As our industry continues to grow, so will the entrance of new fitness professionals and certified trainers into our fitness facilities and wellness centers. Competence is no longer a point of differentiation but merely the price of entry. Thus, our members' decision to retain us will not be based solely on the efficacy of our offering and the ability to produce results, but on the outcome our offering provides — coupled with the experience it's packaged in.
 
Finding the Solution
            The growth of our industry has resulted in numerous choices afforded to our prospective members, leading to greater expectations and demands. Today, we are up against two emerging forces in this industry — growth of information and competition. In order to position your facility or center as the preeminent option available to your prospects, you must have a systematic approach to the individualization and implementation of each component of your programming strategy. In addition, the cultivation and preservation of professional relationships are indispensable to your success. 
            Essentially, retention is important because:
>> It is significantly less expensive to keep a member than to acquire a new one.
>> Attrition is measured monthly but compounded annually, meaning if you have 10 members and lose one per month, that's 10%. However, across the span of a year, you would have had to replace 12 members. When you consider the lost revenue on the services per week of all 12 members, their membership fees and the acquisition costs of replacing a member per month, the financial consequences of mere 10% attrition (member loss) can be significant.
>> It forces you to pay attention to the variables affecting member behavior and purchasing habits.
>> Attrition is often silent attrition, which prevents you from identifying and correcting areas of dissatisfaction within your member base, which is one of the major reasons businesses fail.
 
Begin Engaging Emotionally
            Paul Ekman, a University of California researcher, demonstrated that certain postures and facial expressions have a profound impact on emotional state. Using an electroencephalogram (EEG), subjects showed more activity in the left hemisphere, the part of the brain associated with feelings of happiness, when they produced a sincere smile. When they ceased to perform the pattern of movement consistent with a sincere smile, the activity in the left hemisphere diminished. Dr. William James of Harvard stated in his book, The Principles of Psychology (1890), that emotions are the result of our physiology or body language, saying, "…We feel sorry because we cry, anger because we strike, afraid because we tremble, and not that we cry, strike or tremble, because we feel sorry, angry or fearful…."
            Researchers J.T. Cacioppo et al (1992) and Rome et al (1990) have recently reported similar conclusions. In addition, Elaine Hatfield, Richard L. Rapson and Cacioppo (1992) propose that not only does our body language and facial expression control our emotional state but is contagious to others as well. People have the tendency to unconsciously mirror our own body language. Therefore, be aware of how you and your trainers present yourself to your clients. Because if you are in a negative emotional state, your body language will reflect that, and that means you may adversely affect the state of those around you.
            We desire to be around people who make us feel good. If your members experience a negative state change, obviously, this can hurt retention. Conversely, if every interaction with your facility and your employees promotes positive feelings and associations, your members' view of you as an invaluable component of their life
increases. The maintenance of any relationship depends largely upon the feelings that two or more people associate to each other. Therefore, take nothing for granted. Have all your fitness professionals in your facility or center determine:
1  How the client feels emotionally, mentally and physically at the start of each session. 
2 What is most important to the client during each session? Tie in every component of your session to his or her desired outcome. 
3  Monitor the client's emotional state throughout the session. Is it improving? What sessions did he or she find especially enjoyable? What was it about those sessions he or she liked most? How can the professional replicate that every session?
            Finally, emotional engagement results from challenging our clients beyond their current scope of possibility. What separates leaders from laggards and excellence from mediocrity is vision — the ability to see our clients beyond who they are but, rather, as who they could be. The greatest contribution fitness professionals can make in their clients' lives is to help them in creating that vision for themselves as well. So have all your employees continually challenge and encourage your members; have them help their clients set and achieve goals slightly beyond their clients' current self-expectations. That will give your clients and members a glimpse of the possibilities within them, which, in turn, alters their self-concept. And by altering clients' self-concept, the fitness professional can  far exceed incremental progression of their goals and can create a substantial shift in their self-concept. 
 
Creating an Uncompromising Customer Experience
            Our clients are inundated with solicitation of innumerable products and services on a daily basis. Therefore, the only thing that they will notice as a point of differentiation is something that goes far beyond a typical point of contact. Essentially, uncompromising customer service is what we, as fitness professionals, are willing to do beyond what's required. Offering services at your facility or center, such as a session with a trainer who is professional and brings excitement to the exercise or delivering superior program designs and coaching, that, ultimately, result in the achievement of your customers' goals is not extraordinary. It's simply the minimum measure to be retained. The word uncompromising means that you're adamant, rigid and unwavering in your commitment to do whatever it takes to ensure an optimal experience and maximum results for your members — so long as it doesn't undermine your business. 
            However, this doesn't mean offering your members special packages, such as free sessions for every ten that they purchase. If you gave away one session per every 10 packages sold, you would lose the cost of the session in addition to the time slot you could have booked someone else, and don't forget the hour you could have been prospecting to build your business. That's at least twice the hourly compensation for an experience that's no different in your clients' minds than the past 10 sessions! In addition, it will eventually become expected by your clients, not appreciated. If the value of the services at your facility is worth what you are charging, a free session is not an added value." Instead, do something special that they will remember. Patricia B. Seybold in her book, The Customer Revolution, suggests that we consistently exploit opportunities to do things for our customers (clients) that make them feel important and appreciated. Some effective ideas include periodically rewarding purchases, re-signs and incremental achievements.
 

Part 2
 
Innovation

            The belief that we will ever have a sustained competitive advantage in the minds of our customers is a delusion. You must reinvent your facility continually. Innovation is accomplished by anticipating the unexpressed needs of your members. Don't ask them what they want. Our clients may not be aware of the possibilities afforded to them; that's our job. How many people were demanding laptop computers, fax machines, cell phones and the Dodge minivan before they were introduced to the market? Habitually monitor and measure what matters to your members. Then, implement their highest criteria into your facility experience with regularity.    

            Questions to ask:

  • What's most important to you about your visit to the facility today?
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how do you feel at this present moment?
  • What would have to happen in this visit to the facility to increase your emotional state to a level ___?
            Identify what aspects of your programs your members like most, least? And why? Is it something about the actual exercise, or is it their perception of the effectiveness and relevance of your programs to their goals? After every few exercises in a session, have your trainers quantify the experience from your clients' perspectives.
            This enables them to give you specific feedback on how to continually modify the program to increase their enjoyment. If, for example, the client says their enjoyment was a level 7 on their last exercise, how can the trainer make it a level 8? If that is achieved, level 9 and so on. The more you provide maps for what they desire, the greater their adherence. 
 
Be Their Raving Fan
            Know your customers inside and out! Keep records of significant events in their life. One of the greatest human needs is the need to be appreciated. If you acknowledge this, it will greatly strengthen the relationship between you and your members. During sessions, have your trainers keep the focus off of themselves. Instead, have these trainers focus on their clients' training goals, clients' feedback regarding the session and clients' performances in each exercise that has been selected. 
            Additionally, concentrate on who your members are as individuals. Show them appreciation not just as a client, but as a human being. Never ask a personal question or discuss anything that crosses professional boundaries. However, find out things like their birthdays, children's name(s) and birthdays, holidays they celebrate, occupation, recent accomplishments or if married, their anniversary. This information gives you and your trainers the opportunity to create meaningful points of contact with your members. 
  • Create a file containing the previous information for each of your members. 
  • Transfer every significant date into your planner. Make sure you enter it three days prior to the actual event. For example, if your member's birthday is June 23rd, enter a reminder in your planner for June 20th
  • Send a card or a gift acknowledging the event the day you receive the reminder. Books make very professional gifts for birthdays and holidays as well as plaques for recent accomplishments. 
  • Acknowledging their children's birthdays are especially meaningful to your members.
            Harvey MacKay of MacKay Envelope uses a process called the MacKay 66. He gathers 66 key pieces of information on every one of his clients in order to create constant contact with them aside from typical business transactions. 
            Consider your relationships with your members as an emotional bank account. Every time you fail to yield value beyond what is expected, you make a withdrawal. Every time you do something that is unexpected, unique and important to them, you make a deposit. The more deposits you make, the greater yield you will receive from that account in the form of renewals, referrals and word-of-mouth endorsement.
 
Partnership
            Decide to become your members' most valuable resource. Make what matters most in their life, matter significantly in yours. 
  • Email articles from the Internet on exercise, health and nutrition that pertain to their goals and their family's interests.
  • Each month, browse through various trade publications (ForbesFortuneFast CompanyWired, Business 2.0Success,Entrepreneur,) that pertain to their career. When you come across something that is of interest or benefit to them, buy them the magazine. It's a five dollar investment that will yield exponential returns. At the very least, photo-copy the most pertinent articles and share the information with them. 
  • Books, audio-tapes and seminars are a great investment for your key members. Each community has listings of workshops and seminars in the area. This listing covers everything from increasing memory, sales and leadership to keeping a better garden.  You can send your members to one of these workshops. At the very least, get them the information on how they can register. It shows your concern for things that are important to them. 

            The relationships you cultivate with your members are the strongest undercurrent in the success of your business. By following the components in this article, your members will be more likely to reciprocate through referrals and re-signs. 
            Your rewards, financial or personal, are directly correlated to the value you deliver to others. If you are reading this right now, we can assume that you want more out of your business.  The goal of this article is to share ideas and applications that will enable you to experience greater success in your business and life by assisting you in the development of strategies to help other people experience greater success in theirs. 
             Robert Cappuccio is president of the consulting firm, Legacy Performance Solutions and has designed and implemented sales, customer relations, management and personal training systems for leading industry organizations. For more information, visit www.livealegacy.com.

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