OVERLAND PARK, KS — Online self-service options headline some of the latest trends in the software sector of the industry, according to vendors.

The most significant trend in the next three to five years, says Paul Sage, director of marketing for ABC Financial, Little Rock, AR, will be automated methods for members and prospects to buy products and services.

“Convenience is the top priority of today's consumer in industries across the board,” Sage says.

With that in mind, ABC Financial recently introduced its newest software product, MYiCLUBonline, which features an online enrollment function as well as other ways for members to manage their accounts with a club.

“Club owners will see an increase and improvement in automatic communication software that focuses on building customer relationships,” Sage says. “This advancement will be especially effective for recurring services, like personal training, as well as overall retention campaigns.”

Fiserv Inc., Brookfield, WI, offers member self-service and online scheduling of classes and appointments. Fiserv also provides software that allows clubs to sell additional services, such as personal training, the nursery or towel service, as a recurring EFT, allowing members flexibility with their method of payment. Last month, Fiserv became the preferred software vendor for World Gym International, Los Angeles.

ASF International, Highlands Ranch, CO, is testing a new software component that can capture signatures on Apple's new iPad, says Sean Kirby, national sales director. Once members have taken a tour of the club and are ready to sign a membership, club staff can have the members sign right on the employee's iPad, much like they would on an electronic signature pad, Kirby says.

Another component that ASF is working on is goal-setting tracking software that allows club operators to set goals in the areas of sales revenue, personal training revenue and point-of-sale revenue and compare those goals with the club's day-to-day performance. ASF plans to release the component this month. Last month, ASF introduced a software component that lets club owners know if a bank has rejected a member's payment for personal training.

“This protects the owner from having to pay the trainer for sessions that the member didn't pay for,” Kirby says.

CSI Software's online services include online joining, in which a club can control which memberships to make available online. Clubs also can implement different pricing online than in the club. The Houston-based company's software allows for members to pay in full with a credit card or set up EFT drafting for monthly memberships, says Andy Wigderson, vice president of sales and marketing for CSI.

New features from CSI include camp management, which allows operators to manage all functions relating to the club's day camps, and “shark tank,” which allows sales staff to see which prospects have been inactive for a period of time, allowing anyone on the sales staff a chance to claim leads.

Understanding which members are not participating in the club is important to club operators, says James Reyes, general manager of The Active Network, San Diego.

“Every month, [club operators] can get a report of who has not visited their club in the last two months, then reach out to them with a personalized e-mail,” Reyes says. “It's taking the transactional information to the next level.”

Like CSI, Twin Oaks Software, Berlin, CT, allows online joining. Carole Oat, national sales manager for Twin Oaks, says the company's online joining component attracted steady traffic to its booth at the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association show in March.

Regarding booking club appointments online, Oat says that that trend has grown more in urban areas, including cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Atlanta, where people on the go can stop in a coffee shop or use a hand-held device to schedule an appointment. By contrast, members of clubs in suburban areas tend to do most of their scheduling right in the club, Oat says.

Although members may use a club's website to join, it still does not replace the experience of shopping clubs in person, says Kyle Zagrodzky, president of Go Figure Inc., Houston.

“In a fantasy world, it would be great if everybody signed up online,” Zagrodzky says. “But you don't want club operators to get distracted by the convenience of technology in relation to face-to-face selling and the impact it could have on member retention.”

One way to connect signing up online and joining a club in person, Zagrodzky says, is to require members to take a tour of the club or have staff conduct an orientation even after the members have signed up through the club's website.

Another business aspect that club operators can keep track of through a software component is the way members schedule classes online. Time limits — perhaps two weeks in advance at the most — for class scheduling and instructor scheduling could be necessary, Zagrodzky says. Also, clubs could set a maximum number of classes or appointments on the website for members to choose, creating an opportunity for further member scheduling inside the club.

“You don't want people to schedule themselves two years into the future,” he says.

Club operators must remain compliant with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard, too. ABC Financial offers end-to-end credit card encryption software and peripherals to ensure the club itself is PCI compliant.

“End-to-end credit card encryption ensures sensitive credit and debit card data is protected from first-card swipe all the way to the payment processor,” Sage says.