What does engaging members even look like?
Every few years or so, the fitness industry seems to cycle through new bywords, keys to succeeding that everyone simply has to do. We’ve torn through member retention, member attraction, and outrunning member attrition. Today, the hot topic on everyone’s mind is member engagement – connecting our members to our fitness facility in such a way that they will stay for the long haul. But how seriously should we take this? Is engaging the members of our fitness facility really something we need to pour ourselves into, or is it another passing fad?
In order to answer that question, it is critical that we first understand what membership engagement is and what it is not. Here’s how the issue is clarified in in The Science of Member Retention:
“[Member engagement] is not sending automated emails or texts to your member base. It is not robo-calling people and leaving messages. It’s not even leaving personal voice messages or sending birthday cards. Effective member engagement, plain and simple, is when your members are having meaningful, face-to-face interactions with your staff AND with each other.”
What science says about engaging your fitness center members
Engaging with your members through face-to-face interactions with staff… if you’re like me, when you hear that, your response is “Wow! That’s a LOT of work!” Trying to connect a handful of staff with hundreds or even thousands of members; is it possible? Is it even worth the effort and learning to do things differently?
Think about it this way. Many fitness facilities find it useful to consider their members falling into different categories. Some people are pre-packaged wonders – core members who come in, work-out, keep at it regularly, and achieve their goals. Awesome folks, but they’re a small minority. On and Off members are active for a period of time, then they disappear. You don’t see them for months, then they pop up again and the cycle repeats. Unequipped members are enthusiastic about getting in shape, but lack the know-how to use the equipment or to put together a meaningful fitness plan. Finally, there are the Health Seekers. They’ve tried fitness programs repeatedly before and time and time again they’ve failed. They are ready to invest time and money, but need feedback, coaching, and personal support. Without it, they will almost certainly fail again. Do those sound familiar?
Here’s the kicker. If you are lucky, those in the core member category make up 10-20% of your new members. That leaves 80%, at least, who are On and Off, Unequipped, or Health Seekers; 80 percent! What’s the common denominator for all three of these categories? They all need help! If your membership base is anything close to typical, then 80% of your new members need encouragement, instruction, and connection from your staff or they will fail to meet their goals and will leave your facility!
In fact, Dr. Paul Bedford, in a landmark study, showed the critical importance of engaging members at fitness facilities. He studied two groups. One was given a standard 60 minute orientation to their fitness center. The second group was given the same standard hour, plus three other appointments with wellness coaches, of 30, 20, and 10 minutes respectively, spread over the first month of membership. With even this level of engagement, Dr. Bedford saw dramatic results. From the group that was given a standard orientation, less than 40% remained at the end of one year. From the group that was engaged with three follow up appointments, over 70% remained at the end of this same year; a 75% improvement in retention rate! And on average, these engaged members stayed with the facility seven months longer than their unengaged counterparts.
OK, it is important. So what do I do now?
If you want to keep your members around for a long time, and even more importantly, if you want to help them reach their goals, member engagement is vital. So, engaging members at your fitness facility should not be left to chance; it should be carefully thought through and planned out. And, critically, scientific studies and the experiences of fitness centers around the world have shown that engaging the members at your facility is not an impossibility. In fact, some fitness centers are seeing retention rates upwards of 80% or even 90% because they are knocking it out of the park in engaging their members.
These facilities demonstrate the membership engagement can be mastered! By looking at their commonalities, it can also be shown that there are seven key areas of engaging your members where you have to absolutely nail it:
- The first impression
- The first month
- Building relationships
- Setting realistic goals
- Behavior modification
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at each in turn. Check out our upcoming posts, so that you, like these other facilities, can become a master of member engagement!
Other Posts in this series: