Written by Sophie Adams
Top tips for helping your new joiners get off to the best possible start to their relationship with your club.
Joining a health and fitness club should be a fun, exciting and engaging experience. A chance to meet new people, form healthy new habits and try new things.
However, for many it is a time when they feel very afraid, low in confidence and anxious about their ability to do what is expected of them. In fact, numerous analyses of membership data from around the world frequently finds as many as 10% of members do not even make a first visit and as many as 30% have stopped attending by the end of their first month. So how do we reverse this worrying pattern and ensure more new members have the experience they desire?
The answer to this question comes from establishing an effective new member journey. There are a vast array of choices to make when it comes to defining this and your choice will depend on many factors specific to you; such as the staff resource you have available, the facilities you offer and your joining process i.e. a club that only takes online joiners will be very different from one with a full sales staff.
However you choose to deliver the experience, your new member journey should focus on achieving 4 key aims:
1. Generate frequent early visits
Since 2001, and the first analysis of retention in the UK health and fitness industry, we have known that visits early in membership drive long-term retention. In fact, “members who manage to achieve at least 4 visits in the first month of membership stay on average at least 13 weeks longer than members who don’t achieve this visit frequency” (Winning the Retention Battle Part 2, 2001, p11, The Fitness Industry Association – now ukactive).
You can increase visits in many ways, including:
- Offering structured appointments (see below) with exercise/wellness professionals to support behaviour change and the formation of an activity habit.
- Agreeing a plan of attendance with the member at the start of their membership.
- Personalised motivational and reminder messages via email and SMS.
- Offering an incentive or reward for frequent attendance.
2. Have lots of conversations
Time and time again, research shows us how much members value face-to-face communication and what an impact it has on their experience and loyalty.
- As noted above, many clubs can offer personal consultations at the start of a membership. This is a great way to ensure you converse with members. Maximise the impact of these consultations by ensuring the staff delivering them are trained, managed and motivated to help members change behaviour and adopt new habits rather than teaching them how to press ‘quick start’ and do the perfect abdominal crunch – knowledge which is useless if they never turn up!
- Outside fixed appointments, ensure all members are greeted on arrival and acknowledged on departure. Encourage all staff to have conversations with members whenever they can, to build rapport. Create a ‘conversation culture’ where chat is expected and seen by staff as an integral part of their job.
- Ensure conversations build relationships and encourage attendance first and then focus on longer term objectives and technique. Once again, coaching technique is irrelevant if we never see the member again!
3. Ensure members try a range of activities, especially group exercise
Members need to find activities they enjoy and meet their objectives. One size clearly does not fit all so create a plan to help members try as many of the activities your club offers as possible and they can choose for themselves. Research shows, the more activities a member is regularly taking part in at your club the better – with those involved in 4 or more activities 2.4 times more likely to be a Promoter than their peers who only attend for a single reason.
Trying group exercise is particularly important as adding this to a member’s routine reduces the chance of cancelling by 26% regardless of age, gender and length of membership – but new members are one of the hardest groups to attract to group exercise.
- Agree a plan with the member to try a range of activities.
- Use email, SMS and social media to encourage new members to try new activities.
- Create a route to ease new members into group exercise. You could start by stripping it all the way back to taking them into a studio when classes aren’t on and letting them try some of the exercises and equipment at their own pace, then gradually introduce them to an actual class from there.
- Talk with members about group exercise during your conversations on the gym-floor.
- Make sure the experience of taking part in the ‘other’ activities on offer in your facility, outside of the gym and group exercise, live up to the standards of these ‘core’ offerings.
- Keep refreshing activities on an ongoing basis to maintain engagement throughout the member lifecycle.
4. Help members form relationships
Making a friend reduces the chance of cancelling by 40% regardless of age, gender, length of membership and whether or not the member even set out to make a friend in the first place!
- Encourage members into group and social activities, such as group exercise.
- Introduce members to each other and make it ‘normal’ for them to chat. Your conversation culture shouldn’t stop with your staff, ensure it extends to your members too.
- Avoid facilitating the creation of cliques of members – an ‘in crowd’ who shut others out. This will surely breed a toxic environment and make it really difficult for new joiners to integrate.
As a bonus from me, here are a few more things to consider to help launch members successfully:
- Avoid sending any marketing material for the first couple of months – remember; member first and customer second! Deliver a great experience and they will be referring friends unprompted anyway.
- If you do offer one or a series of appointments:
- Determine what the handover process is from sales to trainers and make sure they both know it inside-out.
- Ensure your team (both sales and trainers) are experts in explaining the benefits of the appointments, helping members understand they will be more successful if they complete all sessions.
- Develop a training outline for coaches on what will be delivered in each session. Train team members on delivery. Each session should be an experience which that member looks forward to, in an environment where they feel good. The goal is to connect to their coach, other members and other team members.
- Confirm sessions 24 hours prior as a reminder and follow-up with no-shows to try to understand why they didn’t attend and see if you can get them back on track. No-shows are an alarm bell that a member isn’t engaged and that is, in turn, an alarm bell that cancellation could be imminent!
- Track and measure success: What percentage of new members has your team enrolled? What percentage of those members cancelled sessions or just didn’t show up (dig deeper and find out why) and what percentage of those members completed all sessions (congratulate them on their acheivement)?
- Review, evaluate, revise and evolve the programme as your facility, and the market, changes over time.