Over the past couple of decades, the ways health clubs communicate with their customers has changed drastically. They have migrated from “fossil” forms of communication, like in-person conversations, to technological forms of communication, like texting, emailing and social media.
Unfortunately, in a lot of instances, this transformation has created a zero-sum scenario: The better we get at social media, the worse we get at having a decent and engaging conversation.
Sherry Turkle, a psychologist, MIT professor and the author of “Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less From Ourselves,” has dedicated her career to researching people’s relationships with technology. In a New York Times column, Turkle wrote, “Face-to-face conversation unfolds slowly. It teaches patience. When we communicate on our digital devices, we learn different habits … we start to expect faster answers. To get these in conversations, we ask one another simpler questions. We dumb down our communications, even on the most important matters.”
In the health club business, this lack of coherent, confident and extended conversation results in less meaningful interaction between the staff and the members.
So, I propose leaving communication through technology to your software company, which likely takes pride in streamlining interactions with members, allowing them to easily book a group exercise class or pay a past-due amount. What you should focus on is engaging your members in good conversation.
A good conversation leaves the member feeling engaged, inspired and hopefully feeling as if they made a real connection with the staff member. After all, the real reason most people join a club is for the socialization. With this in mind, here are a few simple things to remember when engaging your members:
When talking to the member, don’t multi-task.
Be in the moment, be present. It is more than not looking at the computer or your phone; it is also actively listening to them and not letting your mind wander.
Ask leading questions that open the door for a descriptive answer.
Instead of asking, “Did you like the workout?” ask “How did that workout make you feel?”
Don’t match or try and beat their experience.
If a member tells you that their elbow hurts, don’t go right into your history of tennis elbow and how you dealt with it. Stay focused.
Don’t make it about you.
These opportunities are there to make the member feel engaged and part of the club, not for you to prove your self-worth or expertise.
As Calvin Coolidge once said, “No one ever listened themselves out of a job.” Or in this case, no one has ever listened their way out of a sale.
You shouldn’t neglect the need for technology within your facility. However, the development of interpersonal communication skills, and the relationship between staff and members, are also vital. No matter how technologically sophisticated a club is, their sales and retention are directly affected by the ability to communicate effectively.
We live in a technological time. The health club industry needs to keep an eye toward the future, while not forgetting the lessons of the past.