Busy club members want to get the information they want, when they want it and in the format they want it. Savvy club managers will offer a variety of ways members can get information — yet few are doing that, says Kare Anderson, co-founder of Say It Better Center in Sausalito, CA. Communication is a two-way street, so not only must you communicate your message to members, but you also must hear the message they have for you whether through online surveys, in person, on the phone or through a focus group.
Communication is always more open when club members feel they know you and you know them. For that reason, it's important to develop relationships with members right away, says Susan Carter with marketing firm Success Ideas, a Minneapolis-based consulting company for small businesses.
Donna Hegdahl, founder and president of marketing and consulting firm TransSynergy in Dallas, also stresses the importance of ongoing communication with members.
“We often forget to communicate enough with our clients to keep them informed about what is going on,” says Hegdahl. “People really like to keep informed.”
Ideas for keeping communication flowing include:
- Chart your communication strategy
You should have a communication strategy for at least a quarter in advance, preferably a year in advance, says Hegdahl.
“If you sign up a new member and don't communicate with that member other than to send a bill, then you are not going to build a relationship with them,” says Hegdahl. Therefore, a plan needs to be in place detailing how much and what type of communication each member will receive.
After the strategy is developed, you must decide whether you as the club owner are good at crafting the communication, whether someone else on the staff would be better or whether you should go to an outside source.
- Repeat your message
Once you have a clear and specific message, then you must repeat it in various communication methods.
“If you multiply the message, familiarity breeds acceptance,” says Anderson.
Hegdahl agrees. “People don't respond to things, in general, because they see it once,” she says. “If you hear about it multiple times, it plants multiple seeds and gets implanted in the brain.”
A club must have access to a variety of communication tools — e-mail, Internet, signage, phone, newsletters and letters. It's best if the same message is communicated in several formats. For example, a club could announce a June member appreciation party beginning in its January newsletter and repeat it in newsletters until the date of the event. Then, the club could mail out invitations a month prior to the event followed by weekly e-mail reminders and signage at the club detailing time, date and place.
- Conduct surveys and focus groups
Thinking about the target audience is the most important part of communication, says Hegdahl. A club owner must consider what members want. Surveys are a great way to get feedback so that you can target communication to them better. It also helps to offer an incentive for responding to the survey, says Hegdahl. In addition, surveys can help you decide how to communicate with members if you can ask them how they prefer to be notified about new classes, new equipment, new hours, etc.
- Place one person in charge of communication
Whether you do it yourself or hire someone to do it, the messages that go out from your company must be consistent regardless of the medium. Programs must go by the same name in the signage at the club as in the e-mails to members. Sport & Health Clubs, which owns 29 clubs in the Washington, DC area, developed a template for its printed and online communications so that each piece looks similar and continues a consistent theme, says Nancy Terry, senior vice president of marketing. Terry oversees the company's “look” from the Web site to the e-mails to the signage.
- Communicate with targeted e-mail
Imagine if a club listed the information it could make available to members — from events for women to special clinics — and let members sign up for e-mail alerts to just what they wanted, Anderson says.
Clubs should keep a relational database that tracks the interests of members. That way, a club owner can send the member e-mails about their specific interests.
“[By doing that,] I'm saying I know you better than someone else. Why go elsewhere?” says Anderson.
Younger members often prefer to get e-mailed communication, Anderson says. It is effective if you reference the club's Web site and provide a hyperlink to the Web site right in the e-mail.
Older members may still prefer mailed communication. However, don't assume that's the case. Instead, ask your members how they prefer to receive communications.
Sport & Health Clubs has goals to improve communication with its 70,000 members, provide a value-added service by delivering pertinent information based on a member's interests and increase participation in revenue-generating programs.
As a means to reach those goals, Sport & Health Clubs embarked on a proactive member communication campaign. The club delivers between 15 and 20 e-mail campaigns each month to segments of its member base. On average, the club sends out 45,000 e-mails each month.
The efforts have earned the club read rates that regularly exceed 45 percent and click-through rates as high as 6 percent, which translates into a 15 percent click-through by readers. More important, attendance at programs promoted through the e-mails has increased substantially.
“We wanted an efficient, effective, compelling way to communicate with members and a quicker way to get our message out than the traditional methods,” says Terry.
- E-mail members no more than once per week
If you send more than one e-mail a week, it can start to feel like spam.
- Keep e-mails simple and colorful
You want to put just enough information in the e-mails to get the member to click on the link you provide to your Web site so you can track the next level of interest. The link should be the offer for the member. Draw attention to the e-mail by using a creative design with color and photographs in the e-mail.
- Allow members to opt out
When you e-mail members, always give them an option to opt out of future e-mails.
- Develop a members-only section on your Web site
Many clubs are customizing their Web sites allowing everyone to view parts of the site but only club members to view other parts. Sport & Health Clubs launched a members-only Web site in January. The site provides members with a feedback option and opportunities to take online surveys or contribute to member message boards. The site has seen 4,800 distinct logins in its first three months of operation.
Through the site, the company has gathered more than 1,800 responses to its member satisfaction survey. Responsibility for responding to the surveys has been electronically decentralized across the 29 clubs. Club managers log in to the administration site and sort, retrieve and respond to each member's survey response. Members have also given good feedback about this quick, personal recognition to their concerns. In the first quarter, the clubs have decreased their annualized attrition rate by 3 percent.
- Create a newsletter
Whether the newsletter is e-mailed or snail mailed, it is a great way to communicate with members about upcoming events, health tips, exercise tips, member profiles and employee profiles.
Success Ideas' Carter is a fan of newsletters and e-zines, but they must offer valuable information, she says. A useful newsletter or e-zine might include how-to information for new equipment you've added, reviews of the latest fitness fads and how your club services either support them or give facts to dispel them, and an “ask the expert” column so members can get their questions answered by club staff.
Sport & Health Clubs will soon launch an e-newsletter. The electronic piece will be e-mailed to members and will be customized to each member's interests.
- Congratulate members with thank you letters
An anniversary letter thanking members for their years of loyalty and letting them know what the club can still offer them is another way to communicate with members, says Hegdahl.
- Keep it personal
Regardless of the print or online pieces that you develop, the best communication still comes with a personal touch — a smile and a warm greeting by name. “The coming and going signage I want most is that smile, warmth and sincerity,” says Anderson.