I own and operate two health clubs and in our clubs we relentlessly work to remain focused on delivering great “member experience.” As my own understanding grows about “customer experience” (member experience in fitness terminology) and the memories they create, I hope to share what I’ve learned to continue improving not just our own operations but to have a broader impact on the fitness industry.Retain_Gym_Members

Getting the customer experience right requires acute awareness that all interactions between customer and company (people, plant, equipment, advertising, website, etc.) will merge into a single belief about your company.  This “memory” IS the experience.     Experience shapes belief.  Belief shapes action.  Action shapes results.  Say someone walks into your club for the first time and they are greeted warmly and personally. The sales person is genuine, caring and inquisitive about this person’s world.  The club is spotless and there is energetic and friendly conversation all around.

From this experience one begins to form a belief – “These people care and this place is authentic.”  If, when returning the next day, there is someone different behind the front desk talking on a cell phone and not paying attention, I start to question my belief – “Maybe I was wrong. Perhaps it was just the individuals that were caring yesterday, not the company.” 

Getting the experience right can’t be a “sometimes” thing.  It must be pursued “all the time” thing, even if you know that “all the time” isn’t possible. We call this the pursuit of excellence!


The authors of The Experience Economy (B. Joseph Pine and James H. Gilmore) explain that if we receive any cues not aligned with the experience we expect, the experience is degraded. At Disneyland, if we see two staff members arguing or a sweeper walk past garbage on the ground, we log this in our memory as a “chink” in the Disney armor. Which by the way, I have never seen. But I give these examples of what would be negative “cues” inconsistent with our beliefs about Disney.  

In our own Member Experience Manual (our internal “Bible” for our gyms) we describe negative cues as “defects,” or, something that will degrade the quality of the product. We create customer experiences. Negative “cues” are the defects of great experiences. Our industry delivers all levels of member experience. Many health clubs effectively apply the same customer experience principles as some of the world’s greatest companies (Apple, Four Seasons etc.). Many are small and connected enough to always deliver a great “home town” experience. But mostly, when it comes to customer experience management we deliver mediocrity.

If we are to live up to our potential as major contributors for solving the current health care crisis, we need more legendary customer care stories than are being generated today.  If we totaled up all stories told about health clubs around the world, it seems the net result would be far more negative stories than positive.   Our goal should not be to merely have more positive stories than negative, but to obliterate negative stories. 

Create so many positive stories that the negative are insignificant by comparison. 

Would that help retention? Yes. We hear that we service the same 15% of the market. Yet attrition is stil 40% (or so). If membership growth in the US has moved from 45 million in 2009 to 50 million in 2011 and attrition is 40%, then over the last three years there are roughly 56 million that have quit. Granted, may of those rejoin somewhere else. But, I am concerned with those who came to use to solve a problem and instead were sold a membership. I am concerned with those that are used to the customer experience they receive from Apple, Starbucks, Disney and others, only to wonder why the same experience hasn’t permeated a business dependent on repeat visits and recurring revenues.

If we are ever to live up to our potential, we must design (Design: to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan) the end-to-end experience in a way that connects with and dazzles people when they are at their most vulnerable and we are in our greatest position of power and influence. This is retention by design. The next step is to deliver the experience. No process, policy, or person stands alone.  They all connect in a “customer experience ecosystem” to form what is the experience of our members. 

 Share your comments on this topic. Do you have a purposeful system designed to retain members at you health club? We would love to hear from you.


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