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Help Your Club’s Personal Trainers Become Better Customer Experience ‘Athletes’

Help Your Club’s Personal Trainers Become Better Customer Experience ‘Athletes’

Great athletes have great proprioception. Great customer experience “athletes” have great social proprioception.

Proprioception is an individual’s ability to sense where he or she is “in space.” Without video, feedback from a coach or seeing with one’s own eyes, people with good proprioception still have a high degree of awareness as to their entire body position. Tiger Woods knows exactly where the golf club is pointing on his backswing. Albert Pujols knows exactly where the baseball bat is even while focusing on the spin of the baseball.

We coined the term social proprioception at our clubs in Wenatchee, WA, to help staff understand that everything matters when it comes to the member experience. We define the term as the ability to sense the emotional effect a person has on anyone able to observe his or her actions.

Let’s apply social proprioception to personal trainers. I have read thousands of member comments from hundreds of gyms, and I can sum up the feelings that most members have about personal trainers with two statements:

  • Trainers only talk to members if they are getting paid by the member.
  • Trainers don’t care about anyone except people who are paying for personal training.

Why do so many people share these perceptions? Well, good trainers are focused on their client, and good trainers have full schedules. Couldn’t these two things alone create the negative perception? Yes, but these two factors are not excuses for the perceptions they may have helped create.

These perceptions can be fixed by using social proprioception as a teaching tool. We might include this concept in the interview before we hire anyone in any position, stating: “Around here, we require every employee to understand and demonstrate extremely high levels of social proprioception.”

Once we frame the concept, we can start to teach it and build awareness. People have different levels of social proprioception, and we need to ensure they all rise to the highest level by showing them what each level entails.

Level one is constant awareness that what I say, how friendly I am and whether I wipe down equipment sends a message to my client.

Level two is constant awareness that doing the same sends a message to my client and the person next to us.

Level three is constant awareness that having a quick and casual conversation with the person next to us sends an even stronger message. At this level, I begin to recognize the importance of the messages I send when I engage outside my immediate circle.

Level four is constant awareness that my behavior is a strong message to those near me and perhaps even stronger to the 62-year-old woman on the treadmill 50 feet away who has been watching and judging our staff friendliness based on her “facts” (what she sees).


One time, I was training at a popular gym. I had never seen so many trainers as busy as I saw in this place. Like in many gyms, members can observe the floor when using the cardio equipment. I noticed how engaged the trainers were with their clients. They were all in close proximity to other people and focused. But it is as though they had a circle drawn around them. If I have high social proprioception and I am focused on my client, then I am aware that I am sending an isolationist signal to others in the gym. My awareness might change my behavior to a more open and inclusive presentation of myself.

Now, what if all 15 trainers were more inclusive? How powerful would that message be throughout the gym? It would not take much to transform this environment into a “neighborhood.”

Make your trainers aware that:

  • They can be fully engaged with their clients and with their surroundings.
  • How friendly they are to non-clients is how they are judged by 95 percent of members.
  • Their behavior is their marketing program as much as client referrals.

When selecting employees, require that they be an excellent trainer and a great customer experience athlete. Find ways to teach and demonstrate social proprioception and then share them with me at


Blair McHaney is president of Confluence Fitness Partners Inc., which operates two Gold’s Gyms in Washington. He previously served as president of the Gold’s Gym Franchisee Association and is an educator on customer experience management.

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