Thursday, 8 July 2010

Preparation, Adaptation and Education: How to improve your member contact methods to get your absent members to return

When it comes to maximising member retention, we all know communication is vital. Face to face contact is paramount, which is fine for the members who are in your club. But what do you do about the members who are not present, or who haven’t visited for a few weeks, or perhaps longer?

Re-motivating absent members
Visiting their home or office would be very effective, but economies of scale make this impractical for most clubs. Alternatively you can phone the member, which is often the first choice in retention policies. Although 55% of communication is visual, the tone of voice and words still come across on the phone. If you actually get through to the member there’s a good chance they’ll come back in, but often there’s a voicemail or no answer, which reduces the probability of success in bringing the member back. If this is the first phone call you’ve made to this member, this will also reduce the effectiveness of the communication.

The most difficult part of calling members is ensuring the calls get made. Even the most motivated member of your team will struggle with making calls, and will welcome the voicemail as it allows them to tick the box without actually talking to the member. Logging calls comes down to staff honesty, and call reports are often taken with a pinch of salt.

Many clubs choose e-mail as an option, and it is already proven to improve member retention when done properly. Like any contact it is best if the first communication does not say “Where have you been? We miss you.” Here’s a starter for ten; why not send a welcome e-mail to all members when they join, and then send another mail after 30 days or 12 workouts (depending how sophisticated your systems are). This way, if a member gets the “Where have you been?” mail, it feels more sincere.

Welcome mails are important, as are regular communications. Send them only as frequently as you promise, and beware of permission, spam filters and unsubscribe requests. If you’re sending a monthly/fortnightly newsletter, include some hooks every time that will attract each member to make them look forward to it, and read it. It needs to be relevant, interesting, and engaging. Even better, include something that will make people want to forward the mail to their friends. The “Content” factor is critical if you want members to regularly open your mails. Monitor the results if you can – how many opened and at what time of day, and who clicked where in the mail, so that you can adapt the next newsletter accordingly.

Remember that your members want to hear from you, especially when the communication is relevant and consistent.

Likewise, adaptation is needed for the “Where have you been?” mail. This is typically based on time, i.e. number of days absent from the club. The same members are perhaps going to receive this message more than once, so it needs to change, and if possible be personalised and include an offer.
21 days absent: “Hi Guy, You were visiting regularly back in January, but we’ve not seen you since Friday 30th April. Make a visit in the next week and receive a free programme review/PT session/drink at the bar to get you back in the mood. Cheers, trainer’s name”
Next time around:
35 days absent: “Guy, we’ve not seen you for some time now, we understand that at times it is hard to stay on top of your fitness goals. Come back soon, and let’s have a chat about how we can get back on track with your goals. Regards, trainer’s name”
This is proven to work better than the same “Where have you been, we miss you” message over and over again. Systems exist to automate but personalise these messages, which means you know they’ll be sent, and if you’ve played the newsletter game right, the member will be reading the e-mails that the club sends.

When it comes down to it, something is better than nothing. So if you have a fixed merge template for these messages, change the wording frequently. Another way to mix it up is to use different channels for the automated communications, such as text message and letters as well as e-mails. E-mail is favoured because it is cost effective, fast and gives control over the presentation of your brand. SMS or direct mail can have a good impact too, as long as you keep an eye on costs and return on investment.

Looking forward, it may become important to ask for member’s twitter IDs as well as e-mail and phone numbers when they join. A direct message on twitter is free and effectively works as both e-mail and text, or an @reply will show up on a member’s feed for all their followers to see, which should help motivation!

The final piece of the communication puzzle is education. All staff must receive, read and digest a preview of each newsletter so that they’re ready for members’ questions or comments. Staff also need to know how the automated retention mails work, so that when a member says “Thanks for the mail, I’m back”, the instructor welcomes and takes care of them, rather than reacting with a “What’s going on here?” look on their face. Post a weekly list of absent members that have been sent a message, so that if they visit but don’t present themselves, there’s a chance that an instructor will catch them and give them some attention.

Feeding back results to staff; a simple report of absent members who were contacted and then returned, will close the loop and reinforce why the policy is in place, and how effective it is. It might even help with logging the phone calls too.

It is also a great opportunity to educate members by inserting wellness advice that promotes and reinforces their decision to use your club regularly.

In summary, whatever methods you employ to do so, reaching out beyond the walls of your club to absent members provides results. However, with e-mail there are strategies you can use to reach more members, more easily, and more often. Prepare your members for consistent, personalised attendance based communications from the start of their memberships. Adapt all these messages based on feedback and reporting. And finally, educate your members and staff as to how and why it works.

This article was published as a Retention Management Newsletter. If you wish to read other articles, they can be found at
To learn more about how Retention Management can assist you in making a positive impact on your member retention, please visit

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