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Know Your Members

by Brian Smith on Mar 01, 2002

Strategies to realize greater revenues and profits in tough and competitive times.

Who knows more about their members—you or your competitors? If it’s your competition, chances are good they are presently developing, testing and implementing new, better, more fool-proof ways to entice your members, and your best prospects.

More than ever, getting to know your members at a deep level is the quickest and most effective strategy to maximize your club’s profits, increase member participation and reduce the seemingly inherent risks of business. In any industry, the difference between a $1 million company and a $100 million company is simply the level at which management has dedicated itself to understanding and satisfying customers. Commit yourself to learning everything about your members and then adapt your facility to their lives, dreams, goals and fears. Follow this simple principle and you will seldom worry about new member sales, member satisfaction, retention or referrals!

Mold the Club to the Member

What’s important is connecting with your members in a way that says, “I know you as well as you know yourself.” You must employ many and varied methods that mold your club to the member. Since most people miss this, allow me to repeat it: You must mold, adapt, shape and fit your club to the member, not ask the member to adapt to your club.

For example, what if you learned that a sizeable percentage of your members are extremely crunched for time, devoted to their careers, travel extensively, commute more than one hour per day, despise obligation, enjoy classes and desire stress relief? Do you believe a half-hour class on “How to Reduce Stress in Eight Minutes or Less While Traveling, Commuting, at Work or at Home” would be a hit? Positively! Most likely, no one else has offered anything like it. In fact, it probably never crossed your members’ minds that they needed such a class until you advertised it! Being intuitive to the needs of your best members is a hallmark of a great company.

Take it a few steps further and add stress relief and travel-related products to your retail shop. Items such as aromatherapy kits, in-flight neck pillows, and books on tape or CD are sure to be popular. How about adding books on how to travel light, popular city attractions, staying fit while on the road, plus the current best sellers? Without a doubt, actions like this show your members that you know them, you listen and you will go beyond the call of “business-as-usual” to make their lives easier and better. Knowing your members inside and out is the lifeblood of your club.

Seek Criticism

Look around and you will find countless business owners making futile attempts at getting closer to their customers and prospects. Most of these attempts share the same problem: Owners are looking for praise instead of criticism. Although we all love to hear praise for our staff, services, decisions and programming, the real opportunities lie in the criticism. Criticism shows us our weak points, the cracks in our armor and the holes in our strategy.

According to the American Society for Quality Control, overall customer satisfaction in the United States is dropping at a staggering rate. Between 1994 and 1997, the customer satisfaction index of customers buying from 200 large companies in 33 different industries fell 5.1 percent. On average, only 71 percent of the customers surveyed were satisfied. This leaves a substantial 29 percent ready to defect! On which side of the line do your members stand and, more importantly, how do you know?

Empower your club by implementing a quick-response, high-profile complaint recovery system. Don’t sugar coat a complaint by calling it a “suggestion.” Call it what it is—a complaint. Make it amazingly easy for your members to complain about every aspect of the club (and believe me, they will!). Once a member complains, thank him or her right away and resolve the complaint quickly. Publicly display all complaints along with your solutions. All too often, we look for compliments when what we need to grow our businesses are the complaints.

Research, Research, Research

Additionally, many business owners deny the benefits and necessity of professional, objective research. When I conduct consumer research, I aim to uncover the background, relationships, habits, likes, dislikes, dreams, goals, fears and present issues of my clients’ best customers or prospects. I further organize them into groups and subgroups with similar tastes. Just imagine how powerful your business decisions will be when you understand your best members and prospects better than any of your competitors. Imagine how special your customers will feel as you begin to customize your club for their needs, interests and desires.

Ask, Then Listen

So how do you do it? How can you get to know your members at the deepest possible layer? And once you understand them so well, how do you use the information? How will you turn members and prospects into “raving fans,” as business expert and best-selling author Kenneth Blanchard puts it?

Simply stated, you can never know too much about your customers. Become voraciously curious about your best customers. Seek, discover, utilize and maximize as many opportunities as you can to ask questions. Then, be certain to really listen to their answers. When they have answered one question, ask them a question about their answer. Dig, probe, learn and investigate. Always remember this: The better your question, the better their answer. As peak performance consultant and author Anthony Robbins says, “The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the questions you ask.”

Most of the questions that I have found useful do not ask “why?” Often, asking “why?” only creates a recurring cycle of superficial answers that rarely lead to the facts or the root cause of the behavior. Instead, ask who? what? when? where? or how? The goal of asking questions is to learn the specific thoughts of your subject. Also, do not compose questions in such a way that you influence the answers.

As simple as this strategy seems, most of you probably are not using the power of well-designed questions to full benefit. Start now! Carefully constructed questions and follow-up questions are your first tools to understanding your members in a way you never thought possible.

And as your members relax and start to share more personal aspects of their lives with you, the opportunities will begin to unfold. These opportunities might impact your members’ lives; add value throughout your club; or motivate, challenge and strengthen your staff. Open yourself to improvement in every aspect of your business and allow your best members to influence the shift. Policies, plans, procedures, systems, training, marketing, retail, programming, expansion and more should be built around a complete understanding of how your members live and what they aspire to become.

If you commit to seeking complaints, asking questions, making calculated changes and gathering feedback, you can practically guarantee yourself increased revenues and reduced risks. All of these strategies and tactics have been proven to generate higher referrals, lower attrition, increase member satisfaction, slash advertising costs and improve class participation.

This isn’t marketing magic, just time- consuming, tedious work. So roll up your sleeves and get to it. Soon you will discover that your club has significantly redefined what members must have in a health club.

IDEA Fitness Manager, Volume 14, Issue 2

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About the Author

Brian Smith

Brian Smith IDEA Author/Presenter

Brian Smith is the president of Red Hot Marketing, an Atlanta-based research and direct marketing company of his research report detailing the buying habits of health club members, contact him at (800) 510-1044 or