Customer Experience in the Fitness Industry Needs a Workout! 8 Lessons.

Customer Experience in the Fitness Industry Needs a Workout! 8 Lessons.

A recent experience I have had with a GoodLife fitness club has me wondering how long their commodity-based model will be successful as the options available continue to multiply and people like me refuse to accept poor customer experience.

I get that fitness clubs are really a commodity business. I guess that’s why they get away with such shoddy service. But I have to wonder, with smaller clubs and more niche fitness clubs popping up (crossfit, poledancing, boot camps), how long will people continue to put up with the “sell ’em quick, treat ’em bad” philosophy of the larger fitness clubs.

There have been plenty of stories in the news and around the water fountain in gyms, about fitness clubs charging people who are no longer members, or new clubs charging people before they even open their doors. Last year, CBC ran a show called “The Big Gym Rip Off” about the shady accounting practices of gyms, especially Premier Fitness. GoodLife itself recently was charged more than $300,000 in fines for breaching telemarketing rules. There’s a stigma that gyms are shady and underhanded. You would think that they would try to change that image – not only by advertising (which GoodLife does quite well) but by treating their members well.

It became very apparent to me that customer experience at GoodLife is lacking when, after being a member for more than 15 years, they lost my business. It has taken me weeks to turn this post from a rant into a “Lessons Learned” post – so I’m going to do my best to keep it there!
So here are 8 customer experience lessons I think fitness clubs can take from my experience.

Customer Experience Lesson 1: Reward your loyal customer advocates.

Over my years working out at Goodlife, I referred many people there. I think it would have been nice to be recognized for that. That could mean a simple “Thank You” card, or an invitation to a customer loyalty event, or a free preview of a new gym… Many rewards don’t cost much but showing loyalty to your advocates will separate your club from the rest in the Customer Experience battle.

Customer Experience Lesson 2: Follow up with Lapsed clients

At the new gym I recently joined, I was told that if members don’t check in for a certain time period (I think it was 3 months), they call them and try to bring them back in to the gym. I’m hoping I don’t have to experience that, but I think it’s a great idea. It stands to reason that most people, looking at their monthly expenses and realizing they are paying X amount of dollars for something they never use would likely cancel that payment. So never mind the perception that you care about your members’ health and wellness, this practice makes good money sense.

Customer Experience Lesson 3: Customer Experience is more than just the service you provide.

Customer experience is made up of all the touch points in a client’s interactions with your business – from your advertising to the interaction with your sales people and receptionist to the impression your equipment and facility makes and more.

Make sure your equipment is in good repair, your change rooms and shower areas are clean, and your facility is bright and tidy. Most importantly, ensure that your staff – all of them – realize that your clients are important, and they are friendly and welcoming.

NOTE: I did visit a Mississauga GoodLife club a couple of times and received very friendly service there. On my first visit, they offered me a tour, the equipment was much more updated, it was a large, bright club, and change rooms were clean – whoever is running that club seemed to be doing a great job! The location was just a little far from my home to continue going there.

Customer Experience Lesson 4: Don’t treat members worse than walk ins.

At one point in my Goodlife experience, I visited a gym in my new town with a friend who was a member there, and was told I couldn’t work out there unless I paid $5. The interesting thing is if I had never mentioned that I was a member of Goodlife, it would have been absolutely fine for her to bring a friend for a trial workout. Please, remember that members or even past members have invested in your company and probably deserve to be treated at least as well as a walk in. In the end, I didn’t have $5, and she did let me in – but I felt like a criminal during our workout, and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Lesson 5: If you’re on social media, be responsive.

I tweeted about my unhappiness with Goodlife, and they publicly responded to my tweet a day later, which is great. However, when I DM’d them back, I never received a response (and still never have). Apparently “SM” was more interested in appearing to care about GoodLife members than in actually caring. If you ask someone to DM you contact info, follow up with them right away. Twitter is instant. Even after my second DM telling them not to worry and that I would be cancelling my membership, a simple reply of “sorry to hear that” or anything would have been better than silence.


Customer Experience Lesson 6: Don’t be so eager to lose clients.

When I called to share my story and disappointment with Goodlife, upon hearing my story, the response was “Do you want to cancel your membership now?” There was no thought to how this meant they would be losing a 16-17 year long client or to empathizing, investigating further or offering an incentive of some sort to stay. This response just confirmed my decision – believe me, it’s difficult to leave a gym that you LOVED for years, after so many years being a member. It probably wouldn’t have taken much for them to keep me (and make me a huge advocate), but the eagerness to get rid of me sealed the deal.

Customer Experience Lesson 7: Price isn’t the problem. Value is the problem.

There were two real problems that I had with GoodLife. Neither of them were about price or cost. First was the lack of consideration for more than 15 years of loyalty (and monthly payments) when they told me I would have to pay 3 X more for transferring to a gym in my new town. Second was that the Oakville gym was smaller, darker, and dirtier than the Hamilton gym I had worked out at for so many years at a third of the price. I have no problem paying more when I feel like there is value in what I am receiving.  But to know that I could no longer work out at other GoodLife clubs and would be using the same old equipment in a substandard facility simply shouted “lose-lose” at me.

Customer Experience Lesson 8: Listen.

There really aren’t many things more annoying than not being listened to. It’s the first rule of dealing with a customer complaint or concern. It should be the first rule of sales, relationships, everything.

Without turning this into a big rant about how terrible the “Member Experience” team is at listening, I’ll just say that they demonstrated a complete lack of listening several times during my conversations and later emails to them. In fact, they spent a lot of time following up because they didn’t listen. I can’t help but think how much more successful they might be if they focused their calls on following up with lapsed clients rather than to make sure they cancelled as many memberships as possible.

Final thoughts

Imagine collecting money every month for years from clients and never providing a single service to them? According to a Money Sense Magazine article, 75% of people who who join a gym end up going six times. Wow! Imagine the profit margin on that?!? Probably good enough to hire people who care about their members (just saying).

With that said, a couple of good things have come of this. First, of course, is my new gym, which I am really excited about. I’ve already tried my first yoga class (a lot harder than it looks), I’m enjoying the new equipment and what they call “Techno-Gym” as a way to get back into a routine, and I am looking forward to the cafe they are adding over the next few months.

Secondly, through my tweets, CrossFit Altitude encouraged me to try them out. I had a wonderful experience and would HIGHLY recommend anyone looking to integrate fitness into their lifestyle in the Burlington area look into joining their gym. Their team is passionate, engaged, and welcoming. I felt so supported there, and had an amazing introduction to Crossfit. If it were closer to my home, I would have joined immediately. Plus, Andrew, their “Tweeter” really gets twitter and was excellent at following up with me.

Finally, I have learned my lesson. I held on to a low-cost membership, thinking I would go back one day and not wanting to lose the great price. I paid for a membership that I didn’t use at all for (in my best estimate) 7 years. That’s a lot of pairs of shoes I could have bought! My fault, entirely, and something I won’t let happen again. Oh – and I’ll be checking with the bank to ensure that no further payments go to GoodLife!