The Missing Ingredient to Our Customer Service Problem:

The Hybrid Fitness Professional

By Bob Esquerre

If your club has developed a proactively dynamic and interactive Standard Operating Procedure [S.O.P.] that has drastically reduced your membership attrition rate, please do not read this article!

However, if you are looking for some additional strategies that more and more progressive clubs are successfully using to drastically take control of our attrition problem, please continue reading this article.

Our approach to membership recruitment, to membership retention and membership referrals is so simple, that most clubs miss this point! The solution is about people… it’s about the people who use our facilities, the members and the people who work for these fitness centers, the employees. The progressive clubs view these “people” as assets!

The Management of Club Assets

At a minimum, our clubs have two types of assets: our members & our employees. Like any other business, we should have (1) incorporated the recognition of our employees and our members as assets when we had developed our brand, and (2) we should have developed S.O.P.s that support the management of these assets as part of our business platform. Our reality is that we have missed this opportunity to either recognize these two distinct groups as assets, and have failed as managers to manage-up these assets for the benefit of our clubs.

The benefit to the clubs… these employees can be proactively positioned to support the management of our members.

These assets are so close to us, that we cannot “see the forest because of the trees!”

“In the end, all business operations can be reduced to three words: people, produce, and profits. People come first.” – Lee Iacocca – Auto Executive

The Management of Employees

Here are a series of questions for each reader of Health & Fitness Business to consider:

What would happen to your individual club’s membership recruitment, retention & referral programs if we had managed our employees as an asset who would do some &/or all the following?

  1. Your Group Exercise Instructors started to tie their individual successes to the success of your facility and started to refer to “We” instead of “I” when they speak to their students.
  2. Your Group Exercise Instructors started to refer their students to your club’s personal training program for additional services because of weaknesses/challenges that the instructors saw in their students during their classes.
  3. Your Group Exercise Instructors started to do fee-based Group Training Programming.
  4. Your Personal Trainers started referring their clients to specific Group Exercise Programs because those programs would supplement the client’s personal training sessions.
  5. Your Personal Trainers started working with their Group Exercise counterparts to learn how to teach Group Exercise Classes/Programs; and, heaven forbid, even want to learn “how-to-count” music.
  6. Your Personal Trainers started to incorporate Group Exercise skill sets into their repertoire so that they can do more fee-based Group Training Programs.
  7. Whenever your Personal Trainers are away on vacation, their clients are encouraged to train with other Trainers so that their clients can stay focused on their individualized fitness programs.

Whenever I present these points to Club Owners, Managers, Instructors and Trainers, I get a responsive look like a deer staring at the headlights of an on-coming car!

No way! It would never happen! These groups are too segmented! This is too much trouble because they each have different goals, objectives, and focus!

We agree with these responses. However, the potential upside from successfully managing-up our Fitness Team members has been itemized in CHART “A”. If we are able to manage &/or coach our employees to have these skill sets, then I submit that this potential upside is totally worth the stress and aggravation!

Our managers tend to act in the traditional sense, as opposed to being entrepreneurs & leaders who are managers! Entrepreneurs who are really good managers have exceptional coaching and leadership skill sets second to none!

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” – Dwight Eisenhower, 34th US President

Our survival is based on our collective ability as an industry to develop cutting-edge solutions to existing problems, like membership retention. As a minimum, the Clubs that are listed in Chart “B” represent a sample of those who have taken the time to manage their assets so that these assets can contribute a positive return on the Club’s investment.

These Clubs, in fact, have made a proactive decision to take charge of their destiny. I would also like to point out that it was Victor & Lynne Brick, from Brick Bodies, who had initially influenced me to become proficient as an Aerobics Instructor back in the day!

Where Do We Start?

Once we accept the premise that the employees who are best positioned to influence our members by proactively managing their club experience on a consistent basis are Group Exercise Instructors and Personal Trainers, the next step is to create a synergistic relationship between these two groups. This process will never happen by osmosis! It not only has to be managed, but it must support the value of the club’s brand. We are working under the assumption that your club’s brand is grounded on building viable relationships and providing member-specific solutions to their individualized needs.

Think of all the skill sets that are needed to be a great Group Exercise Instructor and the needed skill sets to be a great Personal Trainer. Group Exercise Instructors have great relationship building skill sets besides their technical skills. Personal Trainers tend to be weaker in relationship building while maintaining their strength in their technical skills. If we manage and coach these skills together, we will have the profile that is summarized in CHART “A.”

CHART “B” provides a Step by Step Summary about the potential steps that should be taken to overcome the “pushback” from these 2 Groups. What makes this process easier, if the Group Exercise Manager is a personal trainer and the Fitness Manager is a Group Exercise Instructor?

This is a process that cannot be mandated; it must be managed and coached by our managers from the top down. Once again, this presupposes that our managers have the right coaching skills to make this happen. Those who do, can make this happen! If our managers do not have coaching skill sets, then they need to be trained as professional coaches.

CHART “C” provides a Step-by-Step Summary about the potential steps that should be taken to overcome the “pushback” from these 2 Groups. What makes this process easier, if the Group Exercise Manager is a personal trainer and the Fitness Manager is a Group Exercise Instructor?

Have we gotten your attention yet?

Managing The Members

When a new member joins a club, they are looking for “something”! They may or may not know what that “something” is. They are looking to the subject-matter-expertise of the club and its employees to provide direction and solutions that can indeed satisfy their goals and objectives.  As these needs change, they want their services to change that will again, meet these new goals.

This is a process that cannot be mandated; it must be managed and coached by our managers from the top down. Once again, this presupposes that our managers have the right coaching skills to make this happen. Those who do, can make this happen! If our managers do not have coaching skill sets, then they need to be trained as professional coaches.

This being said, they are expecting us to manage them, so why don’t we? The progressive Clubs that have followed this approach have given us feedback that
we have summarized in CHART “C.”

Conclusion

What do you think? Is this idea/concept so off the wall that it’s not worth your time to consider? At a previous IHRSA Institute for Professional Club Management, this concept was interactively discussed during the Program. The consensus was reflected in Tony Tamules’ quote below.

“In 2005 when I took over as fitness manager at the RDV Sportsplex, we had one personal trainer teaching group exercise. My goal is to have ALL my trainers on the group exercise schedule. Why? Because I want fitness professionals who can do it all, teach classes, generate revenue through a variety of services and support the club’s overall mission of customer service and member retention. Fast forward two years and I have 14 of the 38 group exercise instructors on staff are full time personal trainers with 6 more in training ready to go for the fall. -Tony Tamules, Fitness Manager, RDV Sportsplex, Orlando Florida.

The major ROI associated with a well-trained staff includes facilitation of the following: (1) the establishment of member goals, (2) the identification of programming options/needs that will not only support diversified member goals, but also support (3) the modification of programming options as member goals change.

If done correctly, staff training will potentially enable your club to manage-up member wants, needs, and interests. As this happens, the members will get their results! If they get their results, why would they leave?

About the Author: Bob Esquerre

Bob Esquerre is both nationally & internationally recognized as a Business Planning Consultant, a Fitness Manager, Educator, Author, Personal Trainer, and Group Exercise Instructor. As the CEO of the Esquerre Fitness Group International [EFGI], is an active participant in both the national & international lecture circuits as a sought-after speaker in the following areas: Personal Training, Business and Management Development, Program Design, Customer Service, and Membership Retention.

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