Getting to Know Your Members

Without real knowledge about members, cannot improve marketing efforts and cannot significantly improve member retention levels.

The fitness industry is laden with well-intentioned staff members who sincerely want to help members succeed in their goals. Facility management and ownership have this same desire, as they believe it is a key factor in ensuring members stay at the fitness center, and thus drive member retention levels upward. However, most staff members and management know little about their members -- even the most active ones. Without real knowledge about members, you cannot satisfy them, cannot offer programs hand-tailored to them, cannot improve marketing efforts and cannot significantly improve member retention levels.

Key questions

It is important to know why members joined originally, and what actually brought them into your facility the day they signed up. You may ask these questions as part of the sales tour, but the answers almost never get entered into your membership database, so you do not know what marketing tools are the most effective.

The same is true when new members are asked about their goals -- this information is almost never saved or combined. More importantly, if it has been some time since the member joined, no one has asked them for their current goals or their current level of satisfaction with the facility. This is critical if the member is thinking about quitting.

Up-sell opportunities

Fitness centers often do not know if members are married unless they are part of a couple or family membership. They do not know if the spouse ever tried the fitness center, or was a member in the past. Also, information about whether the member has children and of what ages is not recorded. This could have led to registering them for youth programs, birthday parties or a family membership.

In addition, records may not indicate where a member works, have a work telephone number or email address, have the size of the company, the member's position at the company, the number of employees at the company and whether the facility has solicited that company, had an open house or already has a corporate account with the company. Often, an insider with the company can initiate a corporate relationship with a senior company executive or a human relations officer.

It is also useful to know the history of members regarding bringing guests to special events and providing referrals -- and then tracking these leads to see if they actually joined. Obviously, a successful referrer should be reinforced if identified over the years.

Member experience

Understanding what members do at your facility, how often they come, when they visit, etc., is critical information for helping them to use your fitness center fully. Typically, no real information is known about whether a member uses a certain type of cardiovascular equipment, uses a certain line of strength equipment, stretches at the end of a workout, sits in the sauna, showers, etc. If the routine is regular and known, there is an opportunity to introduce the member to other types of cardiovascular equipment; to vary the workout with the use of free weights, exercise balls, balance boards or a group exercise class; to suggest other activities such as basketball, swimming a few laps, sitting in a coed whirlpool or participating in a racquet sport. This could lead to more flexibility for them in activities, the days of the week visited and the timing of club visits.

You can also enrich a club experience by introducing trials to services (e.g., personal training, massage, juice bar smoothies, fitness programs, etc.). This is powerful as a reinforcer to the overall club relationship. If the patterns of use are known, suggestions for a variety of changes are more likely to be accepted. At the same time, if fitness center staff members know the member's behavioral patterns, they can then understand when there is a deviation. If, for instance, the member goes outdoors in warm weather (to play golf or softball, to bike or compete in triathlons or to use a second home for extended weekends), the fitness center would know how to interpret their usage data. It could lead to marketing to the members' golf-playing partners, softball team, fellow bikers, etc.

Keys to communication

No two members will follow the same method of being informed about your fitness center and its programs, services and events. Some will prefer an email, your website, a text message on their cell phone, flyers distributed around the facility, a newsletter or a telephone call from the appropriate department head. Therefore, fitness centers need to make a commitment to learn more about their current members. They need specific member profiles entered into the computer, specific customer relationship-management software and a commitment by all staff members to make members' fitness center experiences positive. Questions have to be asked and actions must follow based on these member insights.

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