One of my pet peeves is to walk into a fitness facility and have the front-desk people not even lift their heads to say hello. If this bothers me, imagine how it feels to someone who is not comfortable in the fitness environment!
“Customer service embodies every interaction the customer has with a brand,” declares Dan Mezheritsky, founder and president of Fitness on the Go, a franchise that serves several cities in Canada. “Most people starting out on their fitness journey are apprehensive, so we need to be as friendly and positive as possible to make things light, fun and, most importantly, encouraging—so as not to scare people away.”
Kerri O’Brien, EdD, executive vice president of product and business development for the American Council on Exercise, agrees. “Oftentimes our members and participants are looking for reasons or excuses not to participate, and inconsistent or subpar customer service is sometimes the reason. The ‘sale’ in the fitness industry does not end at the membership purchase or class signup. It’s every day. We want to give our participants reasons to stay with us and with their fitness program. Customer service is a big differentiator in creating a welcoming atmosphere.”
“The fitness industry is a perfect example of why there has been a shift in the past couple of years to talk about not just customer service but the larger customer experience,” explains Joe Gagnon, senior vice president and general manager of Cloud Solutions for Aspect Software. “Often, service is associated with a consumer problem and a request to help solve that problem. The customer experience includes the service, but it also considers the customer’s usage of the product or service.”
A smile and friendly service are enough if you’re simply going through a fast-food drive-thru, but more is required of the fitness industry, says O’Brien. “In other industries, customer service is ranked high if the rep uses the customer’s name or gives a smile and an acknowledgment. In the fitness industry, customer service is a combination of inclusion and being individualized. Our customer service invites users to be a part of the facility, the group, the program and ultimately the fitness community and movement—all while still reminding the participant of the benefits of fitness.”
Part of creating a great customer experience for your clients and students is anticipating what they need or want before they even ask for it.
“This could be as simple as handing them a bottle of water seconds before they reach for one or outlining a process fully so that all questions are answered before clients need to ask,” suggests Mezheritsky.
“Millennials, now the largest demographic in the workforce, are more experience-loyal than product- or service-loyal,” Gagnon advises. “Customers who feel like they’re your guests rather than just another membership renewal are going to give you more long-term value.”
“Customer service should extend beyond the training session or group exercise class,” adds Karen Jashinsky, MBA, founder and CFO of O2 MAX Fitness. “Instructors and trainers should try to understand the demands and lifestyles of their clients, so they can help them better and provide amazing customer service.”
In other words, listen to your clients. For example, have they recently been sick, and would they appreciate a lighter workout? Maybe they don’t need a workout at all, but rather a thorough stretch and relaxation session. Paying attention to what your clients need on any given day helps you tailor the customer experience to each client, each session.
Here are a few more ideas for creating your customer experiences:
Give more. Rather than discounting your services to try to draw in new clients, offer more for your service, advises Sharon Prothe, owner of Fit Formula™, a yoga, nutrition and fitness boutique in Kansas City, Missouri. “Discounting is one of the top errors we in the fitness industry make. There are ways besides reducing your rates to bring in and maintain clients. Everyone wants tips, meal plans, recipes, a note of confidence, a text that says, ‘You can do it!’ These items don’t cost you any additional dollars as a trainer or coach, so take the time to provide them.”
Make it personal. “Fitness on the Go brings each new client a towel and water bottle at the first session. And the trainers habitually write thank-you notes to show appreciation to their customers,” remarks Mezheritsky. “To add to the appreciation factor, our software has reminders of clients’ birthdays, so our trainers can bring a card and/or a small gift.”
Communicate between sessions. “Following up is a major component of customer service to ensure that customers feel special and cared for,” notes Mezheritsky. “Obviously there can be too much follow-up, but all too often, I don’t see enough.”
“You can absolutely provide customer service by staying in touch with clients after the workout,” agrees Jashinsky. “Many of my clients are young people, and they love to communicate via text message. A quick text the next morning to see how clients are feeling after a workout is a great way to touch base and let them know that you’re thinking about them.”
Ease customers’ anxiety. O’Brien refers to situational customer service as making a customer comfortable in any situation or environment. “Oftentimes, anxiety results from not knowing what to expect, or from fearing the unknown,” she explains. “Take the time to brief your participants and clients on what to expect. Provide background on key elements of the workout setting and any other relevant nuances.”
Try to fit into your customers’ lives as much as possible. People are busy, and they appreciate having options. For instance, can they contact you via email, text and phone? Have you ever thought about offering clients the option to Skype workouts when they’re traveling?
“By leveraging digital technology—like Google Hangouts, Skype and social media channels—we as fitness professionals are able to fit more seamlessly into our clients’ lives,” explains Jashinsky. “Scheduling a 20-minute session over Skype allows my clients the flexibility of getting their workout in, from the comfort of their own home or hotel room, and getting on with their day.”
Listen. Lastly, listen to your customers, while building rapport and practicing empathy. This will help you create a customer experience that is just right for each person.
“Our members and participants all have ‘stuff’ going on in their lives,” says O’Brien. “If the stresses of day-to-day life are weighing them down, our solution is to be the reprieve by providing them with a safe and effective workout to rebuild their stress tolerance.”
“Yes, your clients come to you as the fitness expert,” Jashinsky points out, “but the more you listen, the more you learn about their lives, beyond just fitness. The more you learn about them, the better able you are to create programs that work with their specific needs and goals.”
And that is what creating a great customer experience is about!