Do you know what your members really think?

I've been a member of five fitness clubs during the past nine years. The reason for my departure in three cases was relocation. In the other instances, however, I was unhappy with the facilities and the way I was being treated as a member.

The funny thing is that in my nine years as a club member, I have never once been asked to fill out a member survey. So when I quit the clubs, they probably didn't know how I felt.

Do you know how your members truly feel? If you aren't 100 percent sure, maybe it's time for you to find out.

Conducting a member survey is not something that should be entered into lightly. A member survey that's done properly can give you worthwhile information. One that's done in haste will produce information of little use to you.

Here's how you should go about conducting a survey.

- Make it an annual event. Since the club industry is a service business, it's important to know how all of your members feel, states Rick Caro, president of Management Vision, New York City. If you only do a survey every couple of years, you are missing the opinions of your new members and you don't know how your new programs/activities are doing.

- Hire a professional. If you can afford the fee, you should pay a professional to create your survey, claims Susan Johnson, operations manager for Communication Consultants in Wakefield, R.I.

Creating a member survey requires more than coming up with some questions. It involves the types of questions asked (such as open- and close-ended questions), the order in which you ask the questions, how you distribute the survey, how you get it back, the kind of incentive offered for filling it out, etc.

Not only does a survey require an expert to put it together; it requires an expert to interpret the results. A lot of work goes into tallying and figuring out the information that is collected, notes Brian McBain, president of Club MarketVision in Scottsdale, Ariz. You really have to consider whether you have the time and skill to work with the information gathered.

- Examine your suggestion box. This gives you an idea of what's on your members' minds, notes McBain. "If they've taken the time to fill out a suggestion box form," he says, "then it is a topic that is typically weighing heavy on their mind or at least it's something that they have given enough thought about to write it down." Therefore, you should take the topic into consideration when doing your survey.

- Avoid slow and heavy months, and the holidays. You want to collect data that represents your typical club business. If you do a survey during a busy or slow month, it doesn't truly represent your actual business.

According to Caro, the best times to conduct a member survey are in the spring (mid-February through April - avoid school holidays and spring break) and fall (after Labor Day to early December - avoid Thanksgiving week).

- Give all your members a chance to fill out the survey. "We typically have clubs mail out their surveys, and the reason is because we want every member to feel that they have a chance to contribute and have a chance to be heard," says McBain.

- Give your members a reason to fill out the survey. When sending out a survey, you want members to feel that they are genuinely appreciated. So give them an incentive. Send a letter with the questionnaire explaining your intentions, what members will get for filling out the survey, and how they can collect their reward.

Logo items are always a great incentive, notes McBain. Members love free stuff like T-shirts, bags, hats, water bottles, etc.

There is one thing you shouldn't offer as a reward, according to McBain. "It's not a good idea to give free guest passes as the incentive," he says, "because a free guest pass doesn't do anything for your members."

- Start off with easy questions. McBain suggests that you keep the initial questions simple. For example, questions like "How long have you been a member?" and "When do you most often use the club?" should go up front because they don't have emotional weight attached to them. Easy questions get your members answering, thereby pulling them deeper into the questionnaire.

- Watch out for the sensitive questions. Keep the sensitive questions for the end of your member survey. An example of a sensitive question is "What is your yearly income?" Not all people like to divulge this information.

If you put sensitive questions at the beginning, your members may get frustrated and refuse to finish filling out the survey. On the other hand, if the sensitive questions come last, most people will answer them because they have already invested time in completing the majority of the survey.

- Cover all areas. Don't just ask questions about your club's strengths. You need to know how your members feel about your weaknesses, too. For example, if your daycare is a problem and you don't ask questions about it, you won't know it's a problem. If you don't know it's a problem, you can't fix it. So it's important to ask questions about everything.

- Make collection simple. Let members deposit surveys in a box at the front desk, as this area is readily accessible.

Also, when members turn in their surveys at the front desk, front-desk staff can give them their incentive right away. This is important for member-employee relations. Front-desk employees are often seen as policemen; by presenting a reward, they become bearers of gifts.


10 Mistakes Clubs Make in Member Surveys



1. Created by nonprofessional.

2. Improper questions leading to biased or erroneous conclusions. (For example, you ask, "What is your favorite aquatic/swimming class?" This implies that the member has a favorite aquatic/swimming class when she may not like any of them.)

3. Lack of relevant questions focusing on current issues important to members. (If you want to know what's important to members, check the suggestion box.)

4. Inadequate sample size.

5. Inadequate variety of respondents so conclusion may be based on biased results.

6. Distributing surveys in a manner that encourages the members to provide favorable view of club or to praise staff. (For example, if an employee gives a member a survey at the front desk, then hovers nearby while the member fills out the survey, the member will be too intimidated to write anything negative.)

7. Inappropriate timing of survey (when club is most or least busy) so that the results aren't representative of "business as usual."

8. Predominance of rating scales and/or checklist-type questions without the proper balance of open-ended questions, which provide more powerful volunteered responses.

9. Analysis of results by nonprofessional, so that there's no comparison with club norms and no real in-depth interpretation.

10. Haphazard scheduling of survey so that it's not done at the same time every year.