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Debunking the Myth of Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie Photo by John W Banagan/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Debunking the Myth of Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

Sometimes an error can lead you to revelations that will change your mindset. This error led to a whole new way of thinking about dormant members.

Sticking with my theme of customer success from my article last month, I decided to share with you an experience I had that changed my perspective about how we communicate with members in our industry.

For years, I have heard club owners snicker about “sleeping dogs,” aka members who continue to pay their monthly dues despite never using their memberships. For some club operators, these members are “perfect” members because they pay for services they never use. Let sleeping dogs lie is certainly the mantra of the fitness industry.

I bought into the sleeping dog myth until a few years ago.

What changed my mind was an experience that happened in my capacity as Motionsoft CEO. I debated about sharing the experience with you because it was embarrassing, was our fault and resulted in an unpleasant experience for one of our best customers. But at the end of the day, I decided that sharing the story was for the greater good. 

In short, while running a database test, we inadvertently sent emails to all the club’s members telling them that they didn’t owe anything to the club. Needless to say, we were distraught about this mistake. We called our customer, explained what had happened and braced for the member calls and cancellations. Then we waited for the storm … but it never came.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

Sure, a few people called and asked why they received this email and what the email was about. A handful of those people did in fact cancel their memberships. At the end of the month, our team analyzed the data.

What we found was pretty cool, and it debunks the myth of the perfect member.

Our analytics team looked at:

  • Three-month membership trends prior to the inadvertent email
  • 12-month membership averages
  • Same period member comparison reports for the previous two years
  • Average check-ins for the same period two years running

All of the findings were consistent. Historically, the club was losing the same number of members each month until the inadvertent email was sent out. But instead of the email mistake triggering a wave of cancellations, it triggered a higher monthly retention rate. In fact, monthly cancellations declined by nearly 80 percent.

So, we kept digging. The three-month and 12-month membership averages revealed that the largest segment of cancellations had been coming from the sleeping dogs—those dormant members. But the email error triggered a behavioral change in those people. After examining check-in reports, we discovered a trend. Around the time of the email error, the daily unique check-in count for members increased by approximately 10 percent with dormant members—those who had not checked into the facility for the past 45+ days—accounting for a significant chunk of this percentage.

Our hypothesis is that this email communication with its implied offer of one month of no dues motivated dormant members to take advantage of the offer and, in doing so, resulted in a significant reduction in monthly cancellations. The communication seems to have been a motivational trigger that gave dormant members a reason to return to the gym.

An even deeper data dive is in order. Going forward, we’ll be looking at the average length of memberships since the errant email went out, and we’ll look at that across two core segments: sleeping dogs and regular active members. The other variable we’ll be assessing is email engagement rates (control groups will not be sent any special communications and the test groups will).

Regardless of where the data takes us, it’s clear that just because your facility doesn’t contact sleeping dogs doesn’t mean they aren’t thinking about you. In fact, the sleeping dogs seem to behave more like lurking member cancellations waiting to pounce.

Stay tuned to learn if it’s time for your facility to wake up your sleeping dogs and retain more active members.