In the fitness industry, “onboarding” seems to be the new buzzword that everyone is talking about. But, what exactly is it? Asking this question will garner a variety of responses, depending on the facility and the staff member you’re talking to, and as a consultant in the fitness industry, I always find this concerning!
A typical discussion I have when I first start working with a facility goes something like this:
Me: “Do you have a new member onboarding program?”
Facility Staff: “We offer a new member the option to have an orientation.”
Me: “How many new members take you up on this option?”
When a facility has less than half of their new members signing up for their “onboarding program,” I immediately know that the staff doesn’t have a true understanding of its importance. Research shows that facilities that onboard their new members properly have significantly higher levels of member retention than those that don’t. In fact, the data shows improvement rates up to 85%. With that level of impact, everyone should have a crystal clear understanding of just how important onboarding is when bringing on new members.
New member onboarding has been proven over and over again to be the most critical element in reducing membership churn at a fitness facility. So, let’s take some time to clarify the meaning and look at what a new member onboarding program should include.
What is New Member Onboarding?
“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
Because it is such an important part of improving your member retention rates, your onboarding program should never be sold as just an optional orientation. Most of your at-risk population has more than likely been through a similar orientation before. Think about it, if it worked for them before, they wouldn’t be back signing up again.
A successful onboarding program may include an orientation, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. Onboarding involves conducting a series of appointments with the new member, bringing them face-to-face with a wellness coach on a number of occasions. According to the research, the target should be four separate coaching session within the first 30 days of membership. To move the members through the program, make sure that each session includes behavior change methodologies. If you are not familiar with behavior change methodologies, download our free e-book, Behavior Modification: Proven strategies on making a lasting impact with your members. This approach will give you the greatest chance for integrating your members into the facility and keeping them engaged over the long term.
To get new members to participate, position your onboarding program as a critical part of their individual success. The odds are stacked against those that embark upon a new exercise program on their own. Make sure the member knows this, and make sure that they know how you can help them succeed. This is not the time to sell your personal training services. Instead, demonstrate the value of engaging in the onboarding sessions, and schedule the new member’s first session before they even leave your facility.
So, new member onboarding is getting your valued members started on the right foot, supporting them through their first month of membership, and seeing dramatic improvements in your 12-month retention rates.
How can I build this onboarding program?
Now that you know exactly what onboarding means, and you understand its importance, it’s time for you to start the movement at your facility. To help you get started in crafting an onboarding program, download our free e-book: New Member Onboarding.
* Why People Join, Leave, & Stay with Health/Fitness Clubs: The Ultimate Handbook of Member Retention, Stephen J. Tharrett, Paul Bedford, Ph. D., 2012.