The Age Of The Health Club Member Is Here. What Does That Mean?

By: Mike Escobedo

Since the dawn of the fitness industry, most companies have operated in the age of the seller; they controlled the product, service, marketing, and customer experience. The explosion of digital, with a wide range of channels and platforms, has shifted power today from fitness businesses to fitness customers; in the case of health clubs, gyms, and fitness studios the shift in power is now to the members.

Here’s the bottom line: the "age of the member" is here and it is here to stay. What does that mean?

The term ‘age of the customer’ coined by Forrester, is the same concept as the era of smart customers. Smart customers leverage digital devices to access information, anywhere and anytime. What that means is the power in the relationship between companies and customers, or in our case members, has shifted from the past paradigm to a new age where we’ve got to rethink how we conduct business.

What smarter customers are capable of is experienced by businesses every day. Whether shopping for a car, computer, haircut, groceries or a gym membership, customers are heading to Google, or their favorite social platforms on their smartphones, and examining customer ratings, prices, recommendations, and more, in their quest to find what they want. This new smarter customer expects, as a result, that companies be more customer-centric; meaning focused on their expectations at every single touch point. Customer centricity is no longer a buzzword used by marketers when describing promotional tactics such as personalization and customer experience. Customer centricity is a mindset that companies must adopt throughout the entire organization to thrive in the digital world.

Customer centricity is a mindset that companies must adopt throughout the entire organization to thrive in the digital world.

The need for more member-centric practices isn’t news to many health clubs, gyms, and fitness studio owners and operators. While many agree about the need for a bigger focus on members, attrition remains a huge opportunity, many are still not executing on its potential. In fact, a number of common hurdles are holding companies back from attaining true member centricity.

The first hurdle is there isn’t usually an owner within organizations who is accountable for building member centricity throughout the business. What tends to happen is a handful of people own various parts of the member experience, and they typically don’t work together. For example, membership services might own one part of communicating with members while sales and marketing owns another part. This doesn’t mean that organizations need to have one single owner of the customer experience, but there should be a single way to measure and manage member centricity across all touchpoints. NPS systems like Medallia serve as an example of an experience measurement system that can help with this a great deal.

Another barrier can be the way organizations are structured. Member centricity requires coordination across traditional silos. This includes bridging operations with marketing, sales, and member service. Operating in silos can negatively impact experiences that potential and existing members have with brands. Think about when you call your cable company for service. Customers are prompted to share personal information in order to get assistance or to be connected with customer service. Once connected, that customer-service representative often asks for the same information all over again which is frustrating for any customer. Situations like this should be eliminated to enhance experience.

Smart customers now understand companies are collecting data based on interactions with them, and they expect that this data be used to make their lives easier. Amazon is held up as an example for customer centricity because it uses data about interactions to make the customer experience better. While data is key to member centricity, it also contributes to challenges that organizations face. While many fitness operators have analytics initiatives and capabilities, a shortage of resources and understanding on how to conduct data integration and derive customer insights can limit progress. Great experiences are shaped by identified known or unmet needs and providing service around those. Channel proliferation leads to data proliferation, making identification of these needs hard. Companies can find it difficult to know where to begin. Bringing in expertise can really pay off in creating a “how to” plan on utilizing data in the best ways possible.

Miscommunication can also hold companies back from creating true member centricity. Inconsistent messaging across organizations is common. For example, while marketing may be promoting a new weight loss program or personal training services, trainers, or salespeople may be misinformed when answering member questions about the new services, providing inaccurate information and bad experiences. Mitigating these disconnects is a big first step in becoming a more member-centric organization.

Finally, what can hold back a lot of organizations from being really member-centric is thinking they know what’s best for the member. Sometimes fitness businesses can build their businesses in a vacuum or based on questionable assumptions. Avoid being an ostrich with your head in the sand. Don’t be afraid of gathering honest feedback and using it no matter how big or small the pivot. This can foster a culture of constant improvement center on the member.

So how does a fitness brand get from where they are now to where they need to be when it comes to the age of the member? The first step is defining ownership. In some organizations appointing a chief customer officer or chief member experience officer can help. In other businesses, the answer is putting together a team with constituents from various parts of the organization aligning on what it means for them to be member-centric. It must be a team that has measures of what it means to be member-centric that impacts all touch points and understands where to stop and start based on the business strategy of the company.

Other initiatives can include customer-journey mapping, reviewing existing member data to identify needs at a few touch points, embarking on a member-focused training program, and looking at reevaluating metrics. Bringing in some expertise on how to integrate and use data can be a valuable step. In the long term, gaining member insights drives the member agenda. Reorganization can often help as a way to shift from silos to more end-to-end experiences.

In the age of the member, fitness businesses that are really member-centric listen to members and put them at the center of what they do. They use information about members to make their life better and easier. They restructure and operate their fitness businesses realizing the shift in power to the member has occurred and they succeed by embracing this reality.