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Long gone are the days when you had no choice but to keep track of your members’ comings and goings on a simple notepad at the front desk. In the digital age, you now have a variety of club management software (CMS) technologies to choose from.
But how do you know which is right for your club? There are several options on the market, each with their own unique pros and cons.
It’s worth noting there won’t necessarily be “good” or “bad” CMS choices in your search, just like any other service. One club’s CMS partner might not be a good fit for another, but it doesn’t make that CMS a dud.
The trick is to find the right fit for your club. This is accomplished through an assortment of questions you should ask yourself about what kind of CMS provider you need, and questions you should ask prospective CMS partners.
“The point of any CMS is to align and promote your business, to enable your business to do what it needs to do,” said Travis Shannon, the vice president of information at Leisure Sports, which uses Jonas Fitness’ CMS. “You need to start by looking at your entire business and the different components therein, and from that, you need to make a matrix of requirements.”
This “matrix of requirements” should detail the most important functions you’d like a CMS to execute and the level of priority assigned to each. Writing down these details will help you narrow your list of prospects to the ones that can specifically meet the most of your needs.
This plan should also align with your club’s business model, which Shannon said should be the basis for the CMS providers you’re drawn to in the first place.
“Several CMS companies have slightly different business models and offerings, and they run the gamut of just offering software, offering software and some services, and being full-service and doing everything,” explained Shannon. “You really need to make sure you’re looking at CMS providers that have what you need as a business.”
Once you’ve determined the type of CMS company you’re looking for, the real digging begins.
“We look for relationships — relationships come first,” said Jeremy Lowell, a Gold’s Gym franchisee with clubs in Virginia and Wisconsin. “We’ve always had a really good relationship with ABC Financial and the individuals there.”
Relationships are critical to finding the right fit in a CMS partner. In the case of Lowell’s Gold’s Gym franchises, the partnership with ABC Financial came from a recommendation that led to them making the switch.
And it’s a decision they’ve been quite pleased with. “Every time we’ve had a problem, they’ve done everything they could to fix it,” said Lowell. “You’ve got to feel taken care of.”
In your search for a new CMS provider, it’s likely you’ll come across at least one sales rep or manager you hit it off with. While that can be a sign of a good relationship, it’s important to remember an individual doesn’t always represent the quality of the entire company.
Consider finding someone else in the company to talk to — anyone from a customer service rep to developer. “Talk to others at the technology company,” suggested Shannon. “Often, our interactions with technology companies are with a sales rep or customer relations manager. It’s a great idea to talk to other individuals in that company so you can get a sense for that company’s culture and type of people they employ.”
It’s important to vet as much of the company as you can, because even a good relationship can crack under the weight of prolonged poor customer service and unmet expectations, no matter how much you bonded with your main point of contact.
Feeling like you’ll be taken care of by your CMS provider affords a certain level of comfort and is a luxury that shouldn’t be taken lightly. When choosing a CMS, be sure to evaluate how dependable the company is in technical support.
“If I was new in the industry and I had any questions, I’d literally want a concierge of sorts available for me who could answer my questions and lead me along the way,” said Lowell.
It was this sort of evaluation, in fact, that led Lowell and his Gold’s Gym locations away from their previous software. “When the front-end software and reporting weren’t working, and tech support kept telling us they were trying, but a year goes by and nothing is really fixed, it was time for a change,” he said.
According to Shannon, finding references for your CMS prospects is an effective strategy for weeding out potential unreliable partners.
“Oftentimes, you’ll get people who are in love with the product, which is great, but it’s always good to ask if there are things they would change,” said Shannon. “What would be the enhancement to make the product even better? Make sure you continue to push on that and don’t just accept the initial answer on things.”
Now that you’ve done some detective work on the company’s employees and culture, it’s time to evaluate its product.
Outside of reliable support, the most prominent selling point of any technology, especially CMS, is user-friendliness. Whatever technology you choose should be easy for everyone in your club to use, from ownership to the front desk.
“I want to know how effectively anyone could use this simple software,” said Lowell. “You shouldn’t be pressing buttons and jumping from screen to screen to screen — there should be a minimum number of clicks. If someone comes up wanting to just buy a bottle of water, for example, how simple is it to get there?”
The simpler and more user-friendly the system is, the smoother your day-to-day operations will be, and the less time you’ll have to spend on the phone with tech support.
Anyone who’s bought a car has experience with hidden fees. With some CMS providers, you might run across added fees or costs you weren’t originally budgeting for.
“Make sure you understand the total cost of ownership,” said Shannon. “Oftentimes, they tell you a cost and it’s just one component, like the licensing fee or an annual support fee. You want to understand what you’re going to be paying as it pertains to any kind of license, subscription or support.”
According to Shannon, it’s also important to ask what kind of fees will be involved with billing or other processes for members after the initial system integration. “Be sure they also include your processing fees, which are extremely important in our industry,” he said. “What do the credit card fees look like?”
If you’ve vetted dozens of CMS providers and haven’t found your perfect fit, it might be time for one last round of self-evaluation. If you can’t find a match, it’s possible you’re setting unrealistic expectations.
The reality is this: There is no perfect CMS. Therefore, there can be no perfect fit. “Having worked with and looked at a host of CMS solutions out there, I don’t think any of them are a perfect solution,” said Shannon. “There is always room for improvement and growth.”
The key is to find the CMS with the best track record of customer support, plus user-friendly and easily integrated technology, and develop a strong relationship with that business in which you challenge them to always improve.
“It’s incumbent on us as operators to encourage the technology companies to make their products better,” said Shannon. “It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on new or interesting ideas, whether it’s from inside or outside the industry. As a whole, by continuing to push the vendors in our industry to get better, we’ll all succeed.”