Getting Retention Right by Offering Good Service


Through its membership retention studies, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association found that clubs with unacceptably high attrition rates tend to have a weak customer relationship management program (CRM), meaning no cost-effective, member-centric focus or plan. As an enticement to close the sale, these clubs tend to over promise and under-deliver. Once the new member comes through the front door, there is no formal mechanism to keep them from leaving through the back door. Instead, the club tends to react only after it receives the membership cancellation.

In the March 2004 issue of Fitness Business Pro (then called Club Industry), I introduced in the Focus On Retention column the concept of the member integration layering process (MILP) as a strategic concept/option that can potentially offset the adverse financial impact of membership attrition. MILP is based on the operational assumption that each club member's experience should be consistently positive, intentional, differentiated and valuable. If this occurs, not only will the new member recruitment process be easier and retention be higher, but referrals from satisfied members will increase.


The Saw Mill Club — a 150,000-square-foot, multi-purpose facility in Westchester County, NY, with 20 personal trainers and 26 group exercise instructors — is part of a five-club group that is owned and managed by the Saw Mill Management Co. The club developed its solution to the membership retention puzzle by developing and launching its New Member Introduction Program (NMIP). Just like the parameters of the MILP, the Saw Mill NMIP is designed to track, manage and transition new members into the Saw Mill value-added club experience. Each department works together so that each member's experience is synergistically managed.

NMIP is designed to proactively track new members for their first 90 days. Within 10 days, each new member is scheduled for three appointments and for a re-evaluation appointment within the 90-day cycle. After the third appointment, the new member is actively “touched” (aka managed) four more times. There are two upsides to the NMIP. The first upside is full member integration into the Saw Mill value-added experience, which means fewer members are “lost.” The second upside is increased revenue fee-based programming, specifically personal training.

According to Kevin Kane, Saw Mill general manager, it is the proactive and interactive nature of the NMIP that positions new members for success. Even though the Fitness Department has a “gatekeeper” role, it is the synergistic support that makes the “road map” work, states Kane.


Each NMI personal trainer with great relationship-building skills is responsible for activating each new member's record in the Bookings Plus System. This gives the administrator a running history for new members who have gone through the system. Appointment dates, cancellations, no shows and left messages are recorded so that staff can make sure they get members into the system, according to Andrew Guida, fitness director and administrator. Bookings Plus is the tool that the administrator uses to hold the NMI-specific trainers accountable for their performance goals. The goals are to have 50 percent of new members enter the NMI process (61 percent actually enter the program), 50 percent to complete the process (49 percent actually complete it) and 25 percent to purchase personal training (25 percent actually purchase personal training).


What makes the NMIP at Saw Mill so unique? It has identified (1) what it takes to successfully integrate diversified members into the Saw Mill Club experience; (2) the CRM tools needed to manage and integrate new members; (3) specific performance goals to evaluate the success of the NMIP; and (4) a “gatekeeper,” or the fitness director and his/her team, to manage the NMIP.

It is also important to note that during the 90-day cycle, each new member is assigned to the same trainer. This is why each NMIP trainer must have exceptional relationship-building skills.

How would you, as an operator/owner, honestly rate and/or classify the experience that your members encounter every day? Is it a random experience; that is, is it inconsistent and unintentional with no special value? Is it a predictable experience; that is, is it sometimes consistent, sometimes intentional, not really differentiated and not really valuable? Is it a value-added, branded experience that is always consistent, always intentional, always differentiated and always valuable? If not, you should rethink your CRM.

Bob Esquerre, MA, MES, NSCA-CPT is a fitness consultant and owner of the Esquerre Fitness Group. He is a Reebock Master Trainer with certifications as a medical exercise specialist from AAHP and personal training from NSCA.

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