Client retention is one of the greatest obstacles wellness professionals can face. However, since it is far more difficult to attract a new client or student than to keep a current one, it’s crucial to strengthen your retention know-how. Discover how to boost adherence levels by incorporating fundamental coaching elements into your sessions and classes.

Be a Facilitator, Not an Expert

The most common mistake that wellness professionals make when it comes to client retention is taking on the role of “the expert” with a client, especially during an initial consultation or session. Now you may be asking, “Isn’t that what I am?” The answer is yes-—and no. Yes, your credentials say you’re an expert in the area of health and wellness. And yes, you do have the knowledge to help your clients reach their goals. However, if you promote yourself as the expert or authority when working with clients, you unintentionally create an imbalance in your relationships that may cost you in the long run.

Any time one party (in this case, the client) views another party (the wellness pro) as an authority figure, interesting dynamics develop. If your clients think you have the authority in the relationship, then they become the subordinate parties by default. As such, they rely on you to supply them with all the necessary information regarding their health and fitness. More important, because you provide all the information, clients also believe that you are responsible for the final outcome.

In a wellness setting, client adherence (and success) relies on clients taking responsibility for their programs. However, if you promote your role as the authority in the relationship, you unwittingly support your clients’ impression that the success of their fitness program is ultimately your responsibility, not theirs. Consequently, when they don’t meet their goals and expectations, they blame you and walk out the door.

The best way to ensure clients stay with you long term is to view yourself as a facilitator rather than an expert. As a facilitator, you use your skills and knowledge to help clients clarify their objectives and develop plans to reach their goals. For example, if your client Barbara tells you that her goal is to lose 25 pounds, as an “expert” you would usually respond by mapping out a diet and exercise plan that (if followed diligently) would successfully bring about the desired outcome. However, as a “facilitator” you will ask your client for assistance and input in creating a program (e.g., types of foods she likes/dislikes, how much time she has to exercise per day/week, types of exercise or activities she likes, etc.). Based on the information Barbara provides, you will ask her to outline a fitness program that she can commit to comfortably. Then, using your knowledge, you can help her create her own realistic and achievable goals based on what she is currently prepared to do.

A facilitator-type approach to your relationships with clients fosters an atmosphere of “we’re in this together”; moreover, clients feel a greater sense of accomplishment and control because they achieve meaningful goals they helped create for themselves rather than objectives set out by someone else (i.e., the trainer).

Mary Bratcher, MA, DipLC, is a wellness coach and co-owner of The BioMechanics in San Diego, California. For over a decade, she has used principles from psychology and life coaching to help people develop better strategies for dealing with life’s demands. She is also an ACE presenter, author and continuing education specialist.