Industry leaders share how to utilize technology to ease operations and improve member experience, and why it’s important to put members first.
The fitness industry is evolving to encompass a new wave of digital trends that are driven by technology, demographic changes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2021, online training was the ACSM’s top fitness trend, which jumped from #26 in 2020, showing how quickly the industry has taken this on. While intimidating, industry veterans don’t see technology as a threat to the business, but rather a complement.
“Technology is a complement to the club, not a competition,” said Jon Brady, the president of Midtown Athletic Clubs, during the December Thought Leaders Panel: ‘Keeping Up with Technology.’ “The hardest part to exercise is the first step. Anything that helps people move better is complementary to us as an industry.”
Other panelists including Mike Rucker, the vice president of technology at Active Wellness; Mindi Bridges, the chief brand and marketing officer at VASA Fitness; and Mark Harrington, Jr., the president of Healthworks and Republic Fitness, agreed technology is a tool that should be used to improve the overall member experience.
For example, Harrington Jr. said they recently utilized technology to move all member request to online. Members can now easily join, freeze or cancel their memberships virtually. He said this has not only improved the member experience, but the staff’s as well.
“It makes our staff happy, too,” said Harrington Jr. “We will have someone who loves data entry putting in those member requests and getting them done quickly, accurately and right on time. Then the people who love to greet and talk to members can do that and don’t have to worry about details of a member request.”
While there is no current data to back this up, Rucker believes this could increase the number of boomerang members — those who cancel and then return to the club — since members would no longer have to jump through hoops to cancel memberships. This would leave members with a better relationship with the club, encouraging them to join again when they’re ready.
Bridges has seen this firsthand since moving their member requests to their mobile app, as well.
“When we looked at our online reviews before we launched our app, 75% of our 3-star and below reviews were about the cancelation process,” said Bridges. “We’re now down to about 25% being cancelation policy, but they’re about members not wanting to pay the fee instead of the process being hard.”
While it’s clear technology can ease operations, it can be overwhelming to choose which software and platforms are worth investing in. When it comes time to decide, Harrington Jr. said to start with the problems you’re looking to solve first, then find the technology to help. Not the other way around.
“Every sales pitch you hear seems awesome, but you really have to identify what the problem or goal is and then find a technology solution to support that,” said Harrington Jr. “Start with the business needs and then find the best solution to accomplish that goal.”
Rucker agreed it is easy to be sold by a company for a problem you don’t even have. So, when looking to invest in technology ask yourself three questions:
- How does it save us money?
- How does it make us money?
- And how does it improve the member or employee experience?
For Bridges, that last question should be the most important. She said it’s easy to get caught up in what is best for your business, but if it’s not great for members, then it’s not worth it.
“Ask yourself, ‘Does it make sense for the consumer that is walking in your doors?,’ said Bridges. “It’s easy to get caught up in really cool technology, but make sure you’re thinking about your customer and what really matters to them. Get member feedback, walk the clubs and get a feel of what’s really happening inside your facility and what problems you need to solve for your members.”
You can watch the full episode below: