I want you to remember the last time you flew the friendly skies. You wasted time in a security line for 45 minutes, waited around a crowded airport with other customers for hours, and then boarded a plane with serviceable features like overhead reading lights, (possibly) fee-based beverage service and a seat that may or may not have had a head rest.
Now imagine that instead of commercial, you were flying private. There would have been no lines. The pilot would have asked you where you wanted to go, how fast, and at what altitude. The food and drink would have been catered specifically to your tastes. The in-flight entertainment would have been tailored to your personal preferences. And instead of seats, there would be large plush recliners and wall-to-wall sofas.
Nice, right? That’s the difference between what a typical gym visit feels like versus the experience that you and your studio team should create.
In the take-no-prisoners studio world of European-model-thin margins and Fifth Avenue-like amenities, it’s no longer acceptable to merely give people a workout. Today you have to create a culture and an experience that makes each client feel like they are in the first class of fitness options.
That level of personalization is expected, and studios that fail to understand how to deliver such white-glove service will end up struggling to hit class minimums and book sessions. The good news is that this high-touch attitude of specialization is happening all around the industry right now. And by following their lead you can reinvent your studio’s staff, technology, programming and culture to give members that all-important sense of private, as opposed to commercial.
Is Your Staff Into Role Playing?
A studio’s staff is unique. They have to be. We ask them to be brilliant and multitask in ways that big-box clubs do not. And because there are only a handful of employees, an overabundance of potential touch points exist between staff and guest. The 2013 IBIS World Report on Gym, Health and Fitness Clubs in the US estimates that in 2016 there will be 56 million members, spread out over 34,540 facilities with approximately 17.43 employees per facility.
That comes out to 1 employee for every 92 members.
Now consider the studio numbers. It’s most likely half of that. That means your team will be interacting with members much more frequently than a traditional club’s staff, which in turn means more opportunity for negative exchanges. So how do you ensure that your team is consistently on brand and delivering the service and quality that you strive to create in your studio?
I have two words for you: Role play. Telling your team to do something is one thing, but watching them do it (over and over again) is something else. Teaching customer service is critical in order for your staff stand out from the studio down the street. Owners who don’t set aside time every week to role play are in for a business riddled with turnover, grievances, and staff identity issues.
Make Technology Work For You
Technology is one of the biggest leaps forward for our industry in the past 10 years. The membership experience is no longer taking place solely at a physical address. It all starts with your CRM. Studio software is so advanced now that it can track innumerable amounts of data on your clients. But the best and most underused feature is the NOTES section.
Your staff should fill that area of a customer’s profile page daily with information such as injuries, referral opportunities (kids, spouses, coworkers, etc.), billing issues, instructor comments, and other feedback. The goal is to create a more personalized experience between your member and studio.
Next, look over your app. Is it merely a generic class scheduling tool or does it provide studio updates and bulletin board-type information that your clients can actually use? Instructor changes, theme classes, promotions, and more are all small details that when taken together make the user feel like they’re in the know with their studio.
Then there’s the actual class itself. Heart rate monitoring is pretty standard these days, and some studios even offer VO2max and glucose testing as well. Studio monitors can also demonstrate exercise technique with modifications for clients with physical limitations.
Finally, after the class is over do you send follow-up communications regarding members’ progress, account activity and successes? Automatic emails, individual emails, traditional newsletters, eblasts, and monthly status check phone calls all go a long way to further develop the relationship with your members. You can do all of this with minimal effort, thanks to technology, and implementing these changes will set your studio apart while making your members feel unique.
Create a Program of Change
Custom programs are great. By their very nature they’re meant to have a solid foundation of rules and policies that ensure a consistent quality standard. But the best quality for these rigid systems to have is flexibility. It’s not enough to just evaluate your classes, instructors and operating procedures monthly or when problems arise — it needs to be done daily, and issues need to be addressed quickly. Furthermore, the changes you make need to reflect the attitudes and preferences of your clients … not your wallet, and not your team.
Here’s an all too common example. A studio has back-to-back classes. One draws students and the other doesn’t. Your options are to:
a) combine the classes into one,
b) drop the class that doesn’t draw, or
c) change instructors to see if attendance rises.
What’s the best answer?
It’s actually a trick question. The answer is a, b and c. And even d, e, f, g, … you get the point. Doing nothing will kill a studio’s energy, excitement, staff motivation, and most importantly, revenue. Make changes, make them often, and make them reflect the needs and wants of your members. A studio that fails to change often might as well stock up on leg warmers, steps and 80s rock anthems.
Allow the Customer to Influence the Culture
Seth Godin’s book Tribes: We Need You To Lead Us has many useful insights for studio owners. He defines tribes as groups (or communities) of people who are bonded by some purpose, ideology or practice, and who have a shared belief in each other. In a big-box gym, tribes naturally develop on their own — like the yogis, spinners, the treadmill group, and massage addicts, just to name a few.
But in the boutique studio world, the entirety of the membership base needs to become one cohesive tribe in order for the model to succeed.
This is tricky. If the club tries too hard to create that feeling it will be forced. Try too little and no actual identity will present itself. And if you fail to get buy-in from the members, the whole thing is for nothing.
Ideally, the customer will end up dictating the environment, which is a good thing. The job of the studio is to capitalize on this culture and expand it to whatever lengths it needs to create a differentiating experience while simultaneously creating a personalized one.
Matthew Cicci is a freelance health and fitness writer and fitness studio owner in Chicago. With more than 15 years experience in the health and fitness industry, Cicci has operated businesses in the not-for-profit, big-box, boutique, franchise and residential fitness markets. Cicci has held several industry-wide certifications, has a bachelor’s of science degree in management and studied under the Master’s Program for Exercise Science at Syracuse University. He is currently available for long and short term content assignments with a focus on relevant industry metrics, benchmarks and market characteristics.