Switching CMS providers is a huge undertaking. Here, three industry leaders share tips and lessons learned after going through a CMS switch.
One of the most useful and beneficial tools inside your facility is your CMS. It’s your one-stop-shop for facilitating reservations and scheduling, membership/records management, marketing and promotion, reporting, billing and payment, and more.
CMS is a lifeline for fitness facilities. For most operators a fear in the industry is having to go through a CMS provider change, but oftentimes it’s needed to have a software that can fit your ever-evolving needs.
At Aquafit in Australia, Kristen Green, the executive general manager, said they had used the same CMS since opening in 2004. “Whilst it had served us well for many years, we were constrained by two main factors: a site server-based system rather than a cloud-based system, and the need to have the functionality of an open API to be fully integrated with our Technogym MyWellness products and services,” she said. “In our case, the benefits of incorporating these necessary features outweighed the challenge of changing an 18-year-old-process at the club.”
One of the greatest challenges that comes with a CMS switch is determining the best time to execute. Since the software does contain so much vital information and helps operations run smoothly, it’s a time consuming process that can have a direct hit on member experience.
Green said her team had long debated the best opportunity to make the switch, only to conclude there was no best time.
“At some stage we needed to rip the band aid off,” explained Green. “Ultimately for us, the catalyst was the last mandatory COVID-19 lockdown in 2021 that forced our hand. We recognized we had an opportunity before the club reopened to transition to our new CMS — Perfect Gym — before operations and full staffing resumed.”
While the timing was a benefit for Aquafit, it also presented one of the biggest challenges. At the commencement of lockdown — operating under their old CMS — Green automatically placed all members’ accounts on hold. Unknown to them, when they transferred the data from one software to the other, there were discrepancies between the debit and credits outstanding on member accounts.
“Fortunately, this was an issue which was identified by our team before reopening,” said Green. “But it created a huge amount of work at the time, as we needed to manually adjust thousands of accounts to accurately reflect the financial situation of our members.”
Cooper Wellness Strategies also knows firsthand the headaches and challenges that can arise during a switch.
When it entered a facility management relationship with the Downtown Athletic Club in Amarillo, Texas, the goal was to implement a new membership dues structure. However, the company quickly realized the current member management software system the Downtown Athletic Club was using wasn’t compatible with the proposed due’s structure within their billing system without extensive manual work required for each billing cycle.
Meredith Rosson, the fitness account director for Cooper Wellness Strategies, said they also discovered they were inheriting a system and data that had not been set up properly or managed consistently throughout the years. When seeking advice from customer support it was a struggle for consistent answers, knowledgeable staff or timely responses. This led them to switch over to Jonas Fitness.
“The company we were leaving tried to charge additional fees that were never mentioned in our contract,” said Rosson. “We knew we had made the right decision to switch to Jonas in seeing how the Jonas team really prepared us for these potential business practices and helped us develop the communication needed to mitigate some of these surprise fees the former company was attempting to charge. Also, the education, partnership and business practices exhibited with Jonas since Day One have been outstanding. We are working with a true partner who cares about our success and works overtime to help us predict and avoid challenges.”
Another challenge Cooper Wellness Strategies faced was not receiving important communication or the exit file from the old CMS provider in a timely manner.
This is the biggest grievance Jarrod Saracco, the former COO of World Gym, has in the industry — technology partners not working together.
“Let’s say I’m a member management system,” said Saracco. When I acquire a customer away from a competitor and I want the transition to go smoothly, well then I better make it that way for other people when I lose a customer. If one company makes it difficult for another to get everything they need and are not very friendly, have poor communication or delay data transfer, etc., that to me is just ridiculous. That’s like taking my toys out of the sandbox and going home. And I hate that. Companies need to work better together. And I think that’s one of the biggest challenges we have in the industry.”
When Saracco became COO, they were using around seven different software systems across their U.S. locations alone. He said trying to get data of any kind was a nightmare. Because of this, he aggressively searched for one software he could implement at all locations and decided to go with ASF Payment Solutions.
“The reason for that was they were willing to meet me where I needed to be,” explained Saracco. “They were willing to work with me on a customized solution for my business and my franchisees and deliver a quality product at a fair price. And that’s all I could ask for. They were willing to give me the support I needed, and that’s what led to the change for us.”
If you are considering making a CMS switch, Saracco warned it’s vital to do your homework.
“To me, there’s no perfect member management system out there,” added Saracco. “You really need to sit down and assess your needs. What’s most important to you? Have a list of questions you ask every single provider. Make sure you get those demos. You know what’s right for your business isn’t necessarily what’s right for a 20,000-square-foot big box gym or a 100,000-square-foot multipurpose facility. Everybody’s different.”
Additionally, Saracco recommended presenting a list of all the other technology you need to integrate with. Do you have apps? Are you looking to change all your apps? Are you looking to change technology in your classrooms or AI? These are all things you need to consider.
Aside from identifying the needs and function of each department/service within your facility and ensuring the system meets them, Rosson said there are two things she would suggest exploring as you interview member management software systems.
“First, realize the two most important teams you will be working with are the implementation team during your build-out of the system and their customer service team long-term throughout your contract,” said Rosson. “Don’t hesitate to ask about the average length of time their customer service team has been with the company, your account rep has been with the company and the implementation team has been with the company. Just as many of us have experienced changes in personnel, so have member management systems. With Jonas we were impressed with the tenure of their customer service team. This becomes key in your business operations when you are trying to quickly rectify a problem impacting your business or customers.”
Secondly, Rosson recommended keeping documentation of your communication with the exit company. Ensure you’re very familiar with what you agreed to and the terms and conditions for terminating your contract.
When you first notify a software provider of your contract termination, Rosson said to be sure to include the following items:
- Date of contract termination — in most cases, the end date of your contract terms.
- Date your final exit file is needed. Work with your new company to determine this.
- Mention the contract terms and include any fees or state no fees are mentioned based upon your contract terms.
- Request confirmation of receipt of the contract termination. Be prepared to follow up daily until you receive this.
- Mark your calendar with the deadline to receive your final exit file. Start documenting reminders of communication you send to the company you are leaving, stating the end of the contract date and the final exit file date request. Do this at least weekly until your contract ends and you receive your final exit file. Some company practices try to play hardball when you are leaving them and will drag their feet meeting your deadline or try to shut your system off early before your contract ends. Having these two items documented frequently will help you avoid any additional “rush fees” some companies might try to charge.
Overall, switching CMS systems is a huge undertaking. It requires a lot of work and time. If you decide to go down this path, the most important thing you can do is to get your team involved.
“Understand there will never be a ‘best time’ to transition to a new CMS,” said Green. “Your team will be your biggest advocates or your biggest anchors. Keep communicating with them so they buy into the process and clearly understand the benefits to both members and them. Bring them along with you for the journey and acknowledge that resistance to change will be one of your biggest barriers.”
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