As a health club operator and the vice president of strategic initiatives for a customer experience management software company, I know the importance of customer experience management (CEM), which involves listening to customers and improving their experience by implementing changes based on that feedback. CEM is not new to large enterprises that have big budgets along with a host of analysts and researchers as well as a driving desire to differentiate themselves from competition. But CEM may be new—and a challenge—to smaller companies.

Executives at Fortune 500 companies know that customer loyalty is critical to their companies’ success, so they understand the importance of listening to those customers. Doing so helps to increase retention, and the recession has meant that the focus on retention is at a fever pitch. Executives see the importance of quantifying the return on investment of their loyalty initiatives, and this fosters even more investment in customer loyalty.

All of these CEM initiatives have become commonplace at Fortune 500 companies. Not so for most companies in the fitness industry. Our industry needs to catch up. The fitness industry has pockets of companies with incredible customer loyalty and experience with CEM, but the overall level of awareness and the desire to change is quite low. No matter what kind of fitness facility you run, you are a service business. You pay people to do things that are supposed to make the members’ experience better. CEM systems tell you if that is working. They measure what, up until now, has been lost in the ether of the club.

The following are ways that great companies use CEM:

They set CEM goals and measure progress. The key to CEM is to talk to your members about customer experience, then measure it. As one company leader put it, “By the time poor customer experience shows up on your profit and loss, it’s too late.” Every gym owner should use a system to capture member feedback and benchmark against widely accepted methods for quantifying customer experience.

They embrace all feedback. The best companies do not get bogged down in dogma. Negative feedback as well as positive feedback are embraced and deeply investigated to recover customers and improve the future experience for all. Every individual piece of feedback matters.

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They close the loop. When customers provide feedback, they get responses. Your members want to know that they have been heard. Your CEM design should allow each of your locations to receive a stream of feedback at a pace that is easily manageable by the front line on a daily basis.

They socialize feedback. These operators share with their staff the company’s scores for friendliness, cleanliness, overall experience or likelihood to repurchase. Staff discuss and dissect the numbers in meetings. Customer comments are used to support the desired culture. This is easy in the gym environment, and it is fun. I send comments to our entire staff about twice a week emphasizing what makes us different and thanking the staff for doing what we cannot do without them.

They nurture staff engagement. Part of the reason you need to socialize customer data is that it increases staff engagement. Business owners make sure all corners of their operations are aware of key loyalty metrics relative to goals and to peers in the system.

They know that customer experience leads. Downward trends in customer experience scores are the leading indicators for customer exodus. Awareness around customer experience allows one to see what has not been visible and to respond before it hits the profit and loss statement.

They never stop. These companies listen, respond thoughtfully, recover customers, make changes to delight and keep customers, set targets and measure the effectiveness of their efforts. This is how CEM works and how companies differentiate by enchanting their customers. The playing field is wide open in the fitness industry. Operators with the right philosophy, the tenacity and the willingness to learn from enterprises more experienced and more profitable than ours will reap the greatest benefits.

BIO

Blair McHaney is president of Confluence Fitness Partners Inc., which operates two Gold’s Gyms in Washington state. He previously served as president of the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Association and is an educator on customer experience management.