With the flood of new entrants into the fitness market, such as Planet Fitness, boutique studios, and Crossfit, the world of fitness centers has changed. This increased competition has brought about a more urgent emphasis on retaining the valuable members you already have. One of the hot topics with this renewed interest in retention is new member onboarding. But, what exactly is onboarding?
When done properly, new member onboarding is an investment with guaranteed returns. Without it, over half of your new members will terminate their membership within 12 months. Ouch! Even more sobering is that 58% of the recent membership growth in fitness centers is the result of increased member retention, not new members. That means you have fewer and fewer chances to get it right.
How does onboarding increase revenue?
Only 15% of your members have the self-efficacy to succeed on their own. The vast majority, 85%, need specific support to succeed. One effective onboarding session drives retention up 38%. Four onboarding sessions can ensure 70% of your members are still with you at their 1 year anniversary. Dr. Paul Bedford, a industry leader in retention research, found that guiding members through a series of onboarding appointments increased overall member retention by 75%! The extended stay of new members not only increases membership revenue, but also drives gains in program and personal training income.
OK then, what is onboarding?
This is perhaps the most important question of all. Unfortunately, most people are confused about what onboarding actually is… and what it isn’t. ‘Onboarding’ is one of those buzz words that’s been diluted with overuse. Everyone has a different definition because most people have never read the actual research.
Let’s start with what it is not. Onboarding is not a program, a session or a even strategy… it’s a process. Here’s a good working definition:
Member onboarding is an intentional process whereby a NEW member is introduced gradually to the fitness center by meeting one-on-one with a dedicated professional/coach. Discovering the member’s goals, their barriers, and self-efficacy, as well as helping them reach those goals, and getting integrated into the facility, are key components of the onboarding process.”
– Lance Perkins, CEO of MobileFiT
What Onboarding Is not
Onboarding is not an orientation designed to promote personal training. Onboarding is a series of behavioral coaching sessions. Coaches use motivational interviewing techniques to guide behavior change. The member does most of the talking by answering open-ended questions that focus on goals, barriers and strategies for success. Coaches help members explore the equipment and design workouts based on what the member ENJOYS doing.
Onboarding is not a prescriptive workout where the member gets ‘told’ what they should do. There is not a single study that supports exercise prescription as an effective means of helping members reach their goals or keeping them at your facility. Instead, a litany of research shows that the primary goal of onboarding sessions should be to increase self-efficacy: the member’s confidence that they can achieve the goals they have laid out.
Onboarding is not an option that get’s offered as an amenity when a new member joins. Onboarding should be positioned as an expectation. It’s too important to leave to chance. Instead of saying, “Are you interested in our free onboarding program?” your staff should say, “The next step is getting you scheduled to meet with a wellness coach. Members who work with a wellness coach are 75% more likely to achieve their goals. Is daytime or evening better?…”
Onboarding does not belong to anyone, it belongs to everyone. Membership revenue supports every department in the Y. The handoff between membership and wellness it critical. By mapping your process and tracking some key metrics you can quickly identify any gaps. The three most critical metrics are: the # of tours given, % of tours converted to membership and % of new members scheduled for onboarding. Ideally you should track these down to the staff level so you can provide coaching and re-training as needed.
People, Process, & Technology
A word of caution as you design your onboarding program. If you don’t equip your people or support your process you’ll be spinning your wheels. Even a good process can fail without resources and oversight.
Your frontline staff need to easily scale during high volume times. Technology that increases efficiency can make or break the process. Something that seems as trivial as scheduling the first appointment at the point of sale can unravel the whole process if neglected. Your leadership team needs to easily see and monitor key metrics to guide the process. Binders and spreadsheets are not the solution. Invest in a technology that supports your people and your process.Follow us:
Myke Murray says
Your perspective is spot on!