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Retention has always been a high priority at health clubs. Now, as technology rapidly impacts many aspects of the industry, health club owners are turning to technology to help them with retention, too. In a world where consumers always have their smartphones and tablets at hand, club owners understand that the key to retention is to embrace technology for better club operation, marketing and customer service.
"Club members are interested in a more consumer-centric experience when they go to the gym," said Bryan O'Rourke, president of Fitness Industry Technology Council, a group that is working to create interoperability standards for technology-based fitness devices. "As a club owner, the connection is created once you understand how to reach your particular members in the way they want to be reached. Whether it's a luxury wearable or a basic app, there are endless opportunities to engage members through technology. Different types of technology suit each club differently."
Before investing in technology to help with retention, club operators should determine their current retention rate so they can gauge the success of new retention methods, O'Rourke said. (Read this story for methods to determine your retention rate.)
Technology and Member Connection
Members who are not using the club are more likely to cancel their membership. So the key to preventing these members from cancelling is using technology to track their visits and offer incentives to keep them coming back on a regular basis. A 2012 IHRSA Member Retention Report indicates that facility usage in the first month of membership is often considered the most important factor in retention since that is when the member decides if they will make the gym a habit. Instead of waiting until the member stops using the club, owners can be proactive and track how many times the new member comes to the gym. Members who come less than four times in the first month are likely to cancel. Members who exercise at least twice a week at the gym typically remain members for a longer period of time. The key for club owners is to insure that members are actively involved in the entire gym experience.
Kira Cruz, assistant general manager of New Jersey Athletic Club (NJAC) in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, uses technology to keep non-users from canceling.
"When I notice certain members have not come to the gym for several weeks or even months, I offer incentives such as a protein shake, gear from our pro shop or even a free month (to get them back in)," Cruz said. "I connect with them on Facebook and on FitBit. It really works. I've seen quite a difference in retention once that habit is created."
NJAC is a privately owned gym with an approximate retention rate of 67 percent. A monthly newsletter with class updates, personal training announcements, member incentives and general news about the club is emailed to each member every month. The sales team is required to obtain the email address of every member that joins so the club can stay connected with them.
Another benefit of having every NJAC club members' email addresses on file is that upon joining, their email is associated with their member rewards program. Member rewards programs reward members for using the gym. Each time they scan their keycard or purchase items from the pro shop, they gain points. Members get a monthly email stating their points and can log online at any time to see how many points they have accumulated. Points can be redeemed for anything from personal training sessions to kitchen appliances and furniture. With this program, technology is helping members develop a habit, enjoy benefits and prizes beyond the gym, and, most importantly, keep them loyal to their gym.
The ability for members to connect via social media is yet another way that technology is increasing retention rates.
"The connections members make on social media is incredible," she said. "We had a fire about a year ago, and that shut operations down for almost a week. We kept all of our members informed by using Facebook and Twitter. This was not only easy, but a very inexpensive way for our members to stay connected."
NJAC uses social media to spotlight members' achievements, to help the members get to know the staff with Who's Who Wednesdays and to let members know about cancellations or early closings due to inclement winter weather. With almost all members having a smartphone, keeping members connected when outside of the club is as easy as an email or social media post.
Technology is also leading the way to better member feedback and online reviews. Over the past few years, the industry has seen the increase in the use of the Net Promoter ScoreTM survey (NPS). It is based on the basic principle that every company's customers can be divided into three categories: promoters, passives and detractors. With one question "How likely is it that you would recommend this gym to a friend or colleague?" these three groups are tracked to get a better understanding of your gym's performance through the eyes of the customer. Simple technology, yet lots of potential to fuel big growth.
Michael DiGioacchino, a franchisee of Orangetheory Fitness in West Windsor, New Jersey, has found using this question helpful.
"We send out a survey via email to all of our members," he said. "It is just one question 'Would you recommend Orangetheory Fitness to a friend?' If they do recommend us to a friend, they get an incentive such as a gift card. Because it's such a quick survey, members can do it from their phones while standing in line for a coffee or waiting for their kids at the bus stop. It's so easy, yet so effective. It helps us keep our members happy and encourages them to spread the word."
He also uses social media for marketing and encourages members to write reviews on their Facebook page.
Advanced Technology and Wearables
Technology that helps to increase member connections is supplemented by other technology options that include wearable technology, digital leaderboards and advanced marketing systems.
DiGioacchino said his members come to his gym specifically for the advanced technology. Orangetheory Fitness is a group training studio franchise concept in which exercisers use heart rate monitors with a special pod device that captures everything from calories burned to heart rate. This form of technology is used by members to gauge their workout level as they go through intervals of cardio and strength exercises. The information captured for each person in the class is displayed on a screen in the room so the exerciser and instructor can view it.
"Technology is helping my members get a more complete and better workout," he said. "They see their numbers on the flat screens during their entire workout. Immediately after the class, they get an email showing their results."
The technology doesn't have to be advanced to be helpful, though.
"Even the most basic app could let members sign up for classes, get club updates, such as weather-related closings, or purchase personal training packages," O'Rourke said. "Utilizing technology to enhance a club's retention rate does not have to be difficult. In fact, it's quite simple."
The technology also doesn't have to be expensive.
DiGioacchino's members can sign up for classes or cancel classes using an app on their smartphones. Once the app was created, DiGioacchino has no further expenses associated with the app unless he wants to upgrade it, he said.
"A major part of good customer service is making life easier for members," he said. "The easier it is to sign up for classes and keep track of the workouts, the more likely the members will stay for a long time."
As club owners are continually utilizing technology to connect members, create loyalty and improve customer service, they are regularly seeing how the extra engagement is increasing their numbers and member satisfaction.