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Ish Cheyne, head of fitness at Les Mills, shares his tips for effective member onboarding.
How you onboard a new member is absolutely crucial to the long-term success not only of that member, but also of your club.
Too often, clubs focus on the sale and then assume the member will be OK if left to their own devices. Either that or they try to channel the new member into personal training.
But the member won’t be OK in either of those scenarios. They need support in getting started, and pushing them into PT as the only way of getting this support is a flawed strategy – one that assumes personal training is a retention tool, where actually it’s an attrition tool. You’re pushing new members towards a service that ultimately fewer than 10 or 15 per cent are likely to continue with. And if that’s their only point of contact with the club, what happens when they decide they don’t want to do PT any more? Simple: they leave the club altogether.
Meanwhile, if you have a proper onboarding process, you create a club culture where your staff actually want members to fall in love with fitness. The focus is shifted away from sales and towards building relationships – and relationships are what keep members loyal, happy and exercising regularly. If you invest in relationships, all the rest – the nice stuff like good Net Promoter Scores, but also higher revenue and an improved bottom line – will follow.
Here are my top tips for creating a great member onboarding process.
Hire people who genuinely like people and who are relationship-driven. This will help address the inevitable gap between a new member who knows they have to exercise and a PT who loves to exercise. You don’t have to employ instructors and PTs who look ‘normal’ – it doesn’t matter if a PT is a muscle-bound 22-year-old and the new member an older, out of shape individual, provided that PT knows how to speak to people and build relationships.
They also need to have a great fitness story themselves – one that helps them understand how hard it can be to get started. So how did they come to exercise? What’s their story? Who do they know who exercise has really helped? These are the questions you need to ask when you interview potential new instructors and personal trainers.
I firmly believe that one of the key reasons why members ultimately leave their gym is because they started badly, with a negative first experience of the club. So how can you make sure they have a positive first experience?
First of all, as I mentioned before, don’t push PT at the point of sale.
Secondly, don’t put the new member through a punishing first workout. Encourage them to take one step at a time – suggest they do just the first few exercises of a BODYPUMP class, for example – so they feel good about the experience rather than being put off forever.
In fact, encouraging them to try group exercise generally is a great place to start. It’s an environment where people can handle the early days of exercise, because it’s more fun. Ultimately, it’s about recognising where people are both physically and mentally and meeting them there.
Ideally every member would also get to sit down with an instructor for a personalised programme, but if that isn’t possible then look at alternatives. For example, Les Mills in New Zealand is developing an automated welcome email with a Great Ways to Start at the Gym video full of tips and advice for the new member.
By this, I don’t just mean finding out that they want to lose weight, or whatever other goal they might have. You have to understand why they want to lose weight. Not only that, but why are they joining today? What has been the tipping point – the event that has caused this sudden determination to act?
It’s also really important to establish how many times they’ve tried to reach this goal before, and at how many gyms. If the answer is ‘lots of times’, you’ll need to discuss what they’ve done before – and then make sure you’re helping them do it differently this time.
Sales people aren’t natural relationship-builders, and if you try and make them fill this role, they won’t be as effective in their sales role. Accept that sales people sell. You need someone else – I’d suggest gym instructors – to take the member journey on from here.
What the sales person should commit to, however, is ensuring they give the new member a great handover to an instructor. This should be the sales person’s role in the onboarding process. That would ideally involve asking a few leading questions to set the stage, which takes us on to my next tip.
Sales people can set the member up for success by sowing the right seeds in their minds. Using elements of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) when they discuss the member’s first few weeks, suggesting an accepted norm to gently steer behaviour, can encourage the new member to do all the things we know play a key role in establishing an exercise habit.
So, for example, you might try:
That final comment can even be followed up with: ““Would you like me to arrange a free seven-day pass for one of your friends?” But then you have to stop selling! This is an opportunity to give the new member a great start. It isn’t an opportunity for the sales person to make another sale.
As our CEO Phillip Mills says, nobody ever left a gym because they had too many friends. So whether it’s allowing new members to bring a friend for free for a week, encouraging people to join as a group, or steering new members towards the ready-made community of the group exercise studio, do everything you can to help members develop friendships within the club. This not only makes the experience more fun – and therefore something they’re more likely to repeat – but it also creates multiple points of contact for them in the club, meaning they’ll be missed if they don’t attend.
Which leads me to my next point…
Accountability is your first consideration. It doesn’t matter if the member trains with a PT once every six weeks or six times in a week… they just have to be accountable to someone who will notice if they’re coming to the gym or not. And it doesn’t have to be a PT – this also works well if a group of friends join and train together.
Frequency is the next step. Help the new member set realistic targets so they aren’t demotivated when they don’t come five times a week, as they said they would when they joined. Once a week is better than no times a week. Ideally build them up to twice a week (achievable for most) or three times a week (gold standard – this is when your NPS scores will go up).
Quality comes next. At this point, you can focus on improving the member’s results… adding in new types of exercise, nutrition plans and so on. It’s at this stage that you can suggest personal training if they haven’t already done it. And keep challenging existing members as well as new members – everyone needs to be kept at this stage by continuing to challenge them and encouraging them to try new things.
Intensity follows on from this, helping the member build up a tolerance for exercise. Once they’re conditioned for a particular activity, they’ll enjoy it a lot more.
And that’s when we get to Event – or rather, past it. It’s when the event which caused the member to act is no longer the important factor, because now exercise is a habit that they do for a whole new set of reasons… feeling good, feeling energised and so on. It isn’t just about achieving one specific goal.
My parting thought: make sure the member starts their journey with you on a really positive note. If not, it will be a far shorter journey than you’d like.
Find out more about how to onboard successfully at your club.