The mantra of member retention is “build, build, build relationships.” Conceptually, most health club leaders understand that engaging members by connecting on a personal or emotional level will positively affect member retention. But how do you train your team to cultivate relationships that delight your members and inspire loyalty?
Begin by articulating your expectations in terms of concrete behaviors. For team members who have a natural passion for people and service, building relationships may come easily. Others who do not have that innate wiring may find it more difficult to initiate meaningful member contact. By defining for your club what I call “standards of engagement,” you will convey with clarity baseline behaviors that increase the likelihood of positive interactions among team members.
In developing standards of engagement for our fitness team at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, we considered common barriers to communicating and developing rapport. These barriers included busy signals, such as closed body language or physical barriers, anonymity, and perceived disinterest or distraction.
To overcome such obstacles, we developed the following list of objectives that encourage team members to move, interact and approach people as they supervise the fitness floor.
Move. Move continuously throughout the assigned area of coverage. Limit time at the fitness desk to three minutes unless assisting a member in person or over the phone. Ensure that only one fitness specialist is behind the desk at a time. Keep conversations with other team members to a minimum, no more than three minutes at a time. Look for and correct any misplaced items and unsightly messes, such as disorganized paper, towels that are left behind or equipment that is dirty.
Interact. Greet members by name. Offer to help members with their technique or progression of exercises. Initiate meaningful conversations with members about their workouts and their lives. Actively listen when interacting with members. Proactively seek to establish new relationships with members.
Approach. Smile, keep your head up and make eye contact with members. Adopt a face-to-face body position when speaking to members. Walk at a leisurely pace while scanning for members who may need assistance. Avoid crossing arms or placing hands on hips.
Once your expectations have been established and communicated, regular observation and follow-up are critical to recognize and reinforce strong performance and to identify areas for improvement. Our club’s fitness director schedules three team member observations per week, rating them on each of the above categories. Each department head also completes two evaluations per pay period. Collecting this information on an ongoing basis builds a body of data over time that is far more valuable than making generalizations based on isolated incidents on the fitness floor.
Members also contribute to the evaluation process. In addition to gathering informal feedback, we ask members to complete a short survey about their experience on the fitness floor. We encourage them to rate on a scale of 1 to 10 how well we delivered service on the fitness floor today. We also ask if a team member assisted them today and on a scale of 1 to 10, how friendly and approachable was the fitness team. Keeping this data collection and review process simple allows us to direct attention quickly to areas that may need it.
Implementing these standards of engagement is just one step, albeit an important one, toward creating a meaningful club experience for our members. By defining tangible, measurable behaviors that are aligned with our club’s vision, mission and purpose, we are in a better position to provide value and service. At the very least, we will improve our interactions and build rapport with our members.
More substantially, however, we expect to increase member satisfaction, inspire loyalty and earn the trust of our members, thereby keeping their business and winning their referrals.
Christine Thalwitz is director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers. She emphasizes that the difference between a complaint and an opportunity is our perception, attitude and response.