonymous with retention. Stewart tells people who ask, he doesn’t have a specific retention program; everything GHFC does for the member is his retention strategy.

“We want the one to two hours a day that [members] spend in our club to be the best part of their day,” Entwisle said. “We want to not just sell them a keytag to get in the door, we are here to sell ‘fitness’ and help everyone reach their goals.”

All members want to belong and feel valued. Hodges understands what members want: “We want you to know when you’re here, you’re not just a member. You’re a face and a name.” -CS

By Ali Cicerchi

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