Blame it on the down economy, poor service or a life change. Whatever the reason, most health clubs lose at least 20 percent to 40 percent of their members each year. The good news is that many former members are ready to come back if you just ask them.

At my club, ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers, referrals from existing members are our top source for new membership sales, but former members who rejoin are a strong second. Many companies do not take any special steps to recapture lost members, but ignoring these individuals constitutes a massive missed opportunity.

By taking the following steps, you may be able to win back lost members:

Listen carefully. The first step is to understand what went wrong. A membership cancellation certainly can be a referendum on a member’s club experience, but often, it simply is a change in circumstances. Put systems in place to track the reasons for cancellation requests and administer a simple exit interview. The data you collect will provide valuable feedback on your club’s operations and service, and it will help you generate potential leads for the future.

Create a short form that the membership representative can fill out quickly on behalf of the exiting member. Document the member’s reason for cancelling, including: relocation less than 25 miles, relocation greater than 25 miles, medical issues, too expensive, using another club, do not have time, club does not have what I want, personal financial reasons, dissatisfied with service, corporate cancellation and other. Understanding what percentage of your club’s attrition is “controllable” is a great way to take the emotional temperature of your membership base.

Keep the survey brief and allow for open-ended responses. For example, you may want to ask only two questions: On a scale of one to 10, how did we meet your needs? What could we have done to bring that score to a 10?

During the exit interview, you may uncover issues that you can resolve. For example, if a member is leaving because he or she has not been using the club, you could offer a free one-month extension or a refresher training session to convince the member to get back in the game.

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Eliminate any hassles. Historically, one of the biggest consumer complaints about health clubs has been that the cancellation process is cumbersome at best and deceitful at worst. Common courtesy and ethical business practices should dictate straightforward, transparent cancellation policies and procedures. Club professionals who understand that a cancelled membership is not necessarily the end of the relationship will go to great lengths to ensure that the process is as smooth and pleasant as possible so that the member’s last memory of the club is a good one.

Regardless of members’ reasons for quitting the club, send a handwritten note within a few days of their cancellation to thank them for the opportunity to have served them. Express your hope to be their fitness and wellness provider again one day.

Win them back. If you have been diligent about recording cancellation data, then you have built a strong lead list. Stay in contact with former members who are good prospects in a way that provides value. Most people appreciate content that is educational, newsworthy or otherwise specific to their needs. Be sure that any gift or deal you offer is truly special. Cross reference your cancellation data with attendance and spending data to better predict what messages and offers will be effective. Though your club may decide to have standing discounts or perks for returning members, running special campaigns once or twice a year can be a powerful way to mobilize and incentivize those individuals to rejoin.

Pay special attention to new members. People new to exercise typically have a higher attrition rate because they may not have reached the phase where they are ready to make an ongoing commitment to regular exercise. If you nurture them through the peaks and valleys of lifestyle change, your club ultimately will win those members’ loyalty. And even if they are never ready to fully commit, you can be sure that they will be singing your club’s praises.

BIO

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.