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Starting Customer Conversations – Don’t Be A Bull In A China Shop!

Written by Craig McIntyre.

How and how not to start rapport building conversations with your members on the gym floor.


For those of you who regularly read our blog posts and download our research whitepapers – it should go without saying that engaging with your customers is an incredibly important part of the day-to-day delivery of your offering.

But with just 37% of members feeling they regularly receive the interactions they desire, there is a clear gap between expectations and reality which operators have the power to bring much, much closer together. Either we are not talking to members, or the interactions we are having are not the meaningful conversations they are looking for from a visit to our clubs.

Training teams as part of my role as a Retention Coach here at TRP, I’ll often hear staff say two things; ‘customers just want to be left alone to train’ and ‘even when we do talk to them it doesn’t make a difference’

As already highlighted in my introduction to this piece, we know from research into 10,000 members that 87% and 74% of customers value fitness and reception staff interactions respectively, yet only 37% and 44% say they are regularly talked to. In addition to this, we also know that members who are regularly spoken to during club visits are 48% less likely to cancel their membership than those who are not. Members clearly enjoy the social aspect of visiting their club and the benefit of talking to your members is visible all the way down to the bottom line.

If customers are giving staff the impression that they do not want to be spoken to, we need to ask ourselves why? Is it because they think we are going to tell them they’re doing something wrong? Do they think ‘that trainer is just going to try to sell me PT sessions’? Or do we just ask generic questions that do not add any value?

How you start a conversation is key. We need to build rapport before we try to help our customers with solutions to their problems. The gym can be an intimidating place for many, but your teams have a golden opportunity to turn this on it’s head, making members feel at ease and part of the community in just a matter of words.

Asking a closed question such as How is your workout going today? Do you need any help with your programme? Shall I book you a programme review? Or, Would you like to book a PT session with me? Will likely elicit an equally closed response, making it difficult to flow into a deeper, rapport building conversation – especially when the answer is ‘no’!

Instead, use open questions and be sure the customer is the focus of the conversation. Ask them something that lets them speak and listen intently to what they have to say. In a few minutes you can be on first name terms with a previously nameless customer and guarantee at least a hello on their next visit! Every subsequent interaction over the coming weeks, months and years will continue to strengthen the rapport you have with them bringing them further and further into your community and making regular visits part of their weekly routine, improving loyalty and increasing their concessionary spend.

Examples of questions you could ask include:

  • What are you training for today?
  • What are you aiming to get out of today’s workout?
  • What differences have you noticed since you began training with us?
  • What are you aiming to achieve training with us in the next week, month and year?

We need to add value with every conversation we have with customers. Get them talking about themselves, what they want to achieve, how they are going to get there, when they are coming back next and what are they going to do.

Ultimately, we need to start every conversation as we mean to go on, don’t settle for yes or no!!

Effective, Targeted Customer Conversations Supported by ‘Interact’

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