A potential new member walks in your door for the first time; maybe they were referred by a friend, maybe they are responding to some of your marketing, maybe they are just coming randomly off the street. Whatever the reason, here they are, walking into your facility. From the moment they set foot in your lobby you have 1/10th of a second; ready… Go! Wait…what?
We live in an “instant” world, a world of 30 second ads, pop ups, instant messaging, and Instagrams. This world has conditioned us to make decisions in the blink of an eye. Research has shown that it takes just 1/10th of a second for human beings to make judgements about a stranger’s attractiveness, likeability, competence, and trustworthiness! Working in ministry earlier in my career, I was stunned to learn that the average person makes the decision of whether or not to return to a church within seven minutes of walking the in the front door. Seven minutes! That means the key factor was not the music, or even the sermon, but how they felt about the initial interactions with people (and how much they liked the coffee)!
Too many times fitness centers lose track of the fact that the exact same process is occurring in their facility. As potential members walk in the door, they are not just looking at your workout equipment. Their brains are processing a myriad of critical questions: “Is this a well-run facility? Is this a place I like? Will I enjoy the people? Are the staff members friendly? Helpful? Knowledgeable?” Every fitness center needs to take time to consider what answers people get to these questions when they walk into their facility. Undertrained staff, misunderstanding the customer, and poor communication can be driving potential members away from their facility rather that creating an impression that draws them into it. So, how do we take first impressions and turn them from being a potential liability and into a powerful tool for member engagement and retention?
The answer to that question can be found in mastering three key areas:
- Understand what your members really need. At first glance this seems like a no-brainer, right? Your members need a clean facility with the latest fitness equipment, group classes, sports programs, etc., so they can have fun and get in shape. Of course, that, to some degree, is true. But if you dig just a bit below the surface, you will find your member’s expectations and needs run much deeper. In a multi-year study of over 100 different industries, including fitness centers, Richard Gerson found that these ten things are what your members truly need from you:
- Respect and recognition
- Comfort, compassion, and support
- To be listened to with empathy
- Service that leads to satisfaction
- Trust and trustworthiness
- A friendly, smiling face
- To be made to feel important
- A quality product or service at a fair price
What does this tell us? It tells us that member engagement and retention are not just about having the best equipment and classes, but about building relationship. Your staff needs to have firmly in mind that member engagement starts the moment a visitor walks in the door. Their goal is not to simply communicate information about your facility, but to begin building a relationship, maybe even a friendship.
- Train your staff. Remember, it’s your staff who will be making the first impressions. In thus age of Facebook and Twitter, many people have underdeveloped skills for face-to-face interactions. As a result, many businesses are giving their front-line employees training in social skills. Hotel chains drill into their desk workers the 40-10 rule. These employees make eye contact and smile at a customer when they are 40 feet away and verbally greet them when they approach within 10 feet. In the same way, it is vital to give your staff the skills they need to make a great first impression: eye contact, proper handshakes, asking open ended questions, etc. Role play what to do and what to say when different types of visitors walk in until the staff excel at it. (For a more complete list of first impression skills, check out this excellent blog post from the National Academy of Sports Medicine).
- Leverage technology to give the best possible first impression. We live in a techno-age and let’s be honest, everyone, especially those of the millennial generation, is going to be impressed if you are using the latest technology. But, beyond just having the latest bells and whistles, are you using technology to sharpen your first impression? If you are already a MobileFit customer, your Membership staff can use the Get On Board mobile app to give uniform tours, gather information while they walk, and seamlessly pass that information on to Wellness. Software such as this allows you to eliminate reams of paperwork and lengthy back office meetings, giving your prospective member a cleaner, more streamlined membership process and a better initial impression.
With these few simple adjustments, you can turn a potential pitfall into one of the strengths of your fitness center. As the old saying goes, “You never have a second chance to make a first impression,” so make it great!
Have you seen success in making a remarkable first impression? What would you recommend people do? Let us know in the comments section below.
Other articles in this series:
 Richard Gerson, Members for Life: Proven Service and Retention Strategies for Health-Fitness and Sports Clubs (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1999), 36.Follow us: