When Personal Trainers Leave
Human Resources: Learn how to avert a potential crisis—and loss of revenue—when a trainer quits.
When personal trainers leave your organization, clients may also leave. Owing to the relationships fostered during one- on-one training, it is not uncommon for clients to feel compelled to continue training with the same personal trainers, regardless of where the trainers work. Unfortunately, all client departures hurt organizations financially. Lost clients mean lost revenues. From my experience, when a trainer leaves, your organization may lose as few as 10% of the trainer’s clients (an ideal scenario) or as many as 80%.
Although you have little control over when or why trainers quit or don’t renew their contracts, you can, with a strategy in place, effectively manage their departures and retain clients. To decrease client losses, you must put a strategy in place before bringing a trainer on board. The strategy should consist of three key elements: a contract between the trainer and facility; protective policies; and an action plan that you can implement immediately once a trainer decides to leave or you decide to let him or her go.
A contract between a trainer and you (as the representative of your organization) is a written document stating the intentions and policies between your organization and the employee. Regardless of whether you are hiring employees or contractors, you should develop and implement some type of formal written agreement. It’s essential to include a statement within the contract regarding who clients are and to whom they belong. Clients are not the trainer’s; they are the facility’s. This fact should be clearly addressed within the contract.
As a manager it is also important for you to use correct trainer-client terminology with employees and contractors at all times. For example, when discussing clients, say “Club X’s client Mr. Smith,” not “John’s client Mr. Smith.” This language will help reinforce the fact that clients are the facility’s, not the trainer’s.
Clients certainly have a right to train with whomever they like, and it is difficult to ensure that contracts are legally binding. Because of these two facts, it is often unrealistic to enforce any type of contract. However, time spent explaining to trainers that it is okay for them to leave your organization, but not ethical for them to take clients with them, is time well spent. You may be surprised at how many trainers respect the fact that clients are the facility’s and abide by this policy—especially when it is clearly explained to them.
Setting up the following systems can also help retain clients when a trainer leaves.
Buddy Up Your Trainers. One of the first and most important systems to develop is one in which each client trains with a minimum of two trainers. Most likely, your trainers will balk at this idea. However, it is a great way to retain clients in the unfortunate event that a trainer leaves. When clients are exposed to two trainers, they become comfortable with both. The clients enjoy the variety, a trainer is always available to train them, and—more important—if one of the two trainers leaves, the clients are confident that their training will continue as usual. In the beginning it may be administratively challenging to set up and implement this system, but pairing up trainers with similar styles, facilitating information sharing and highlighting the benefits of this system ensure that the transition is smooth.
Standardize Booking Procedures. Next, systemize your booking systems. If your clients are always booking directly through their trainers versus a central booking system, difficulties arise. A trainer who personally books clients has more control over them than the facility does.
An effective manager knows which trainers are training, when they are training and which clients they are working with. Tracking these key facts without a system is impossible. A centralized computer system operated through you or your front desk is the ideal solution. Each trainer’s daily schedule can be logged into the computer, and clients can call or stop by the front desk to book appointments. This type of system is similar to those used in doctors’ offices and hairdressing salons. If using a computer system at your club is unrealistic, a manual system may be the only option. But a manual system is still valuable for client retention.
Whenever possible, encourage clients to book their training sessions in preferred time slots rather than with particular trainers. In this way clients’ favorite training times become the emphasis. Having clients book with the facility and choose training times versus trainers further solidifies the clients’ commitment to the facility, not to specific trainers.
Send Client Correspondence From the Organization. As always, it is important to communicate regularly with clients. Newsletters, e-mails and announcements help improve retention and create a sense of community among clients. All correspondence that is sent, including thank-you notes, holiday cards and special promotions, should include your company’s logo; be sent via the facility, not the individual trainer; and be signed by the department manager and then the trainer. This type of communication system further emphasizes the relationship that a client has with the facility and the benefits of training there.
Once you learn that a trainer is leaving, it is important to act. In most cases, even if a trainer has given you 2 weeks’ notice, it is generally best to let the person go immediately, with pay. The longer a trainer stays at the club, the more chance that person has to recruit clients to follow him or her to the new training destination. Once the word is out, meet that day with the trainer to review his or her current and past client list. When you meet, complete a client transfer form that records the clients’ goals, what programs the clients are on, their likes and dislikes, and any pertinent information that needs to be discussed and recorded.
After the meeting, you should call clients to inform them that “John” has decided to move on and reassure them that they will be well taken care of. Talking with clients helps make the transition as smooth as possible. The second trainer who had been cotraining these clients may need to train the clients more often until a new partner trainer is set up. In the weeks that follow, a new second trainer should shadow the clients’ sessions in order to meet the clients and get up to speed on their programs. Finally, a good suggestion is to send cards to the departing trainer’s clients thanking them for their continued commitment to the organization.
Keeping personal trainers indefinitely would certainly be one of the best ways to retain clients. Because the nature of the training industry is somewhat transient, however, this isn’t always possible. By developing systems and an action plan that focus on client retention, personal training directors can better manage the situation—and decrease potential client losses when trainers leave.
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While it is never easy when a personal trainer quits or is fired, you can successfully manage the situation. Follow these basic steps to make it as painless as possible:
- In each trainer’s contract, include a clause stating the consequences for taking clients.
- Use correct terminology when talking about clients. Clients belong to the organization, not the trainer.
- Ensure that clients are always set up to work with two trainers (a lead trainer and a second trainer).
- Systemize your booking systems so that all clients book through a central booking agent (such as your front desk or the personal training manager).
- Encourage clients to book their sessions based on preferred days and times versus particular trainers.
- Ensure that the organization, not just the trainer, sends correspondence to clients.
- Set up training crossover systems that you can implement immediately when a trainer decides to leave or is let go.
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