Keep in Touch With Your Members

At LifeStyles, a medically supervised fitness center in Akron, Ohio, customer service means "exceeding members' expectations." For this reason, our organizational culture encourages efforts aimed at improving relationships with members, enhancing customer service, increasing sales and improving member retention. Communication is the key. What should clubs be doing to keep in touch with their members? Here are a few suggestions that have contributed to many successful organizations.

CASE CALLS: LifeStyles' mission is to promote healthy lifestyles through education, emphasizing prevention, early detection and treatment. We know that wellness is not attained just by purchasing a membership to a health club. Members must use the facility and take advantage of the services that will help them meet their goal. To that end, the LifeStyles management team makes "case calls" to its entire membership twice each year. Each member of the management team is assigned a portion of the member roster to call in an effort to gain valuable feedback and encourage member participation. During a case call, members are asked about their exercise program and are reminded of exciting upcoming events. Members of the management team are expected to listen, make suggestions or get in touch with the appropriate employee who may be able to enhance that member's experience at Life-Styles.

MEMBER ADVISORY GROUP: Each year, the management team selects a Member Advisory Group (MAG). The group, which meets once a month for a one-year term, consists of a cross-section of the membership with varying interests, ages and membership types. Through director reports, manager presentation and open discussion, the MAG has an opportunity to gain valuable insight into center strategies, challenges, operations and the decision-making process. The group is presented with detailed information regarding upcoming events, new purchases, maintenance/housekeeping concerns and sales/retention issues. The MAG is challenged to ask questions, share opinions, and give advice. Each member of this group has become a staunch supporter of the center and has made a significant contribution.

SUGGESTION BOX AND SUGGESTION CONNECTION: Although not a new idea, a suggestion box, when used properly, can be an extremely valuable tool. Every week our management team reviews the contents of a suggestion box and distributes the recommendations to the appropriate staff representative. Staff members follow up on each suggestion and keep records of frequent requests to aid in future policy and procedure modifications. A bulletin board highlights member suggestions and the action taken in an effort to demonstrate that the center is responsive and that the suggestion box is not a proverbial "black hole."

MEMBER SURVEYS: Member surveys are one of the most important facility instruments for gaining member feedback. Center members receive a survey three times annually via direct mail. The survey asks members to rate the staff and facility with respect to friendliness, cleanliness, program variety, quality of service, etc. All survey responses are shared with the entire staff, and, similar to the suggestion box strategy, concerns are addressed promptly.

We are in our fourth year, and membership is at capacity and the attrition rate has been running at 20 percent annually-well below the industry norm. Much of the success LifeStyles has experienced is a direct result of creating a variety of strategies to gather member feedback. Even more importantly, however, is the priority directed toward acting on that member feedback. The positive impact derived from being recognized as a responsive organization is invaluable and certainly contributes to long-term member loyalty and business success.

--Doug Ribley, M.S., is the director of fitness and wellness for Akron General Health System in Akron, Ohio. Sue Parker is the aquatic manager at Akron General LifeStyles and the chairperson for the Project Work Group, "Value-added Services."


Factors that Affect Retention

According to the publication Why People Stay! by Jim Annesi, Ph.D., (published by IHRSA), there are many factors that affect exercise maintenance. And while you as a club operator may not have control over all of them, it's important to identify them so you can spot candidates who are likely to quit working out.

* SMOKERS/NONSMOKERS: Smokers are about 2.5 times more likely to drop out than nonsmokers.

* BLUE COLLAR VS. WHITE COLLAR: Blue-collar workers are less likely to maintain exercise than white-collar workers.

* SELF-MOTIVATION: The very best predictor for long-term success or failure of continued exercise is degree of self-motivation.

* SOCIAL SUPPORT: People stay with their exercise programs better when they have an interpersonal support system.

* ENJOYMENT: Enjoyment and control over the exercise setting are positively related to persistence.

* CHOICE: Individuals who feel that they have a choice of activity type, duration and intensity tend to adhere best.

Factors found to have no affect on exercise adherence are age, gender, personality and knowledge of health effects of exercise.