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Advances in technology are presenting businesses with a wealth of new opportunities to engage customers. But as the world-class line-up of speakers at Fit Business Live in Cologne explained recently, when it comes to the fitness sector, tech should never replace the human experience. Kate Cracknell reports.
INTRODUCING THE SPEAKERS
Marcus East – Executive VP of Product & Technology and CTO at National Geographic, leading the digital teams responsible for making it the #1 ranking brand on social media. Previously at Apple and IBM.
David Minton – Director at The Leisure Database Company, with 30 years’ experience in health and fitness giving him a unique perspective on developments in the sector.
Emma Barry – Founding member of Les Mills International and former Director of Group Fitness Programming for Equinox.
Christophe Andanson – President of Les Mills Euromed in France and other countries in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, with over 20 years’ experience in the sector.
Discussions at Fit Business Live Cologne embraced a wide range of topics, but there were five key topics that emerged and shaped the debate:
Here are some of the key thoughts from each of these areas.
Customer satisfaction = profitability
“The thing I really want you to take away from today is that it isn’t just about innovation or technology. It’s about building the best possible customer experience,” said Marcus East.
“When you go into an Apple store, they do everything possible to make you feel happy. And that’s because every one of Apple’s 92,000 staff is measured on Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is a measure of customer engagement. Not one of them has revenue, sales or profitability targets – and yet Apple is the world’s most profitable company. And that’s because they focus on their customer.”
Build the product around the customer
So if customer satisfaction drives success, how do you drive satisfaction?
Knowing your customer is the first step, as Emma Barry explained: “Don’t compete. Don’t waste time chasing those who are lukewarm. None of this helps you serve your members.
“Customise single-mindedly around the people who really want to be part of what you do. Identify every touchpoint and don’t ever fall outside the experience they want – from the environment, to the language you use, to the way you stay connected, so it’s one seamless conversation until the next time they come in.”
Tech can be personal
Speaking of staying connected, using technology to personalize the experience is another important contributor to customer satisfaction.
“My best fitness experience recently was at Cycle House,” said David Minton. “Their technology meant they knew I wanted shoes and water, so that was all organised for me. They knew I was new, so the instructor came out to greet me and mentioned my name a few times in class. That really worked for me.”
“Bizarrely, people trust technology more than they trust other human beings,” added East. “IcelandAir found that satisfaction levels were higher among those who spoke to its AI chatbot versus those who spoke to a human, because the chatbot was quicker, more accurate and more polite.
“I don’t believe the future is robots in fitness centres, but the future is using technology to deliver personalization: chatbots that ensure people always get a response; websites which tailor their messaging based on the IP address of the person viewing them; health insurance, diet and exercise based on your DNA profile.”
It is, as East summed up, a case of tech becoming part of the jigsaw of personalized customer care. It won’t replace people, but its ability to deliver personalized interactions means staff are freed up from office-based tasks to provide human-to-human experiences in-club.
Deliver customer-centric innovation
Arguably the best personalization comes from actually asking the customer what they think, said the panel.
“Develop something simple and get it straight out there to see if the customer likes it,” advised Minton. “If they do, they will actually help you develop it.”
“Things are changing so rapidly, so don’t think more than a month ahead. Don’t spend a penny either. Just keep looking at how things are changing and how the consumer is responding to what you’re doing.”
Barry nodded: “Just try stuff. Start something next week and you’ll have feedback. Get your staff involved too, because they’re closest to the members. Ask them to help identify how to make each member visit special. I believe innovation needs to be about becoming more useful, relevant, inspirational and motivational for our customers.”
“All that said, there’s nothing wrong with being a little bit behind all the real innovators. I think this is the most powerful place to be, because that’s when the customers are knocking on the door – when the awareness is there.”
She added: “The thing is, much of the ‘innovation’ in fitness is just the recycling of old ideas. We need to look outside the sector for real innovation – to hospitality for servicing or the travel industry for ways of automating things.”
Christophe Andanson agreed: “The fitness industry is not well known for innovation. Clubs haven’t really changed for years and we still have huge issues with retention. I agree that things like chatbots could be very useful – but in the end, innovation has to be human-centric.”
Become the social hub
And this is where the conversation turned to perhaps one of the most important contributors to customer satisfaction: building a community to encourage participation, personal connection and a sense of belonging.
“I don’t think we have to count on technology to resolve all our problems,” said Andanson. “We’re human, we’re social. Technology will be part of the experience, but it’s there in a supporting role. In my experience, it’s human relationships that make the difference.”
Barry agreed: “We’re in a people business. We need to look at how our clubs can become more human. Society has never been so disconnected, even though we’re more connected than ever. Mental health issues are more prevalent. You sit at a table and no-one is talking to each other.
“I believe gyms are the big social clubs of the future – the new pub, if you will, and much more powerful.
“There are examples already, such as Club W in Australia which has been created as a third space for older women. But I think the third space could even become the second space once jobs start evaporating and we’re all even more mobile. For example, I was at KXU in London recently and I spent the entire day there – fantastic workout, beautiful café area, connectivity so you can work…
“We need to create a new framework where we’re better at connecting, more entertaining, more relevant, so people have a yearning to return. There has to be a physiological response: ‘I want to be in your space’. You might not even know why – is it the exercise, because your friends are there, because you feel great…? It doesn’t matter. We just need to make the time people spend with us really special, really social, so we become magnetic.”