The Warning Signs of Dropout

More and more club operators are recognizing the importance of proactively keeping existing members as opposed to eternally seeking to find new members. Many factors contribute to why members discontinue their memberships. The obvious reason is that they are not coming to the club. However, the warning signs that indicate members are about to drop out are visible long before people stop showing up.

Other indications that a member may be considering quitting include:

* They have not used the club as much as they thought they would.

* They are not getting the fitness results they were looking for.

* They are dissatisfied with some aspect of the club.

Knowing what to look for can help us be a part of members' decisions to stay with the club.

1. Help members set realistic expectations of club use. This begins with setting members up for success on their fitness programs. During the orientation phase of membership, individuals need to know that maintaining their fitness regime is typically cyclical. They should know that most people have many starts and stops to the goal of three workouts per week.

Many members follow down the path that they "fell off their exercise program" and never returned to the club. Our job needs to be helping them anticipate the disruptions in their weekly commitments and introduce them to the idea that they will need to start again several times. Reinforcing that getting into the club even once a week or even once every two weeks when things are really busy is better than not coming at all because you don't lose total touch with the club or the fitness program.

2. Ensure members are getting results.A huge warning sign that members are going to leave the club is that they are not getting the results they want. It is vitally important to jump on conversations that indicate members are not achieving their fitness goals. The fitness department needs to recognize the importance of responding to informal comments about the progress members are experiencing at the club. A system for reacting to these comments is the best, most proactive means to have a member not spiral into inactivity and ultimately into nonmember status. As health clubs, we promise improved fitness levels, so we better be prepared to deliver.

3. Identify low users. Front-desk systems are able to identify low users. This valuable list allows clubs to get these members active again. A specific telephone campaign needs to be conducted with this group to resell them the idea of maintaining their commitment to fitness. Programs at the club need to be designed to help people understand the barriers to regular exercise and the issues surrounding exercise adherence.

4. Telephone response line. We need to make it easy for members to tell us how they feel about the club. The typical drop box for feedback is not as effective as a specifically designated telephone extension that can be put toward customer feedback.

Communication with members is so important. Annual member surveys and your responses to the information are both vitally important to keep members satisfied. Most of us have been in the industry long enough to know it is more damaging to not know about member dissatisfaction than to not know about a situation that has let a member down.

In summary, there are two areas clubs need to concentrate on. The first, service quality, involves meeting, exceeding and anticipating the expectations of members. Secondly, we need to focus on understanding the issues surrounding exercise adherence and offering programs to address the barriers to regular exercise. Efforts in these two areas will dramatically improve the new standard of success in the club industry, which is retention.

Ruth Love is an associate consultant with Club Proft Systems. She has enjoyed a 15-year career in the health and fitness industry, and provides programs to enhance and improve the results in the area of sales, marketing, retention, management, and non-dues revenues. She can be reached at (800) 448-0180 or lovecps@netcom.ca.


Listen and Learn

In Why People Stay, IHRSA's recent report on retention, Tim Mortenson, general manager of Ruth Stricker's The Marsh in Minnetonka, Minn., boasts of a legendary retention rate-90 percent or better. One of the keys to such a retention rate, according to Mortenson, is finding out what the member needs are and filling them. The way you find out: listen.

"We purposefully hire people who are good listeners, and we place great importance on listening-something that's difficult to teach," Mortenson says. "We hire employees who are personable, professional and understand more than just the fitness portion of health."


Have Some Fun

In IHRSA's Why People Stay, Jean Kolb, general manager of Sports Core in Kohler, Wis., shares how her club keep its members' interest once the shine wears off. "We hold competitions and challenges throughout the year for variety and fun," notes Kolb. "There is something for everyone. Many events encourage team activities so that members get to know one another. Others encourage members to beat their own personal best-safely, of course."