Member Experience

Improve Member Retention: Applying the Science of Human Relationships

Use the science of human relationships to connect gym members and coaches, increasing member retention rates and improving member experience.

Dan Uyemura
September 14, 2022
Improve Member Retention: Applying the Science of Human Relationships
Use the science of human relationships to connect gym members and coaches, increasing member retention rates and improving member experience.

In the fitness business space, the difference between a gym that succeeds or fails is minimal. In general, member retention will come down to only two things: Your product and the relationship you’ve created with your clients.

Most gym owners put a lot of energy into building the best training systems for their clients but not nearly as much energy into their human relationship systems.

Just a warning: If you have a great product but a poor relationship with your clients, you’ll be doomed in the long run.

Science shows us that human relationships, once formed, take a lot of energy to break down. Strong relationships means higher member retention with happier members who refer more friends, and stick around longer.

Build relationships for member retention

In this series of posts, we explain the five phases of human relationship building. By understanding these phases, you can build this into your fitness business’ processes.

If you haven’t read the first two posts of this series, start with the first: Want Member Referrals? Create Raving Fans!

Phase 2: Experimenting

After the Initiating Phase comes the Experimenting Phase. If you recall, the Initiating Phase is when people will try to collect as much information as they can about you, your gym and your services. They do this to decide if they want to continue down the path of this relationship.

In the Experimenting Phase people begin to exchange information and move from strangers to acquaintances. If you manage this well, it’s a solid opportunity to convert more leads for your gym.

Experimenting Phase Objectives

In the lens of your business, the Experimenting Phase would include your onboarding process or approximately the first 15 days of a person’s membership.

During this time, they’re seeking to answer two main things:

  1. Does this business satisfy my needs as a customer? (obvious)
  2. Do I connect with the coaches or clients on a personal level? (less obvious)

Member Retention Starts with Diving Deeper

During this phase, people will often deploy small talk as a way to open up more meaningful conversations.

For example, if you find out someone else loves football, you might ask about their favorite team or player. This allows you to start forming bonds over both similarities or dissimilarities.

“I love Patrick Mahomes too! Legit the best QB in the game right now.”

Or jokingly,

“How can you not like Mahomes? I have to question your judgement now.”

If you cannot find any form of common ground, the relationship likely ends here. To compare it to dating, this would basically be your nightmare first date.

Don’t Step In A Trap

While the objective here is to dig deeper and develop the relationship, there are topics to steer clear of if you want to create strong, meaningful connections.

These include anything that someone might have a polarizing viewpoint about: Politics, sex, modern events, controversial figures, etc. These topics aren’t great to lead with, as strong opposing viewpoints can hinder the relationship immediately.

Satisfying The Business Relationship

While member retention is obviously your goal from the business perspective, it’s important to understand the Experimenting Phase from the customer perspective.

Your customer has a pain they are looking to solve and during this phase, you need to dive deeper into what it is in order to understand how you can fulfill it. Members will look for cues that you understand what they need and that you’re on the same page.

Start small talk that dives into why they chose your gym:

“One goal of yours was to strengthen your knee. How is it feeling?”

“You picked up that choke hold quickly! How did it feel?”

“I noticed you working on that crow position. Are you looking to get into more balance work?”

Asking open-ended questions allows the customer to expand on their needs and provides a unique opportunity to demonstrate the culture and core values of your gym. This is where you can form a deeper connection and prove how your business can help.

Satisfying The Human Relationship

During the member’s first 15 days in your gym, you must build a process that involves as many of your coaches as possible during the Experimentation Phase.

Connect coaches for member retention

Require each of your coaches to connect on a personal level with each new customer at least two times per class. To make this easy, give them a list of light-hearted, simple questions they can ask.

“What’s your favorite restaurant around town?”

“Did you live anywhere else before here?”

“Do you have a favorite sport?”

“Are you planning on seeing [insert new movie]?”

These kinds of questions will allow for your coaches and your clients to start opening up dialogue around the things that form friendships.

Wrapping It Up

Your end goal is to create members who stay longer, pay more and become raving fans. Develop strong human relationships in your business, making the first 15 days of membership an incredibly-connected experience.

A member who has a strong human relationship to you and three other coaches has four very incredibly solid reasons not to leave your gym. A member with no strong human relationships will almost certainly quit sooner than later, and member retention rates will suffer greatly in the long run.

Bonus: Leadership in the fitness business comes from the top. Your members notice you and your coaches encouraging connection throughout the gym. When they start doing the same, friendships will spark even faster.

Dan Uyemura

Dan Uyemura built his first gym in 2008. Since then he's built and sold a couple of gyms. In 2011 Dan decided to help gym owners run more stable, profitable businesses.

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