2017 Motionsoft Technology Summit Photo courtesy Motionsoft.
The "Winning Long-Lasting Member Retention" panel at the Motionsoft Technology Summit emphasized using technology to push human interaction. The panel was comprised of (left to right) Paul Bedford, principle, Retention Guru; Emmett Williams, president, MYZONE; Kate Golden, director of people and fitness operations, Newtown Athletic Club; and Paul Becker, chief financial officer, Gold's Gym SoCal. It was moderated by Garrett Borunda, director of member technologies, 24 Hour Fitness.

Health Club Data Takes Center Stage at the Motionsoft Technology Summit

Despite the importance to the future of the fitness industry of increasingly using technology to gather data on members, the experts who presented at this year's Motionsoft Technology Summit emphasized that the personal touch is more important in the fitness industry than in some other industries.

Data—and its future, its ownership, its effect on members, its effect on health club operators and the possibility of standards—was on the minds of the 147 attendees at this year's Motionsoft Technology Summit, held Sept. 11-13 in Washington, DC.

Regardless of the topic of each session, almost all of the 10 sessions eventually touched on this theme.

A vendor and health club partnership to create data standards came up multiple times during the two days. It makes sense for the two groups to develop data standards together, according to Mike Leveque, COO of MYZONE.

"Not only are data standards important, but the sharing of data, making data available to clubs and other organizations will be important not only from the vendor side but also from the club side," Leveque said.

As outside industries get involved in the fitness space, the need for vendors and club operators working together on standards is even more important, according to Mike Rucker, vice president of technology at Active Wellness

"If we don't do something, standards will be forced upon us in the next 18-24 months," Rucker said.

Bill McBride, CEO of Active Wellness, shared that Active Wellness picks vendors partly based on how open that vendor's system is to other systems.

"Until the industry opens up and makes it easy for technology to play with each other… we are limiting all of us," McBride said.

Setting standards may be more difficult than some think considering the definition of a membership can vary, according to Paul Bedford, principle with Retention Guru. Bedford looked at data on 1.43 million memberships. He found 12 definitions of memberships.

"What do people mean when they say a member?" Bedford asked.

Getting people to use the same language will be of importance in setting standards, Bedford said.

Regardless of how members are defined, health club operators need to spend more time understanding those members, according to Leveque.

"Understand your target demographic and the desired outcomes of that demographic," Leveque advised club operators. "[Provide] that customer with the products and services that they demand. Forever, we have sold the same product to an 18 year old as a 70 year old."

Prospects Already Know You

It's not just health clubs gathering information on members. Prospects also are collecting information about health clubs, often before they walk through the doors of those clubs, thanks to what they can find on the Internet.

In the first session of the day, Elisabeth Beller, vice president of health, wellness and financial services for 3Pillar Global , stated: "The power used to be in the hands of institutions, but now the power has shifted and is in the hands of the customer. What are you going to do about it?"

Don Dickerson, director of operations with Fitness SF, echoed that thought when he said in a later session on data and member engagement that social media, particularly Yelp , is driving member acquisition.

"One of the most common comments we hear from people entering the club is 'I read your reviews,'" Dickerson said.

His seven-club operation has one person dedicated to social media who checks the company's Yelp ratings daily.

People Power

Technology will help the fitness industry gather much of the data it wants, but many of the speakers urged health club operators to cultivate ways to retain human-to-human interaction as health clubs adopt more technology.

Rucker shared how Active Wellness is using technology to facilitate personal engagement. The company is testing facial recognition partly because it allows tracking of contextual data without members having to wear a wearable.

"It's not just a matter of how many times these people are coming in but what they are doing," Rucker said.

With this data, staff can see how long a member used a piece of equipment. If the data shows the member aborted the workout after only three minutes, the staff can find the member and ask why. If they discover that the member was not on-boarded on the equipment properly, staff can walk them through how to use the equipment.

The official theme for the Motionsoft Technology Summit related to learning from outside industries, but comparisons of the health club industry to industries such as hotels and restaurants may not always be fair, McBride said. The price per ticket is often higher on those services and the interactions are more spotty than at a health club that people might visit several times per week.

"What is unique is that we are more people dependent than those industries," McBride said. "Our whole product is based on relationships. You don't form a deep relationship with your hotel clerk or server. We can use systems to sell new memberships…but at the end of the day, we are critically people dependent more than anything else."

The next Motionsoft Technology Summit will be held Oct. 1-3, 2018, in Washington, DC.

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