Posts Tagged ‘Retention’


The irate customer is our own creation.

I have faced customers and members spitting mad, so mad I thought they may be on the verge of a cardiac event (we have an AED on site).  I usually smile — not patronizingly, simply because I know they are right.  Unreasonable?  Yes.  Delusional? Sometimes.  Insulting?  Occasionally.  Wrong?  Not always.  The customer may not always be “right”, but when they are “wrong” it may be our doing, not theirs.

When a customer “loses it” the event is a great time for organizational introspection.  Peeling back the layers of the rotten onion and what do we usually find — we created an expectation that was not delivered.  Kind of like the CSI of customer service failure.  In a membership organization like ours we live and die by member attrition and retention.  They are our lifeblood, our fans, donors, advocates, evangelists, end-users and our finest critics.

Absolutely everything we do is marketing.  The program starting late, broken bottle in the parking lot, dirty restrooms, inattentive welcome staff, broken equipment — it is all marketing.  The gap between expectations and actual experiences occurs in our marketing/advertising message and through our delivery.  We must live in and master that gap.  It is where we will thrive.

“It is 12 times more expensive to gain a new customer that keep a current customer”…BLAH, BLAH, BLAH!!!  Who really cares, if you’re marketing a mansion and serving up a double-wide you’ll have neither.

We must lead by expectations, just as we lead the experience.  “Your call is very important to us…”  Then why isn’t anyone talking to me?  I am absolutely convinced that the line about the call be recorded for customer service monitoring is to prevent nuts like me from really going off.

“The ad said.”  “Your flier states.”  “Your promotion reads.”  Fine print?!  Darn, the line to use the Haldron Collider (world’s largest microscope) was too long and I couldn’t use it read the fine print.  In the last nanosecond of the TV commercial I was supposed to read that there is only one model available at that price with those features?  And it’s in Yuma?  And it was only for sale for 17 minutes on the 2nd Thursday of the month only if my last name ended “Q”?  Oh, but you can show me a similar model, different color, no features, different brand, and no warranty?  No thank you and I didn’t know there was such a thing as upgraded AM HD radio.  We sit back comfortably righteous knowing that if they’d taken the time to read the fine print or didn’t have such high expectations they would know we’re right.  Wrong.  We’d have time to sit back because we would have no one to serve.  I tell my staff that if it won’t fit in a text message (or a tweet – 140 characters) we will not advertise it or promote it.  Keep it simple.

If you are promising the world.  Deliver it. Otherwise get real.

Ads I’ve spied this month:

You won’t find lower prices, ever. (make a bet)
Take 10 years off today. (botox sign – can I select which years?)
Lose 25 lbs. in a week. (cutting limbs off?)
We drive a hard bargain. (you’re tough to negotiate with?)
We are the cheapest in town. (is it safe?  is it stolen?)

What if we kept it real?  What if our advertising matched what we could deliver?  Marketing our true selves.

You won’t be ready for the runway, but we’ll make sure you can handle the stairway.
Bikinis aren’t for all of us so we’ll have you swimsuit ready in 12 weeks.
Stop chasing a six pack, we’ll help you lose the keg.
Participating in our family programs won’t make you a better family, but you’ll sure have fun…together.

Under promise and over deliver?  No.  Promise what you can deliver.

An irate customer we’ve only had a brief relationship with is our fault.  We communicated an expectation that we would not or could not deliver.

Keep it real.  Keep your customers.

Photo by: Frank Stein

photo credit:

wake up call

I’m a fan and follower of Jonathan Fields (link to his blog).  He’s one of those jedis, mavericks, or renegades (do not call him ‘guru’), the kind of leader you hope to emulate.  I once heard that to make history (in anything – work, life, your organization) you have to misbehave.  In Johnathan’s teachings I’ve found that you can make history not by misbehaving, but by simply behaving differently.  His journey captivates a health/wellness/non-profit minion like myself.  The dude made the leap and came out the other side shiny, healthy and happy.  I’m happy to boast we have a lot in common: raising young daughters, broken 40+ year old bodies (he’s in far better shape), passion for health and fitness…well I digress, we have a few things in common.

He posted a blog that should have been a severe wake up call to the health and fitness industry in February and I have been unable to stop thinking about it and continue to refer back to it.  The post is titled Business Strategy: The Recurring Income Trap (click for it).

It was an epiphany.  I’m proud to have witnessed and led some dramatic member retention turnarounds in my career, from 40% to 60%+ member retention in some instances.  After reading Jonathan’s piece, I was not misbehaving or breaking rules — I was simply teaching staff teams and organizations to behave differently.  I was doing something after “institutionalized complacency” had set in.

The bank draft or EFT (electronic Funds Transfer) methods of membership dues payments has crippled an industry that is stagnant.  Stagnant may be a bold statement to some, HOWEVER if we simply look at the level of obesity and inactivity in our nation — whatever we are doing is not working.  We have slipped into a mode of surviving, not serving.  Shame on us.

And we sell the automated payment systems quite well: allocate less resources to billing, mailing, collecting, administrative costs, and on and on and on and on.  So we can better serve members?  I don’t see it.

Now to broach creating a different revenue model other than the holy grail of automated payment would be equivalent to walking up to the owner or CEO of any fitness organization (for profit or non-profit – can’t we get along?) and poking him or her in the eye with a stick.  It’s become part of our DNA, a key indicator, a benchmark, leaving it behind would be like leaving the house without your Blackberry or iPhone — tragic.

What can we do?  We can do what motivated us to first get into this business when we were cutting our teeth wiping down equipment and leading people through orientations (50 machines in 50 minutes, that sure hasn’t worked…).  I apologize for the bold assumption, however, it’s my belief that a majority entered the field to help others.  There is not a weight room or fitness center in the country (and I have been in some real nasty, dirty,  steroidy places) that I don’t feel comfortable in — it’s my zone.   My joy comes from making others feel comfortable in that zone — the fitness environment.  Let’s help others, it is time for us to step up and serve.

Members walk through our door every day.  Each individual has goals.  We must acknowledge and embrace those goals and begin the journey (relationship building at its finest?).  If members do not achieve their goals or make progress, they leave — bye-bye recurring income, hello scramble for more sales.  Operate from the mindset that you must re-win every member every 30 days as Jonathan suggests — imagine our impact.

We’re a nation in deep, deep health trouble and the industry to change that is not the hospitals, insurance companies or the government — it is us.  It’s the local small biz fitness center, the YMCA, JCC, megaplex gym, country club, yoga studio, boot camp, etc.  Start serving, and leave the surviving strategies to those that prefer to “behave”.  As Jonathan notes, the burden of cancellation is on the member — at least the process of it, the impact of that cancellation should burden us.  And if you honestly believe that 60% of your members are moving away, call me because that’s the market in which I’d like to open a moving company.

Thank you Jonathan from the bottom of my heart.  Hopes it OK I linked to your blog.

Oh how those words permeated the fitness industry in the 1980’s and on.  Then as we softened, or the rest of the populace softened, we slowly evolved into the mushy titled “wellness” industry.  I guess “fitness” as a word has too many hard corners.

We are an industry of full blown tactics — more reps, more sets, higher target heart rates, etc.  All about progress to that better, fitter you…just like the magazines (yeah, right).

In the past if you called someone the “biggest loser” you’d get punched in the nose, now grown men are crying on TV for the title.

I don’t begrudge them one bit and I admire the work they go through all on national TV with decent ratings.  And those trainers work the contestants oversized tails off — while serving as therapists as well.

I’m deeply embarrassed that my industry some how missed them.  We wronged them and many, many others.

Maybe the shift to “wellness” will help.

Like any industry, our customers come to us with goals.  Are we actually taking the time to listen?  If someone states that their goal is “simply to feel better”, why do we simply revert to the tactics — reps, sets, target HR, yoga poses, etc.?

Ask the question, “what does feeling better mean to you?”  Ask 50 members and you’ll get 50 different answers.  That is where the journey can begin.

In my industry, the annual resolutionaries are beginning to fade from sight — it is heart wrenching to me (see you all again next year…I hope).  We’ve let them down and didn’t engage them.  And did not listen.

We can all gain and it’s painless to simply create the dialog.

We must be remarkable, not replaceable…and now more than ever.