Attrition. 

It’s the biggest challenge that gyms face. Most clubs will lose 3-5 percent of their members every month. With the cost of attracting a new member being up to 20 times that of retaining an existing one, that is an unsustainable position for a profitable business. The key to reducing your attrition rate is to develop an understanding of why your members are leaving – and then set about making the changes needed to keep them.

In this article, I’ll reveal the top 5 reasons that members leave gyms, along with the simple strategies to overcome each of those issues.

The Reasons at a Glance

1. Expectations Not Met

2. Lack of Engagement

3. Lack of Value

4. Better Competition

6. Bad Customer Service

Expectations Not Met

If your member’s expectations are not met, they are not going to hang around. That hour that they invest at your gym is a valuable chunk out of their day. If it’s not achieving its purpose they’ll quickly replace it with something else. So, knowing and meeting the expectations of your members is of vital importance. 

The worst thing you can do as a gym proprietor is to assume you know the expectations of your members. The only way to find out is to ask them. When a new member sits down during the sign-up process, your staff member needs to identify the problem that they want to solve. It could be being overweight, too skinny, or being aerobically unfit. That is what you should help them build their workout goals around. Their expectation is that they will make steady progress toward their goals.

If a member is signed up, given a tour of the gym, given a cookie cutter program, and then let loose onto the gym floor to essentially sink or swim, it is unlikely that their expectations will be met. Of course, you will get some hardcore people who simply want you to get out of the way so they can throw heavy iron around. But the majority of your new members are in need of direction and guidance to make progress. 

You can’t give one on one guidance to every member, but what you can do is to over communicate with them. The initial program should be specifically tailored to their goals, with regular check-ins scheduled to assess their progress and make adjustments if they hit a plateau. The trainers on the gym floor should, without being annoying when members are trying to train, check on how they feel they are progressing toward their goal. It’s amazing how a sincere show of interest can make a member feel encouraged and part of the team. 

To know if you’re meeting the expectations of your members, you need to ask them directly. Don’t be afraid to do surveys because you think you’ll be annoying your members. The majority will appreciate that you are being receptive and proactive in trying to meet their expectations. In the survey, ask members directly whether they are satisfied and what needs to be improved to better meet their expectations.  

A general expectation that all members will have is that the facility will be clean and hygienic with regular cleaning taking place several times daily. It is a good idea to post a cleaning whiteboard where cleaners note the time of day that the last clean was done. 

Members also expect that equipment will be in working order. Of course, you can’t avoid equipment malfunctions. However, there should rarely be a case where a piece of equipment is out of order for more than a week. If it is, your members will start to question your priorities. 

Lack of Engagement

Would you classify your facility as a club or as a place where people rent space to exercise? There’s a world of difference between those two characterizations and the determining factor between them is how you and your staff relate to the members. 

Hardcore trainers will be content to come in, throw their gym bag in a locker, train with blinders on, and then get out: no fuss and no chit chat But the majority of gym members are not like that. They want to be engaged. 

Many people go through the day without communicating with others. After all, we live in an impersonal world where people very rarely smile at each other, let alone say hello. Make your gym an oasis of friendliness in a desert of cold impersonality. 

When members come in they should be warmly greeted, ideally by name. It’s important that the staff member be genuine when doing this. A greeting that has been set on automatic pilot and that lacks genuineness is worse than no greeting at all. Taking 60 seconds to engage a member in a genuine human interaction when they first enter the gym could be the difference between keeping and losing that member. 

Your goal should be to build a sense of community. That means that members need to feel a part of the group. That will only happen if those they perceive as the leaders of the club bring them into the fold by showing real interest in them and valuing them. If they don’t get that feeling, they’ll simply be strangers who are renting space from you. When the gym around the block offers space at a cheaper rate they’ll ditch you as fast you would if a cheaper car park sprang up in your neighborhood. 

Lack of Value

Your sales people are no doubt experts at promoting the value of joining your club to prospective members. But what is your plan to show value to them once they’ve signed up?

 A lot of gyms seem to forget that their customers are not making a one time purchase as they would in a retail store. Your relationship with your members has to be nurtured so that they identify their monthly membership payments as a meaningful investment that continues to provide value for them. 

You need to have a plan to nurture your members and make it clear to them that there is real value in their membership. That value needs to be associated with your gym, not just any gym. If it’s not, they’ll shop around for a better priced place to work out. 

Your plan to increase value to your existing members should include such things as email marketing, and monthly newsletters with meaningful content that readers can actually benefit from. If your members get a newsletter every month that contains at least one article that inspires an ‘aha!’ moment, that member will stay with you!

You should also keep offering new and exciting training options for your members. Themed challenges are a great way to add value, as are targeted group training sessions. If you keep things fresh, your members won’t get stale. They’ll look forward to every visit, wondering what added value they’ll find this time. 

Better Competition

If there’s another gym down the road that is better than yours, you’re going to leak members like a sieve. So, what can you do about it?

The first thing is to know about your competition. Find out what they are doing well and what they’re not doing well. Then hone in on their weakness as your point of differentiation. The biggest area of gym letdown across the board is customer engagement. We touched on this already but it bears repeating. Many gyms end up with a clique group of members who are part of the inner sanctum, while the majority are on the outer. The chosen few soak all the time and attention of the staff while everyone stays out in the cold. 

Differentiate your gym first and foremost in terms of personal service. Then look for other areas to set yourself apart. If your competition sticks to the traditional steady state cardio route to weight loss with hundreds of members walking aimlessly while staring at CNN on a screen, put a focus on high intensity interval training by investing in some air runner manual treadmills and holding HIIT clinics and challenges. Of course, you’ll still provide the steady state option but your members will also have HIIT actively presented to them. 

You should constantly be asking yourself what you can bring to the market that no one else is doing. That will require you to be always monitoring the latest fitness trends and innovations. When you develop a reputation as a quick adapter of new, proven training modalities and equipment, your members will be loyal to you – because they don’t want to miss out. 

Bad Customer Service

Good customer service goes beyond greeting members when they come through the door. Your members should get a personal message on both their birthday and their membership anniversary. Better still, offer them a gift on both of those occasions. A post-workout shake or a complimentary personal training session will make a lasting impression. 

Celebrate member successes. Most people are very self-conscious about their body so any encouragement from gym staff can do wonders. All of your staff should be encouragers. They should be letting members know that they’re looking slimmer, their guns are looking more jacked, or that they’ve noticed their poundages going up. They should also compliment members on their consistency and effort. With member permission, share weight loss or muscle gain successes with members on a Wall of Celebration and/or in your monthly newsletter.

Good customer service is something that you can only control to a certain degree. It depends on every interaction between your staff and your members every day. Most of the time, you won’t be there when those interactions take place. So, it relies on your staff to do their part. 

Getting the right staff is a huge part of giving your members good service. In the hiring process, you should dig into how the interviewee deals with difficult people, how much they enjoy customer interaction, and how they handle frustration. 

Once you’ve hired the best people, make customer service training a weekly happening. Have role play sessions, with you playing the member in a range of situations. You may even decide to offer a financial incentive based on retention figures. 

Train your staff to go the extra mile for every customer. Don’t just tell members where things are; escort them there or get the thing they need for them. Make sure, too, that your staff is professional at all times. Here are 4 elements of staff professionalism that you need to cover off:

  • A staff uniform
  • Name and title tags displayed on the uniform
  • Learning member’s names
  • Active listening

An often overlooked aspect of great customer service is allowing your staff the freedom to make independent decisions. If every decision has to be checked with management, your members will quickly become frustrated. 

Good customer service is far more likely when you are operating quality gym software. When your members have an issue, they expect it to be resolved quickly and efficiently. A good software program will allow staff to promptly deal with everything, from putting a membership on pause to paying for a protein shake, in less than 30 seconds. 

Your software program will also allow the front of desk staff to be on top of all the little things that can make a difference for members. They’ll have flagged reminders that it is a member’s membership anniversary or birthday so that they can treat the member like a VIP for the day. 

Summary

The five main reasons that members are likely to leave your gym are:

  • Their Expectations Are Not Met
  • Lack of Engagement
  • Lack of Value
  • Better Competition
  • Bad Customer Service

Fortunately, there is a remedy for each of them. By proactively addressing these issues before they become concerns for your members, you’ll be able to maintain a happy, fulfilled membership who will be with you for the duration.

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