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Helping New Clients Avoid Buyer’s Remorse

How to increase a new client’s belief in you and the value of your services.

We’ve all been there: you get caught up in the moment and make a purchase—sometimes a big one—that you have second thoughts about when you get home. It can happen with impulse buys and even sometimes with major purchases involving forethought. Imagine the panic, then, that a new client might experience shortly after signing up for a hefty package of personal training sessions.

It’s reasonable to assume that some newbie training clients will struggle with buyer’s remorse, especially considering what they just paid for at face value: a whole lot of working out. After all, many people are already reluctant to exercise or intimidated by the prospect. Plus, personal training isn’t cheap—and it’s also intangible. New clients can’t see or feel their desired results yet. Combine those variables and you might be faced with a brand-new client who suddenly wants his or her money back or walks into your first session feeling regret instead of excitement.

Fortunately, you can help clients avoid the dread of buyer’s remorse. Doing so will reduce requests for refunds (if your policies allow them) and, more important, help clients start off with the right mindset. Free from buyer’s remorse, they’ll be able to anticipate results eagerly and focus on the many benefits of personal training.

What Triggers Buyer’s Remorse?

Buyer’s remorse usually crops up after the excitement of the purchase has worn off. “In the presence of the trainer, there are possibilities, hopes and dreams,” explains Debra Atkinson, personal training director at Ames Racquet & Fitness Center in Ames, Iowa, and owner of Voice for Fitness, a company that provides personal training business coaching and professional speaking. “When a buyer goes home, those feelings aren’t as strong as maybe the voice of doubt in their heads,” she says.

At home, there’s also the pressure to justify this considerable expense. “New clients who just purchased personal training have to learn how to budget this new cost into their monthly spending,” says Mike Z. Robinson, personal trainer, finalist for 2012 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of MZR Fitness in San Luis Obispo, California. “Often, what a personal trainer can do for a client is misunderstood and classified as a ‘luxury.’” If a client’s significant other or another family member doesn’t approve of the purchase, the client might experience “buyer’s remorse by association.”

In this economy, clients might begin to worry that the purchase will not be affordable or enjoyable in the long run. “They might get home and think, ‘Whoa, what was I thinking? . . . I could have gone on a small holiday for the amount [I] just invested,” says Colin Westerman, owner of F.I.T. Personal Training in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a personal trainer with 16 years of experience.

Clients must also address the realization that effort is required before results will appear. “The client has to commit to a new lifestyle that incorporates hard work, dedication and sacrifice, something humans are not wired to do naturally,” says Westerman.

Perhaps the biggest trigger of all, according to Westerman, is that clients have nothing tangible to hold in their hands. “There is no guarantee that the money they just spent will produce the results they want. They are investing in potential, not concrete results,” he says. This is where you can step in and ensure that new clients leave with more than just hope for a better body and life.

Between Purchase and the First Training Session

Sometimes, all first-time clients need is reassurance that they made the right decision. This might be as simple as convincing a client that you are the right trainer for him or her. For that reason, Robinson suggests offering an initial session for free. “Clients must be comfortable with the trainer, the environment, the experience, the facility and the type of workouts that you give,” says Robinson. “Make it clear to them that this is their opportunity to go for a ‘test-drive’ before they make the purchase.”

Another idea is to send clients home with something physical in their hands—a gift such as a T-shirt, water bottle, gift certificate or book.

“Make sure they get something right away for this intangible transformation process you’ve sold them,” says Atkinson. “We began giving out a new-client folder and stuffing it with a pertinent article and information on policies, a thank-you note, etc.” Investors who purchase large, 12-month packages also receive a complimentary copy of the fitness center’s Fat to Fit Fuel Book.

In addition to articles, tips and info, you can give perks like coupons for a local sports apparel shop or a discount for a massage, suggests Westerman. Overall, though, he feels the most useful thing you can send clients home with is a plan: “Sit with new clients for 5–10 minutes after they purchase a package or an introductory session and lay out a basic timeline for them in a preset 1-month calendar. It lets clients know that you have a plan for achieving their fitness goals and gets them focusing on 1 week at a time instead of the big imposing picture.”

Next, impress new clients with further communication once they’ve left. “As the personal training director, I send a welcome video and email as soon as payment is processed,” says Atkinson. “We also send a handwritten thank-you right away.”

Robinson points out that it helps to let clients know you are feeling positive and looking forward to your new training relationship: “Call or email to see if they have any questions before starting up and also to let them know how excited you are to be working with them.”

During and After the First Training Session

A client may be eager after signing up—but get cold feet after your first session together. Again, proper communication and planning can help turn around any hesitancy your client might have about continuing.

“Show clients success right away and don’t overload them with complex exercises in the first appointment,” says Westerman. “Clients would rather leave the first session with a positive vision of their potential future than extreme muscle soreness or a feeling of nausea,” says Westerman.

Also, take time in the first session to build client-trainer rapport. “Ask lots of questions during the workout to get a feel for what works with this person’s personality,” advises Robinson.

“Spend more time talking (and especially listening) than you think necessary,” adds Westerman. “The first session is about making clients feel that you care and that you are the person who can lead them to their health and fitness goals. Always reinforce the positive, but don’t be afraid to let them know if they need to work at an exercise. The first appointment should leave them wanting more.”

Then follow up. “Call them directly or email them, letting them know how happy you are they’ve begun and that you’re looking forward to seeing them again,” says Atkinson. You might also provide “homework” to help a client look ahead to the next session.

Putting Buyer’s Remorse to Rest

Steering clients away from the emotional discomfort of buyer’s remorse helps everyone: you retain new business, and your clients start their personal training journey in a positive state of mind. Accomplishing this is as simple as treating your clients like valued customers.

“Never forget that personal training is a service business,” says Westerman. “People don’t mind paying top dollar for your expertise if they feel that they are getting top service. Don’t think that you are only being paid for your time in the gym. Your job also includes customer service–based tasks that go beyond the expectations of your clients.”

Cold Feet and Cancellations

The experts interviewed for this article had mixed feelings about whether it’s okay for a client to cancel a contract if buyer’s remorse strikes. Here’s how they see it. (Note: Local laws might require you to give clients the chance to cancel a contract within a certain time period.)

Mike Z. Robinson, a personal trainer and owner of MZR Fitness in San Luis Obispo, California: “You want to be empathetic, but you have to have policies and stick with them. Personally, I would never cancel a training package, because that sets a precedent about my business that I don’t want out there. Instead, I allow potential clients to try a session for free before they sign a contract. That way, they know what they’re getting into before they commit.”

Debra Atkinson, owner of Voice for Fitness and personal training director at Ames Racquet & Fitness Center in Ames, Iowa: “We have begun to sell what we call our ‘Strong Start’ three-session package to first-time clients with a money-back guarantee. We’ll just refund [the money] if they use those sessions within 2 weeks and don’t agree at the last session that they learned something new in every session and know more about how to exercise in the right way. We’ve not had to refund any money yet.”

Colin Westerman, owner of F.I.T. Personal Training in Vancouver, British Columbia: “Your job is to make clients accountable and [help them] stick to a program in order to achieve their health goals. If you have a well-structured first few appointments, canceling should not be a problem. I don’t allow it in my business, and I tell that to new clients up front before they purchase their sessions. They sign a nonrefundable clause in writing. In 16 years, I have only had one client ask for their money back. I start all new clients with five sessions. This way they get a feel for my style and see if they enjoy the training. It gives them time to see results on a behavioral scale as well as from a performance aspect.”

Amanda Vogel, MA

Amanda Vogel, MA, is a fitness professional and the owner of Active Voice, a writing, editing and consulting service for fitness professionals. She writes for IDEA, Health, Prevention, and Self, and has co-authored books on postnatal fitness and yoga. With a master's degree in human kinetics, Amanda has worked in the fitness industry for more than 15 years, including time spent as a program director and vice president for a chain of all-women clubs in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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