Does Your Health Club Need Digital Care?

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Digital care harnesses technology to anticipate and eradicate the sources of friction that undermine your members’ success.

It spans the entire customer experience, proactively addressing customer needs and issues. The payoff can include greater revenue, loyalty, profitability, reputation, and lower expenses. Who wouldn’t want that?

Before you answer, consider whether your club is ready for the changes you’d have to make.

What is digital care?

Digital care safeguards the member relationship at three key touchpoints — pre-sales, onboarding, and the ongoing member experience.

First, picture everything about your pre-sales member experience. Start with their buying process. Think about everything from their interaction with your online ads or marketing emails or website to the kinds of inquiries they make while they’re still deciding whether to join. What are their worries and anxieties about committing to your business? Identify the points of friction that slow down or derail the sales process.

Then move to onboarding — the process of making your new member successful. As before, identify the points of friction that prevent a tight bond from forming between your club and  your member during these crucial early days. Sure, they’ll need to get their ID card or install your app, know where to find your business hours and class schedules, find out how to use the equipment, and so on.

But look for the less obvious sources of friction, too. For example, every woman who has ever wanted to lose weight probably has a horror story about sports bras. Yep, you need to help your member solve that problem too if YOU want to be successful. Here’s another one: are your programs designed to deliver that addictive feeling of early success? Without it, new clients often drift away after just a few visits. Is your parking lot scary-dark? Gotta fix that, too.

Next,  turn your attention to the sources of friction in traditional customer service areas. Examples include everything from billing errors to the need to update a credit card, complaints about instructors, gripes about equipment issues and cleanliness and other members, and stinky mats in the yoga studio.

Digital care harnesses technology to eliminate sources of member friction.

I had a great example of digital care when I bought shelves at Container Store. On the day they were delivered, I got an email with links to installation videos and instructions, plus a number to call for help. Plus, they had flagged the most common install problems and provided quick tips. It was almost impossible to have a bad installation experience. What most impressed me was the timing of the email. They didn’t send it a week earlier when I ordered — when it would have been useless to me.  They made sure I got it at the exact moment I needed it — the day I got the shelves.

Now, here’s something they could have done better. How about an email a couple of days before delivery, reminding me that I’d need a Philips-head screwdriver and a level? That way I’d have time to pick up anything I needed before the shelves even arrived.

That should be your goal, too. Your job is to anticipate all the things that undermine your member’s success — and use technology to overcome them. It’s everything you’d want to do to ensure member success, powered with technology so that it’s effective, efficient, and delivered at exactly the right time for maximum effect.

Every club needs a digital care strategy. How far you take it depends on your strategy, your budget, and your ambitions. These questions will help you dial in your club’s plan:

What kind of automation do we need?

Avoid the temptation to focus exclusively on typical sales, marketing and customer service issues just because they’re familiar issues or you can find software to automate those parts.

Remember, three touchpoints matter: pre-sales, onboarding, and ongoing member experience.

In our client experience, onboarding is really where customer relationships are forged. We used the example of sports bras above.

Guys, didn’t you ever wonder why some of your members wear two sports bras at once? It’s not necessarily a fashion statement.The dreaded bounce is a real issue for women who want to be active. Does it discourage them from joining your club? You bet. Do they drop out after a few classes because they just can’t stand feeling conspicuous any more? Or miserably uncomfortable? Unfortunately, yes.

This is a very real obstacle that holds many women back, especially women who aren’t stick-thin.

A few clubs say “Forget it, we stocked a couple of sports bras a few years back and they didn’t sell.” The question to ask yourself: did you actually sell them — as part of the member experience for body-conscious women, or did you just stock them in the club?

Digital care embraces the entire customer experience, not just the sale. This sample scenario demonstrates a critical difference between digital care and sales automation:

  • A day or two after new female members sign up, send them an informative email or text about choosing sports bras.
  • Educate them on all the possibilities — yes, truly no-bounce bras exist, even for very large-breasted women.
  • Include a link to the Title 9 Sports site.
  • Problem solved, via email, text, your website — and Title 9’s website.
  • You can post this info on your Instagram and/or Facebook business pages, too.

Do you think your female members will be 100% convinced that you actually “get” them after this kind of thoughtful communication? You bet. Of course you can’t make them go buy a new bra — but you can do everything short of that to get them the help they need to succeed. And when they’re successful, your club is, too.

What other non-traditional sources of friction could you use technology to eliminate?

Such diverse and unlikely areas as search advertising, email, and traditional customer service are full of opportunities to use technology to reduce friction in the customer experience. The best plan will depend on how you digitally interact with customers, and in what volume. It could be web searches for hours and directions, mobile click-to-call, text messages, direct email and newsletter subscriptions, or social posts and threads. It could be online registrations and contact-us forms or information downloads from the website.

If it’s any part of the customer experience, chances are good it can be done better, done online, then done more efficiently. Just make sure you keep those steps in that order. Otherwise you’re automating a train wreck.

Where can we get more data about what members want?

Every channel, from your website to social, email, PPC and others, provides analytical information about how people interact with your business.

Our article on Taking Your Website’s Vital Statistics provides pointers on freely available data that sheds more light on your current digital engagement process.

For email newsletters, look closely at the open rates, click through, and other statistics on your content to find out more about how your members are actually interacting with your emails. Often downloading several months of data and slicing and dicing it in Excel provides more insight than your email service provider’s canned reports.

Once you’ve examined your data, you should be able to tell if 80% of your problem is billing errors, a lack of social outreach, poor website design, or a dropoff in new member enrollment after the holidays because of a poor pay-per-click advertising strategy. That’s your first step.

Next, look at how you can improve your process without worrying about the digital automation element. Is your sales and marketing specific, relevant and fresh, tailored to your unique audience? Vague encouragement to “start being healthy today” doesn’t count! If most of your billing errors are caused by expired credit cards, do you have any way, manual or otherwise, to flag members who’ll need to update their billing information soon?

Then, and only then, start looking at software that helps you accelerate, and ideally connect, those improved processes. Look at systems to address the processes specific to your club that affect the customer experience.

For some clubs, it may mean using digital care to connect customers with targeted resources delivered at just the right time to solve issues like finding the perfect sports bra or running shoe or triathlon coach. For others, it may mean a billing system update or moving it to the cloud. For some, it’ll be subscribing to a full-fledged CRM platform. For others, it will be finally replacing an outdated website with a new easy-to-update WordPress site with e-commerce plugins. Or moving to a new email marketing platform or setting up a social listening tool.

Your solution may include all, some, or none of these activities, but it will always be specific to your club, your members and your processes.

How can technology improve your existing processes?

Good for you! You assigned someone to work the fitness floor and answer member questions.

Now, the really important question: do new members know this? Are you sure? Yep, I know you mentioned it when they toured the facility and picked up their free one-week pass…but we know they don’t remember everything you told them, right?

Here’s an idea: schedule a post for your Facebook business page that Joe will be available to answer questions about equipment use right up until closing time. Include his picture, and tell people where to look for him. Then, send a text or email reminder only to new members that points to that post — and reassure them that “no question is a dumb question” and Joe’s a super-helpful guy. You’re also giving new members a reason to “like” your page. Win-win!

Just like that, you’ve applied the principles of digital care in a way that helps seamlessly bring new members into the fold.

Here’s another example. Say you’re on the East Coast, and snow and ice business closure is an inescapable reality in January. Too many clubs post a sign on the door, throw a quick post onto Facebook, and head on home when the blizzard hits. You can do much, much better.

Digital care puts all kinds of tools at your fingertips, and you should use ALL of them: Updating your Google Business listing, using SMS subscription-based alerts (one Dallas-area aquatic center does this), send a proactive email update AND an email auto-reply letting senders know you’re closed, updating  your website, updating your after-hours voicemail message, posting on Facebook, and printing a HUGE sign for the door so that no one wastes time parking, shuffling through the snow, and yanking on your door — only to realize that the half-sized sheet of printer paper stuck to the door says “CLOSED FOR SNOW.”

How well do our existing tools work?

It’s hard to streamline your member’s experience if you’ve got to duct-tape your tools together.

Take a look at your online ordering, front desk check-in and member management software, your membership renewals system, and the processes you use for answering phone calls, texts, emails and handling social media.

Individually, how good a job is each tool doing? Does it actually meet the needs of your business, or is it an artifact that needs replacing?

Do your tools work together seamlessly, or are you constantly having to manually connect the dots by sending emails or walking down the hall to talk to someone?

Have you focused most of your technology investment in one part of your business (for instance, sales automation and member enrollment), while ignoring others (member care and billing)?

What’s the optimal investment in digital care?

Digital care often doesn’t always require major new investment in technology. It just means being smart about using the tools that you already have, or supplementing them with simple improvements. If you CAN produce a streamlined, automated, and proactive process with a single tool, bully for you. But that’s often not the case.

Consider the case of front desk staff and ongoing satisfaction. Members really hate calling your club and hearing the phone ring…and ring…with no answer. They also hate leaving a voice mail. They also hate it when you answer the phone and immediately put them on hold. They want a live person, right away, who can address their issue.

Yet many health clubs only have one person at the front desk. If your front desk person is busy engaging with members as they come and go, you cannot realistically expect them to simultaneously answer the phone. If they do, they’re going to tick off the person who’s right in front of them.

Improving this process with digital care could be as simple as buying a prepaid cellphone, christening it the “Member Service Hotline” and handing it to a designated employee on each shift. Share the number with members, and tell the designated employee that their TOP priority when they have the phone is to answer it, immediately.

Staying on top of club usage trends could be as simple as obtaining an inexpensive automated social listening tool, and setting it to proactively notify you of specific keywords, phrases, and emotional states.


The key to digital care actually isn’t the technology. It’s taking the time to truly reflect on what leads to member success at each critical touchpoint — and what undermines it.

Only then can you use technology strategically, to eliminate those sources of friction.

You don’t have to be a big club with deep pockets to automate digital care.

You just have to be a club that cares.