There's a concept we have used for years that has helped us tremendously with our ability to make good decisions when running health clubs. It's called "real versus feel." The idea is that when it comes to decision-making, it is always best to go with "real" as opposed to "feel." Feel is based on emotion and theory. Real is based on data and facts.
This may sound simple, but it is harder to execute than you may think. Emotions are strong and can take over at times. This is especially true of negative emotions. While it's human nature to let feel dominate real, doing so often leads to poor decision-making.
Imagine you are at your club on a Monday. You sell 10 memberships in the morning, have a great staff meeting, and sign up four new personal training clients. Then, in the middle of the day, an angry member comes in and cancels her membership because she is dissatisfied. In the early evening, you sell 10 more memberships and receive five amazing Facebook and Yelp reviews.
What would you say when somebody asks you how your day was?
"It was horrible!" you might say, before explaining, "An angry woman came in and yelled at us and cancelled her membership!" The latter statement is true, but the former is not. You had a great day other than one small glitch. While the negative moment had a big emotional impact, the truth is that 95 percent of your day was great. You may feel your day was horrible, but that certainly doesn't reflect reality.
Learning to curb emotion and rely on data will dramatically improve your ability to make effective decisions. Let me give you two examples from our experience that will effectively illustrate my point.
We ran a sale called "Your Friend, Your Rate." The premise of the sale is that every member can have someone join at the member's own rate. Rates at the club have increased over the years, and there were people who joined in the presale back in 2010 who pay a really low membership fee. You can imagine that a current member who joined at a current rate might get upset about somebody joining after them and getting a lower rate.
Our member service team expressed this concern when we decided to run this particular special again recently. They argued that so many members got mad and were hard to console the last time we ran the sale. As there was no data to back this feeling up, and the campaign had previously been successful in generating new membership sales, we decided to run it again anyway, but this time I made our member service team tally how many higher paying members actually complained.
During our one-day sale we sold more than a hundred memberships. Total number of complaints? Three. It was definitely a worthwhile endeavor. "Feel" said everyone complains, but "real" showed us that almost no one complained — in fact, less than 0.15 percent of the membership base.
Childcare change The second situation centered on whether to close our childcare area. Usage of the area was steadily dropping, but there were members who used it frequently, and their children loved it. Moreover, we are very attached to our members and their children, so closing the area felt uncomfortable. It felt like the wrong thing to do. We then did a deep dive into the data and noticed several things.
The first thing we noticed was that the numbers were in fact trending downward. Only 3 percent of the membership base had used the childcare area so far this year and only 0.03 percent used it regularly.
Next, we learned that the demographic of our city is aging to the extent that local schools actually bring in children from other areas to keep classrooms full.
Finally, to top it off, one of the most common pieces of negative feedback that the club was getting through its Net Promoter Score was that the gym was crowded and lacking adequate floor space for fitness.
All of that data showed us that by closing our childcare area, we would actually disappoint very few members, and there was a strong likelihood of making many more members happier by utilizing that area as more floor space for exercise. We still felt bad for the members who used childcare, but we were confident that closing it was the right decision.
"Feel" said that this was wrong because it would make entire families sad, especially children who we loved and who had so much fun hanging out and playing at the club. "Real" told us that shutting it down was the right thing to do because the trends, data and facts said so. "Feel" was emotional, and "real" made sense. We did a great job navigating the change, but that is for another article.
Feelings do have value, but they should never trump data. Anytime you have to make a decision, distance yourself emotionally and allow statistics to steer you in the right direction. You may get lucky once in a while by following your "feel" of a situation, but you rarely go wrong when you act on what's "real."
This article originally appeared in the January | February 2020 issue of Athletic Business with the title "In decision-making, ‘real’ always trumps ‘feel’." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.