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Do you ever wonder where those glowing testimonials come from? You know, the ones that come from the heart, and make sales and marketing so easy they’re almost unnecessary?

It starts with knowing who your club’s most devoted fans are, engaging and cultivating a mutually rewarding business relationship with them, and letting things happen naturally. Here’s how:

These core principles will help your fitness business groom its most loyal customers into true brand ambassadors.

Consider their unique perspective

Before they were “regulars”, these customers came to you with needs your fitness business was uniquely qualified to meet. What were those needs, and what makes someone like that choose YOU?

One of our clients operates a fitness and weight loss business for body-conscious women, many of whom had a shaky sense of self-efficacy. Their club provided a supportive environment where not only were such women served well by the business, but BY OTHER CUSTOMERS. The sense of community, of each-one-teach-one, was almost palpable. Customers felt like their club was the one safe place they could go, not be judged, and no matter how small the progress they made, be rewarded with praise and encouragement.

This population gradually grew to dominate our client’s business, and as the number of such customers grew, the business adapted and grew around them, doing a better job of serving their needs.

Was it The Club For Everyone? No. But it was never going to be that, and they were smart enough to stick to serving their core customer base exceedingly well.

Solicit their feedback on your brand

In the example above, it started out with customers just offering each other tips on how they themselves had met with mounting success despite fairly low expectations that Yet Another Gym would have anything to offer but judgment and stares. When the manager of the facility surveyed the membership, they found that members wanted to do MORE of that atmosphere of support and guidance, and a special kind that was fit to their state of mind.

Your facility is probably different somehow, but no doubt there’s a core of members who never miss a day. They notice if towel service is running slow, if equipment isn’t working, and whether someone needs to put an out-of-order sign on one of the restroom stalls.

Those members have operational insights no one else has. They know what the most demanding customers want, because they ARE the most demanding customers, and they’re in a unique position to tell you why they keep coming back.

Gather as much of that information as they’re willing to offer, and take it seriously. They’re trying to tell you what you do best, what you need to fix, and how you can attract more like them.

One thing that these particular members said they felt was valuable was simply being asked their opinion.

But keep it to your most loyal customers, your regulars. The thing to be careful about is asking NON-regular customers the same questions. Chances are they’re not that attached to the brand and much of what they want are things that cost you money and don’t really increase the likelihood they’ll stay.

Act on it

When half a dozen of your most loyal customers tell you to keep the pool open late so they can get in their 140.6 training, do it. Unless there’s some city ordinance that disallows it, the costs to keep the lights on along with one or two employees working overtime isn’t huge. At first, it may cost a little extra. But if you want your fitness business to be special to folks who are going to keep coming back, spending money, and attribute special quality to your brand, this is what you have to do.

Sometimes it’s nothing special: leaving a tray of chilled bottled water outside the sauna, or putting a bottle of spray cleaner and a box of shop rags near the treadmills so folks can wipe them off before using them.

Sometimes it’s even something that creates a new revenue opportunity — for instance, setting up a cycling club with regular rides, tips on technique, and gear recommendations. Partnering with another business who may specialize in add-on products or services that complement yours can enrich YOUR customers’ experience and spur them to do their own word-of-mouth campaigning for others to join in.

Build trust

“Letting the inmates run the asylum” is not without risk. A small cadre of dedicated loyals may consume more resources per person without generating immediate revenue. Their value comes from the additional business they generate through referrals, and in most cases, the fact that people who really like something — a sport, a gym, or an ice cream brand — are well connected with others who share the same enthusiasm. In social networking terms, they’re high traffic “hubs” for comments about your business.

If you don’t believe it, invest in social listening software and scan for both their name and the topics they discuss, including your fitness business.

As uncomfortable as it feels, when your loyals are telling you to do something you’re not doing, you have to be at least willing to try it. If nothing else, they’ll appreciate being listened to.

And besides, most everyone else won’t even tell you you’re screwing up.

Your potential brand ambassadors are telling you what to change in order to make your facilities and programs better, not find fault.

Give them something to do

It’s quite possible that when a number of your regulars suggest an addition to your products, services, or facilities, or a change in the way you do things, it’s going to create work for somebody. Ask those customers what they’d do if it were up to them, and how they’d go about it if they had limited resources.

That may just mean knocking around some ideas and exploring whether they’re doable in terms of money and personnel. If their ideas present you with an issue, share it and ask for more advice.

Let them help you solve the problem!

You’re still responsible for the safety and financial operation of your fitness business, but loyal customers are emotionally invested in your success, and you may be surprised to learn just how far they are willing to go to help you make it work.

Reward them

Not that long ago we wrote an article on building ironclad loyalty, entitled “But Will They Tattoo Your Name On Their Bodies?” One of the secrets to building that kind of loyalty is to make the experience of brand loyalty something special, something not everyone gets.

If a customer of yours has spent $1100 on trainers AND given you valuable feedback on how to improve your new member onboarding for personal training clients, try seeing your way to giving them a free 1-hour massage session. The reward has to be big enough to be special, and not just something they get for showing up. And it needs to be special enough for them to “prize” (develop attachment to). If it’s a book of discount coupons or a $100 bill, no matter what it’s worth, it feels like a buy-off.

For more tips on how to make your regulars feel special, read our article on “The Secret Menu” and the value of anti-marketing.

Treat them as someone special

Actually acting on the advice of customers is something almost no businesses actually do. When they do, it’s something truly amazing. Here’s your chance to take the feedback you acted on above, and with your customer’s permission, make a truly big deal out of it. Don’t just post a photo of them on your bulletin board along with their suggestion from the suggestion box. Set up a photo shoot, put their picture on your web page, and interview them about what makes their experience at your fitness business special. Ask them to tell you what they’d say to potential customers that you probably wouldn’t say yourself. Don’t edit (unless there are grammar or spelling errors) — use THEIR words, their feelings, and their message about your club. Let them tell their story about why they’re a customer.

Reserve a special parking spot for them for a month and put their name on it, on an actual painted sign (not “customer of the month”). Allow them to come in after hours, before hours, or use a normally closed facility completely by themselves.

Even better, ask them what they truly want from your club, and if it is within your power to do so, give it to them.

Chances are it will be something you never thought of.