Tricks of the Trade

Feb 01, 2013

Tricks of the Trade

Letting a client go is always difficult. As a professional, you have the highest expectations for every client—even if they are somewhat unrealistic. However, not everyone seeking professional help in reaching health and fitness goals is prepared to make the sacrifice or take the steps necessary to change. Change is tough!

The most important point to remember when letting clients go is that just because they aren’t ready to work right now doesn’t mean they won’t be ready in the future. Your interaction with them in this moment is crucial. What you say can profoundly impact whether they leave with a positive outlook on their transition into a healthier lifestyle or with a bad taste in the mouth, decreasing their chances of making the changes they desperately need down the road.

Always approach the situation with empathy. If you have been working with a client, you should already know and understand the challenges he is facing. Maybe you can transition into a coaching role where you keep in touch through email or phone. Remember that a client’s journey is not ending because she is leaving you. Send the client off with a plan of action, with reasonable and attainable goals applicable to her physical and emotional circumstances.

To ward off having to “fire” clients, approach your initial consultations with care. If you ask the right questions, you will know whether prospective clients are ready to begin a program. Sometimes the answer is no. If this is the case, I give them a plan of action and my phone number. I let them know that I’m there when they’re ready. This has drastically decreased the percentage of clients who end up quitting.

Overall, put yourself in their shoes. Be stern, yet supportive. Plant a seed for the future. This way, even if clients leave you, they will continue to make positive change, one step at a time.

Beth Harris, CSCS, HFS, CHC
ACE-Certified Health Coach, Beth Harris Training & Wellness
Jasper, Florida

You should rarely have to fire clients. Generally, if you are at the point where you feel you must discontinue a relationship, then the client likely feels the same way and will self-select out. In 28 years, we have worked with thousands of clients and fired only a small number. When we have, it has been because the clients were disrespectful to their trainer or disrespecting policies that had been made abundantly clear.

When firing a client, I always use the same language, explaining in an unemotional way (in a private setting) that “I don’t think we are a good fit for one another.” I make little effort to ensure that the client understands my reasoning, because it doesn’t matter. If the client is enough of a problem to warrant this kind of action, he is generally going to disagree or, worse, want to argue. Your sole objective must be to move on, not to convince him of how right you are or what his responsibility is.

At One on One, we go to great effort to head off problems through proactive communication. In our initial consultations, we not only ask what clients’ expectations are of us; we also share our expectations of them. One of these is that they will read our Frequently Asked Questions. This is included in the Welcome Packet and outlines our policies and the rationale behind them. Clients know from day one what we expect, and they can decide to proceed with training or not, as they choose. Occasionally, they decide not to. That is okay; these people might have given us trouble if they had stayed. Also, by making everything crystal clear—and having the paper trail to prove it!—we have insulated ourselves from clients who say, “I didn’t know about this” or “I didn’t know about that.”

If you feel the need to fire clients on a regular basis, you should probably review your own behavior and your policies. Chances are that ego and poor communication are contributing to the problem.

Bruce R. Burke
Founder, One on One
State College, Pennsylvania

Employers often fire employees because they don’t perform their jobs well, which in turn can impact the bottom line. As fitness professionals, our clients can compromise our reputation and affect our revenue stream. When that happens (and it will), it’s time to set them free.

These red flags would cause me to consider severing ties with a client:

  • tardiness and no-shows

  • personality conflict

  • constant complaining

  • lack of effort

  • unhealthy lifestyle

  • missed payments

I will bend over backwards to motivate and encourage my clients. But if their actions, or lack thereof, start impacting my reputation or inhibit my ability to generate a profit, then I have to consider letting them go. When faced with any of the situations above, I am frank with people. I tell them we have two issues we’re dealing with—their fitness goals and my business goals. I simply say that I am in the business of helping people reach their short- and long-term fitness goals and that I am also trying to run a successful business. I explain that their actions are adversely affecting the ability of both of us to succeed and that we need to have a win-win relationship.

I ask them what I can do better to help them succeed. I highlight what the problem is and what I believe they can do better to help us both succeed. If they offer to make positive changes, that’s great. If not, then we need to part ways. If it appears we’re not on the same page, I offer to help them find another trainer or program. I remain positive, thank them for their business and let them know they are welcome to return if they feel they can change their attitude or behavior. Most important, I try not to burn bridges.

Brian Koning

Owner, FitNow Group Fitness

Westfield, Indiana

I’ve found two distinct situations when it might potentially be in your best interest to fire clients:

The clients are ruining the energy and vibe of your business. A few years ago, when we were really developing our culture, I fired two clients. Why? Because they were ruining our energy and weren’t our ideal clients. They were making it difficult for staff and members to enjoy themselves and our experience. These ladies were sucking up the good vibes we were working hard to cultivate. So I had to make a decision. Rather than keeping the few hundred dollars they were contributing to the bottom line, I chose to let them go so as to keep my staff and other members happy. Energy is one of the intangibles in your business that is worth fighting for, so if clients threaten your company’s good energy, it may be worth letting them go in order to preserve the enthusiasm of your staff and other members.

How did I “fire” these clients? I requested that they meet me after a session and asked if they were happy with our services. I listened to what they said and explained how we could make things better and what we believed in as a facility. I “suggested” that if those solutions were still not enough to make them happy, then maybe we weren’t the right fit. I said I would excuse them from their contracts, release them from all further obligations and let them finish their current program—or I’d refund the prorated amount—so they could find a facility more suited to their needs. I let them “decide” we weren’t a good fit, and we happily went our separate ways.

The clients have become difficult and are costing you time and productivity. About 2 years ago we had a client sign up for a weight loss program. I spent three meetings with him, his wife, even his kids, working on options and programs to meet their needs. I put 4 hours into just helping get him on his way. Within a day, he was already complaining about the meal plan requirements and exercise program. Then began the emails, phone calls and meetings to see how we could assist him. It seemed that no matter what solution we offered, it wasn’t enough. He made excuse after excuse about why he couldn’t do it. At some point, it became a drag on my time as the owner and on my staff’s time. We were losing money and productivity with a high-maintenance client we couldn’t satisfy.

How did we “fire” him? In a meeting in my office, I listened to him and offered solutions based on our program. When these did not satisfy him, we returned his money, let him know this “wasn’t the program for him” and excused him from the program.

Vito La Fata
Fitness Evolution
Fitness Profit Systems
Laguna Hills, California

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 10, Issue 2

© 2013 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

2 Comments

  • Log In to Comment
  • Silas Robinson

    I agree great article :)
    Commented Aug 25, 2013
  • Melissa Gibson

    I find this article extremely helpful, as I have a new client that is exactly like the last example and I've been trying to find a way to have this conversation with her.
    Commented Feb 12, 2013

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