Don’t Know, Don’t Care: Lies About Customer Motivation You Should Stop Believing

  • Start new search
  • Choose Collections to search

  • Narrow search by topic

  • Start new search
  • Search by collections

  • Narrow search by topic

Think about the last time you lost a customer. What did you tell yourself when they left? That she just wasn’t motivated? Didn’t “get” what your business is about? That he doesn’t actually want to be fit or healthy? The problem could be you and your assumptions.

Before we get started, let’s acknowledge that the basis of many of these erroneous assumptions about low customer motivation MAY be rooted in your personal experience or that of your staff. Indeed, some of the assumptions may be supported by statistics.

The devil, though, is in the details.

He / she just isn’t motivated to workout

Some of our clients attribute a lack of motivation to members who show up on an irregular schedule, cancel training sessions at the last minute, or cut their workouts short. This may or may not be a sign that your customer isn’t fully engaged in fitness activities, but that’s not something you control. What it is for certain is a sign that your hours aren’t convenient. While you still have these customers, ask them how the schedule is working out and talk with them about the challenges it may present. Ask them if different hours would mean something to them. Then if you want to keep those customers, change things to fit their needs.

For instance, I’ve been working with a swim coach off and on whose schedule always has me in downtown Dallas at rush hour. Believe me, if I show up at all, I’m motivated.

The heavyset woman who walks into your fitness business for the first time may be entering a world that’s wild, weird, and scary. Or she may be an Ironman triathlete. The thing is, you don’t know. If the experience is reassuring, rewarding, and uplifting, she’ll be back.

The lessons here: don’t judge by appearances or schedule regularity. And if you want to know, ask.

He just wants to be “cut”

So why did he walk through YOUR doorway? Chances are something in your marketing attracted this customer to the idea that your workout facility was tailored to producing chiseled Adonises. Was it the abundance of resistance training equipment? The grungy, no-nonsense feel of the free weight area? The pictures of tanned, shirtless bodybuilders on your flyers?

Ask yourself if “cut” is what your marketing really promises. If you’re really about fit and healthy, everything about your club from its logo to its slogan to its facilities and staff should say “fit and healthy.” And that may mean toning things down a bit and showing ordinary guys on the treadmill.

She’s more concerned about looks

There are two flavors of this. The first is a customer who may have set goals based on physical appearance, possibly with unreasonable and time-bound goals in mind, such as getting into a particular dress in six weeks or getting trim in time for his 20-year class reunion. The second is the customer who is absolutely certain that people are staring at him or her, laughing at how clueless he or she seems to be about health clubs or exercise.

Both of these have a great deal to do with the customer’s state of mind, which is something you, for the most part, can’t change.

What you can change are their expectations and your facility’s culture. CAN you get into a wedding dress or your old blazer from your frat days in six weeks? If that’s really possible, explain what it would actually take in terms of diet and exercise plans. If it’s not possible, let the customer figure that out on their own. Don’t bring up false hopes.

For the customers who are certain people are staring at them, apart from creating private workout spaces or single-gender facilities, there’s not much you can do to actually keep people from staring. But you can create a culture where preening and gawking are discouraged. One thing that Planet Fitness has done a good job of is marketing, and sustaining the idea of an “ordinary Joe / Jane workout gym.”

The culture of your club helps create — or destroy — an environment in which your customers can engage in their fitness and wellness activities with calm confidence.

She doesn’t “get” what we’re about

We hear this one most often from clients whose business grew out of a personal passion for exercise, yoga, or healthy eating. Often it was a transformational personal event that led them to want to “spread the word” to others. And enthusiasm is good.

Turning that enthusiasm into a religion isn’t. Your customers see that value in what you do, and they expect products and services, not a lecture for the great unwashed or a Sunday-go-to-meeting tent revival for the converted.

You may not see it, but the sad truth is that your enthusiasm might be what’s killing your business. Focus on being a better listener and stop worrying about whether people “get” you. What’s most important is that you “get” them — their struggles, their motivations, and their fitness goals, hopes and dreams. Helping them achieve those at their own pace and through their own journey is its own greatest reward.

He’s not working hard enough

I remember when I first started working out that 5 minutes of anything felt Too Darn Long and 15 minutes felt like an eternity. I could barely do a 20 second wall sit and I was lucky if I could jog-walk 10 minutes. And I remember two very specific things about those days: first, that everything was hard; and second, that tiny little bits of progress were what kept me going. I set my expectations very, very low and sometimes even then didn’t meet them. But I stayed with it.

If you catch yourself saying that a customer’s not working hard enough, it may be time for your business to re-learn that:

  • Any progress is progress
  • What the customer thinks of that progress is more important than what you think
  • They’re looking to you to help them define a challenge that’s tough but reachable
  • Baseless criticism and pre-judgment burn to the soul and serve no useful purpose
  • If you’re going to offer constructive feedback, make sure it’s grounded in the customer’s experience, identifies some good in what they’ve done, and helps define WITH THEM what the next steps should be

After all, it’s about THEIR goals, not yours.

She just can’t stick with a diet

There’s a saying that a diet is something you do for a few weeks until you get sick of it, but changes in the way you eat are long-term. Take a look at how you’re positioning your nutritional counseling and general dietary advice to customers:

  • Is it more NOs than YESes?
  • Does it consider that they actually like to eat, healthy or otherwise?
  • Does it separate out “worse” or “better” choices rather than portraying certain foods as entirely good or evil?
  • Does your planning account for the time it takes for new habits to settle in, and introduce change gradually?
  • Does it come with a sense of ownership and responsibility on the customer’s part, or management and blame on yours?

If your marketing was successful, you’ve already sold your prospects on the idea of a change in eating habits. If the message isn’t sticking, maybe something’s wrong with the details.

He’s trying to undo in a week what it took years to mess up

A very good friend of mine has taken to asking me what types of workouts can be done in 10 minutes in a hotel room, without anybody looking. I was happy to share some tips, but behind the question I sensed other concerns:

  • I have a sales meeting at 7 AM. Seriously, I don’t have time to suit up and hit the treadmill.
  • I am a totally out of shape, 45 year old, and even *I* don’t like looking at me during a workout.
  • I don’t know how to use ANY of that equipment on the multi-function exercise thingy in the workout room.
  • If I eat just one more steak and potatoes dinner with a client and drink that much wine again, I’m going to die facedown in my appetizer.

A lot of us in the fitness and wellness business have a story like that in our past. It’s time we dragged it out, remembered the old us, and had a little sympathy and understanding for him or her. What you’re seeing is not an idiot uneducated about fitness; it’s a person desperate to get started and wishing they’d done it years ago, and who’s concerned that the next little bit of indigestion is actually angina.

It’s your job to ease this eager customer into an environment where they don’t feel threatened, they feel better about themselves, and they don’t get hurt.

He’s doing it all wrong!

There’s a guy I used to chat with online who always hit the pool with a snorkel. I tried to talk him out of it, and gave him all kinds of hints for how to rotate his torso and breathe with just his mouth above water, how to adjust his stroke to increase body roll. He wouldn’t have any of it. Finally, in frustration, he told me what I should have known all along: that he had injured his neck some time ago and was left with a couple of fused vertebrae that made it difficult to turn his neck.

In other words, he was doing the best he could, and I had made incorrect assumptions about his unwillingness to do the obvious.

We all probably have some aspect of our lives that we do “just so” because we’ve learned it’s more comfortable, more efficient, or just the way we like to do it. Even seasoned and professional athletes disagree sometimes about the best way to go about their sport of choice. That’s why there are so many brands of bikes, helmets, tires, swim gear, boxing gloves, kayaks, wakeboards, … you name it.

The next time you feel tempted to jump in and correct your customer, first ask them what they’re trying to do and how they feel their current strategy’s working. Plus, it’s usually smart to wait til asked rather than offering unasked-for advice.

He’s diabetic or obese so he’s probably new to exercise

Let’s start today thinking of diabetes, obesity, and fitness as three separate things. Obesity doesn’t cause diabetes, though it can aggravate and complicate the management of both type 1 and type 2. People can be obese and not diabetic, or diabetic and not obese. Obese and active, or active and not obese. Diabetic and inactive, or diabetic and physically active.

At most, the only thing you can spot by looking is a rough idea of someone’s actual weight. You don’t know what their lab work looks like. You don’t know if the weight has hormonal causes, results from antidepressants or other medications, food choices, disordered eating, or something else. You don’t even know what level of physical activity that person engages in. Off the top of my head, I can think of three Athena or Clydesdale athletes who could kick my butt in a century bike ride or triathlon.

It always amuses me when I walk into a new fitness club with my insulin pump on, because the staff usually hears “diabetic” and assumes I’m a beginner. That is, unless they saw me on Inside Edition or Good Morning America as I became the first person ever to run solo from Disneyland to Walt Disney World, a distance of over 2700 miles, averaging 30 to 40 miles daily. Or learned that I set the record in 2019 for the Fastest Run Across Texas.

Preconceptions = pigeonholes. Big mistake.

Fitness and wellness businesses that take the time to get to know their customers individually, to learn about their fitness history and goals, and who listen more than they talk will find that motivated customers seek them, and that attracting and keeping loyal ones is easier than they may think.