In general, most facilities treat retention as a red-headed, left-handed, stepchild preferring to ride a never-ending treadmill-like pursuit of new member sales, when their best (and most profitable) customers are already inside the building.

Following is a nine-point “starter kit” spelling out the name of true customer satisfaction, and thus, higher member retention numbers.

RELATIONSHIP-BASED

Orient all staff actions around creating better relationships with each member. Retention efforts are not thing-driven; they are people-driven.

Throw out the current practice of treating members as a number or like cattle to be driven through the facility and forgotten until it's time to renew their memberships.

EMPOWERING

Each action of each staff member is delivered to encourage customers to use the club. Your most empowering action in this area is the warm “hello” and “name-recognition” each time a member comes into the club.

Throw out the current practice of “your card, please” at the front desk; or having members swipe their own card to get into the club.

TIMELY

Teach your staff to interact with members early. Too many “we miss you” calls are made too late. Get used to contact with members who have not been in for 21 days.

Throw out the current practice of calling members after they have not exercised for two months.

EMPATHETIC

Understand members' needs. Be proactive with programming. Do things in your club that your customers want, not what you want. Most clubs deliver fitness practices geared around machines or classes, not around people's individual needs.

Throw out the current practice of orienting every new member on the same aged circuit training routine.

NEW THINKING

Think “retention” the moment the member joins the club. Be proactive about retaining members. Create ways for members to participate in your club — and to keep participating.

Throw out the current practice of doing anything after the fact. It's a waste of time and money.

TOP PRIORITY

New member sales are important but retention efforts are imperative. New member sales are the most costly entity the club has to bear.

Throw out the current practice of assuming that there will always be a steady supply of new bodies to replace the ones who've left.

INTEGRATED

Retention is an every member of your staff, all of the time effort. All of your programs, your marketing campaigns and your operational decisions should be based on retention.

Throw out the current practice of having one person, or a couple of staffers, be in charge of retention.

ONGOING

Customer satisfaction — the root of retention — is an every day, every minute process. Most facilities treat retention as an occasional necessary evil followed by the decision of, “Let's do a retention drive this month.”

Throw out the practice of paying attention to member attrition only when new member sales are slow.

NOVEL

Retention efforts should be fun and interesting for staff and members. Create contests that enable customers to get prizes or acknowledgment for attendance. Don't forget to reward staffers who keep the most members.

Throw out the current practice of the occasional member-recognition party.

Industry vet Michael Scott Scudder is managing partner of Southwest Club Services, a Taos, NM and Fort Worth, TX-based club advisory and training firm. He can be contacted at 505-690-5974, at scuddertour@direcway.com or at www.scuddertour.com.