When we first purchased Elevations Health Club, 22 years ago, members would sign in when they arrived at the club on a piece of lined notebook paper. Membership dues were collected at the front desk each month. Not exactly technology-dependent.
As we started to grow, we implemented auto-payments. No more tracking down payments from every member every month. It was an essential change since we simply couldn't keep track of everyone's monthly dues on paper. Soon after that, we started a computerized front-desk check-in system.
About 10 years ago, we decided we needed "member-management software." We wanted to be able to track payments in real-time — and follow up more quickly on bounced payments. We wanted to know what days of the week or times of day were the busiest so we could adjust staffing. We wanted to know when members went "missing" so we could reach out to them and get them back in the club. There are a large number of software vendors in the fitness industry and each has its advantages. We felt ABC Financial fit our needs.
We now needed two computers at the front desk, one for members to check in (barcode keytags) and one for us to use as our cash register and to run reports, etc. ABC also had an app that allowed us to use our personal computers to log into the system so we could work from a back office or remotely.
Dark ages to digital age
As tech-dependent as I thought we had become, I recently discovered that we were practically in the dark ages compared to what we could be doing. ABC wanted us to switch to Electronic Agreement Entry — allowing prospective members to join on the computer, with no paper membership application. I wasn't so sure about this, but ABC offered to send a rep to our club for an entire week to teach us everything we needed to know.
Our rep, Kevin, came on-site and immediately said, "You know, there is soooooo much you guys could be doing online to make things faster, more efficient and more customer-driven."
Electronic Agreement Entry — EAE, for you tech people. When we sign up a new member, we now do all of it on the computer. The software will walk the staff person and customer through the sign-up process. Pricing and payment terms are preset. We installed an electronic signature pad so the new member can sign in all the right places. No paper. It takes less time than having someone fill out a paper contract and then have us enter it into the computer and send the originals off to our billing company so it can sync everything up in our database.
Guest registration — We ask everyone who walks in the door to fill out a guest register (name, address, email, interests, etc.) and a waiver if they will be "trying out the club." We used to do this on paper and then type everything into the computer later. The paperwork has to be kept on file for years for liability purposes.
Now, we use a $70 tablet that has internet access and a portal ABC supplies to us. When a guest walks in, we simply have them fill everything out (even sign our waiver) on the tablet. That person is instantly in our system.
If they decide, after their tour or workout that they would like to join, half the signup process is already done and in the computer. It also eliminates the possibility that the staff won't be able to read someone's handwriting or that we will miss getting their email address. It also ensures that every guest actually gets into the database so we can follow up and market our services to them.
In the past, when we did things on paper, I'd estimate that only 60 to 70 percent of the guest registers made it into our computer with accurate information.
Email — All of our new members receive "welcome to the club" emails and a monthly newsletter. We can also email blast all of our members when swim lesson registration is starting. We can email all of our prospects at once if we are running a fall special. With EAE, our new members now receive a copy of their contract via email and a copy of their receipt — and a staff person doesn't have to do anything.
Scheduling — We want every new member to meet with a trainer their first week in the club. We do this to help the new member feel comfortable and to design a workout for them that will help them meet their goals.
In the past, we had used a schedule book (think hair salon) to schedule these sessions, but we've put this online, too. When a staff person is signing up a new member on the computer and they get to the point where we are ready to accept payment, the computer automatically jumps to the appointment scheduler.
There's also an app for our smartphones, so the trainers can check the schedule from anywhere. They can even block out time or open up more availability from their phone.
Decade's worth of progress
In just one week, we pushed more of our business online than we had in the previous 10 years. And we aren't done yet. There is still so much more we can do to streamline our business and to make things easier for our customers.
Every six weeks, at the start of a new swim lessons session, the front desk has typically been covered in a sea of registrations, waivers and payments. We are soon going to allow customers to log into our website and register and pay for swim lessons online. We are also going to let our members schedule their children's daycare on our website.
For years, I have been aware that we could do Electronic Agreement Entry and not have to do things on paper. But I resisted, thinking that it would take too long to learn. That was a huge mistake. There is a learning curve for everything, but the bottom line is that technology allows us to improve our business and better serve our customers.
This article originally appeared in the November|December 2017 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Technology-dependent and loving it." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.