Are your customers numbers, or assets?

Having been in the fitness and recreation industry now for well over 30 years, I have witnessed the worrying trend of large scale fitness businesses that treat clients and customers as numbers instead of assets.

What does this mean?

Well, the first gym I became a member of was way back in 1986 (yes, I am old!). Back in those days, believe it or not, they had the same standard equipment that we have today, maybe without the newer accessories, modern technology, flat screens and digital services, but for basic exercise purposes, the facilities looked very similar, even with music playing from the speaker system, good music too! What I distinctly recall though, was that most gyms were staffed with a permanent personal trainer, sometimes the owner, and the service they provided was always first class, you would have someone there to assist and help at all times, and never pushing you to upgrade your membership, try other add on cost services, or pushing for PT sessions at an extra charge. Because they were full-time, it was part of their job, they were professionals, not salespeople. And you always had the feeling that they were there to help, not sell, and as a customer, you felt valued and became loyal to the gym, you were an asset to them. There weren't many largescale gyms or leisure chains back then, the gym was usually run by the owner who had a legitimate background and interest in fitness and wellness and made customer service a priority.

Which leads me to the modern day.

It always amazes me to see the huge advertisements by many gym chains, proclaiming the "hundreds of thousands" of customers they have as members, sometimes worldwide. Interestingly, it is never disclosed whether they are current members, or members in total, or how many members have left since joining. But they are numbers, impressive ones too. From a business perspective the more customers or "numbers"on the books, the better it looks. But aren't gyms and leisure facilities really customer service businesses, supposedly offering a fitness and leisure service? Stacking gyms with equipment, running the same classes run by everyone else, giving customers time up to the sales point, then never showing an interest in the customer after they have signed a membership, is not customer service, and will not keep customers at your facility! Gyms are on every corner now, competition is rife, customers will shop around when not valued.

As mentioned earlier, I have been in the "game" for 30 years. What I have seen, is that the industry has now become a numbers game. The more franchises you open, the more customers you sign up, the better you are. But what about retention? Without customer service, customers simply leave, and they do this in droves. Memberships are oversold at a huge rate, because we all know that there's a huge percentage of people that will join, then slowly stop showing up, until they stop completely without ever terminating their membership, and never being called or asked why they aren't coming anymore but still paying! Easy money.

I have met a number of gym and facility owners in my casual work over the years with my programs, and interestingly, there's a huge number that have absolutely no interest in fitness, or experience, they see it simply as a good way of making money, like buying into a McDonalds franchise, you don't need to have an interest in food, hence the lack of customer service as well. Once someone has signed a membership, the attitude is "job done". When the reality is "job hasn't even started yet". One particular "Manager" was telling me how his gym had over 4,000 members, and if I worked for him as a PT and paid rent, I would be guaranteed to make a lot of money. I had walked past this gym on many occasions, during peak times, and had never seen more than maybe 50 people at one time in the facility. If the gym was jam packed, the maximum number of people it could hold would be possibly 150. But they had 4,000 members! At my 1PM meeting, the gym was empty! But, there were 4,000 members! He even pointed out one of his "star" PTs. The reason he was a "star"? He used to walk up to every member, whether they were working out or running the treadmill, trying to talk them into purchasing PT sessions or upgrade memberships, he was relentless I was told, and would approach the same people every day, until they caved in. That made him a "star". I listened curiously, because if I ran a facility and a staff member did that to my customers, I wouldn't have them as a staff member for long. And I could see why this "4,000" member gym basically had hardly anyone using it. It was about numbers, sales, pushing, and customer service took a back seat to sales and numbers, so customers lost interest, they weren't seen as assets, just numbers.

Once customers have signed that membership, they need to be kept engaged, surprised, fascinated by what they learn and achieve, and simply feel valued from the service they are receiving.

Hence the reason for the success of the 30 Minute Blitz fitness program. The classes measure the customer's progress, they are kept motivated by their achievements, and provided varied and challenging programs. We know our customers by first name, they feel valued, and have become loyal to the 30 Minute Blitz brand, to the point where I have seen many leave facilities once the classes have moved somewhere else, even if this means further travel or paying a cancellation fee to the facility. Our customers are our assets!

We recently started a 12 week challenge with only 4 trainers (pic below), and from a pool of 200 in the area we started the challenge, 87 participants took it up, a conversion rate of 43.5%. Yet at around the same time, a facility I was also contracted to ran a similar challenge, with dedicated staffing for customer service, promotions, sales, etc, with a membership base of over 800, yet only a handful of people took up the challenge, a conversion rate of 0.625%! The reason for our success? Running a program that was focused on our assets, customer service and providing customers a fresh and exciting fitness experience! The reason for the other facility's failure? Never engaging their customers once they have become members or "numbers" and assuming having equipment and running classes that are run at every facility will keep them interested.

So for gym and recreation facilities, if you want to maintain a high retention of customers, focus on making customers your assets and customer service, by providing a customers experience that they look forward to coming back for with programs like the 30 Minute Blitz, your sales will grow, but through member referrals and affiliations, the best retention tool of all.

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