Turnover is natural for any health club. A variety of factors beyond a gym’s control — moving away, a change in income or birth of a child — can result in a member cancelling his or her membership.
It’s incumbent on clubs, however, to take every measure possible to improve retention within their own walls. Member attrition may sometimes seem out of your control, but there are more factors you can control than you might think to keep a higher percentage of your members around.
In fact, an effective and engaging retention strategy can do more than just limit the number of membership cancellations for a club — it can improve a club’s culture.
“The Cincinnati Sports Club has a long-standing history of above-average industry retention at our one location,” said Mary Frank, the club’s communications manager. “The annual attrition rate for the locally and privately-owned club is under 20 percent. We have no membership contracts — all memberships are a month-to-month agreement.”
Although Cincinnati Sports Club has never necessarily had a retention problem, it’s always seeking ways to improve. Early last year it set out to optimize its retention strategy.
“In January 2017, the club hired a post-graduate intern to assist in developing a spreadsheet monitoring tool that could be used to track high-risk members,” said Frank. “At this same time, the club formed a member retention task team that meets monthly to review data and discuss retention strategies.”
This analytical approach to measuring retention has helped Cincinnati Sports Club better understand why certain members might be more likely to leave the gym.
“The club has identified the risk factors for those who are likely to cancel their membership,” said Frank. “Additionally, the club has identified and tracked those activities that lead to the highest retention rates, most of which are group programs — group exercise, racquet activities, basketball, private training and social events.”
According to Frank, preventative measures can be taken by recognizing these risk factors. “The goal is to move high-risk people into a low-risk group by having them engage in one of the group activities that are low risk for deleting memberships,” she said.
These preventative measures begin for each individual member when he or she joins Cincinnati Sports Club, in the form of four simple — but specific — questions: Have you exercised in the past? Are you currently exercising? Are you currently a member of a club? And have you belonged to a club in the past?
As Frank explained, these questions help her team sort members based on risk factors. “Based on the total number of ‘no’ responses, the new member is ranked on a one to four scale for their level of risk and likelihood to cancel their membership,” she said.
As each member receives their cancellation risk ranking, Cincinnati Sports Club’s member retention task team constantly dives further into the numbers to formulate new retention strategies and improve their current ones.
“Each month, we identify the highest at-risk members and the information is sent to our data analytics company, Instinctive Insights, for further analysis,” said Frank. “Instinctive Insights provides any psycho-demographic information that may be available about the individuals, which allows us to determine what those members might be interested in.”
These insights are critical to the club’s ability to give members what they want, and help the task team know the members they’re analyzing. “These key measurements provide a manageable number of members for the retention task team to monitor on a monthly basis,” she said.
Despite all this talk of numbers and analytics, however, Cincinnati Sports Club doesn’t forget about the human element: a gym’s greatest weapon for engagement. “Personalized communication through phone calls, emails and handwritten notes are used to engage with the member, and encourage club usage and event participation,” said Frank.
Everyone loves a comeback story. Gold’s Gym SoCal recently gave its retention strategy a major facelift, and the results have been a much-improved retention rate and more positive club culture.
“Over an 18-month span, we have reduced our attrition percentage by 20 percent,” said Brian Morris, the vice president of sales, marketing and service revenue at Gold’s Gym SoCal.
Upon further examination of how many members were leaving the club and why they were leaving, Morris and his team realized they weren’t making enough of an effort to convince members to stay once they’d decided to leave.
“Our efforts have paid off significantly as we established an internal retention team focused on contacting pending cancelled members and cancelled members through SurveyMonkey,” said Morris. “This process helps us save up to 60 members a week.”
As it turns out, this added communication during a member’s cancellation decision has been a difference-maker. Morris and his team have also found consistent communication before a member even thinks about cancelling is very effective.
In addition to the online contact while a member is showing signs of cancellation, the gym also has its managers talk to members about their experiences to try and determine the cause. “We allow our club managers to run through the save process while the member is live in our clubs,” said Morris. “This adds another 50 to 60 additional saves per week.”
All these strategies have contributed to Gold’s Gym SoCal’s improved retention rates, but the most important strategy for the club has been improved communication.
“The main drivers for losing members center on miscommunication,” said Morris. “We are working tirelessly to improve our communication as it pertains to updates on equipment, responsiveness to inquiries, and relevant programs and services.”
In addition to preventing the miscommunications that are turnoffs for members, Gold’s Gym SoCal has taken a proactive retention approach by improving the experience members have in the club.
“We believe the key factors for retention are having great customer service with continued hospitality training,” said Morris. “Providing the latest equipment that matches the newest and latest fitness trends is also important.”
Simply put, a member is less likely to cancel a membership at a gym that constantly delivers the great experiences and connection they’re looking for. And if a member doesn’t feel they’re getting the experience they want, the Gold’s Gym SoCal retention team will know and take the appropriate action.
To assist the retention team’s analysis, the club has experimented with a couple different services to track data. “We continue to explore the latest technologies and programs to improve retention,” said Morris. “We currently use InMoment for internal feedback.”
At the end of the day, however, getting back to the basics of member engagement — innovative programming, excellent customer service, and updated facilities and equipment — has proven to be the best medicine for attrition.
“Overall, nothing beats continued field training and member communication,” said Morris. “Members want to be heard and we are here for them.”