Warning: technology could be hazardous to the health of your health club

Technology has become a bigger part of the fitness business, and I welcome that. Back office software is a necessity for every club owner these days. Phone trees, e-mails and texts are accepted forms of communication. And if your facility does not have a website, Facebook page and a Twitter account, you are not only missing an opportunity to interact with your members, but you also risk giving the appearance of being stuck in the dark ages.

A growing number of club operators are introducing mobile applications for their members.

The latest cardio equipment often comes with the option of personal viewing screens and iPod connections. New equipment often includes technology that offers workout options and virtual reality videos or allows users to track their progress.

The benefits of technology are great, but the hazards can also be great—if it leads to losing a personal touch.

My club, which hasn’t invested in new equipment in the six years I’ve been a member, recently went high tech when it installed a check-in system that no longer requires me to hand my card to the front desk person, who then swiped it and said, “Have a good workout, Pam.” When I left, that same person almost always said, “Have a good day.”

In the two months since the automated check-in was installed, I’ve been to my club approximately 40 times. In that time, do you know how many times any staff at the club has greeted me with a “hello” or wished me a “good day” as I left? One. The new check-in system seems to have led to a less personal experience at a club already not well-known for providing a warm and fuzzy experience. That was fine with me, but now even the one “warm and fuzzy” is gone.

It seems like bad manners when I go to the front desk and no one is there. It seems downright rude when I go to the front desk and three staff members are talking to each other but none of them bothers to welcome me.

I’m sure this new check-in system was installed for valid business reasons—namely, freeing the front desk staff for tasks beyond check-ins and saving on costs. I don’t fault the owners of my club for changing to the new system. I do fault them for not training staff about how to welcome members even when they are no longer forced to interact with them at check-in.

Hence my warning about technology. It can do wonders for your club, but all that technology will do you no good if you lose the personal connection with your members. With the absence of simple pleasantries, I realize how much they meant to me. Even if your members don’t know it, they want to see a smiling face and receive a warm hello when they walk into your club. And with more technology entering our industry, the loss of personal connection can go beyond the front desk—if we’re not careful.

My club has no competitors within a 5-mile radius, but I’m sure that will change at some point. In fact, I’m waiting for it to change. When it does, I’ll be the first to walk out the door without saying goodbye. All it would take to keep me is the return of “hello.”