Friday, 19 July 2013

ABSENT & EX-MEMBER JOURNEY - Health Club Management Article July 2013

Ignore absent members at your peril, and use your ex-member database as a prospect list and a resource for feedback, says Guy Griffiths, in the third and final part of his series on retention and the member journey

Absent and ex-members are two under-utilised segments in many clubs’ databases. Not only can they provide critical business information on how you could adapt or improve retention, these member groups can also be a great source of sales.

Fear is the main reason that these members are not contacted. Club operators worry about awakening dormant members, and are also concerned that they will receive negative feedback from people who have left. But sticking your head in the sand is a much riskier alternative; if all your dormant members cancelled tomorrow, your business would be in serious trouble, and if you don’t know why people are leaving, how can you expect to make them stick around?

In the same way that the member journey should not end after the first few weeks, you need to plan what happens when a member stops visiting, and after they leave.

Pay versus stay

Let’s start with measurement this time around. Knowing your average membership length is a good place to start, but ‘Length of Pay’ is different to ‘Length of Stay’. Consider a member who stops paying in month 12; it is no good contacting them in month 11 if they last visited in month 7. At GGFit, we often work with length of stay, i.e. first to last visit, as it is a truer identifier of member engagement, and allows you to affect retention more directly.
Another useful metric to understand is the average time from the last visit date to cancellation date – this gives you an idea of how long you have to try to re-engage a dormant member.

Who’s going to call?

When deciding how to contact absent members, you need to know what is most effective, but also take into account what is practical or possible with the resource you have at your club.
Phone conversations are most effective at getting members back, but you will often have to make a lot of phone calls to have a few conversations, and timing is key to success. Some clubs use customer service staff or even a call centre to make these calls, but instructors are best placed, since they have already had face-to-face member contact in the gym. Whether or not they are motivated to actually call absent members can depend on their own goals, rewards, or to put it bluntly, job spec. If some of your instructors prefer to do cleaning rather than calling absent members, perhaps it’s time to adjust their focus or change their job spec. Properly motivated instructors should be keen to get their members back into the club, but if you know that other staff will get the job done, then they may be the best route.

Send a message first

A great way to reduce the number of calls required is to text or email members before you call them. This will bring a few back already, and also make the calls easier, as you can ask if they received the message as an ice breaker.
Some clubs (e.g. budget clubs) use text/email only as their absent member communication. This is better than nothing, but you can get a much better return rate if you check the reports from your retention communications to determine which members should be prioritised for follow-up calls.

Mixing up your communication options keeps the message fresh and also means that you can reach out to more of your members. You may not have all details for all members, and some may have opted out of certain communication. So a postcard or letter can also be a good option to get in touch with absent members. Guest passes (with a value printed on them) can bring members back with their friends, increasing your prospect list, and friends who work out together are more likely to stay. If you must offer a PT session as an incentive, don’t say it’s free (anything that is free has little value). Instead tell the member that the club will pay for a £50 PT session for them if they return.

Just by showing that you care about a member’s visits and fitness, you can extend their membership by another month. For the price of an email, text, or even postage stamp, it’s a no-brainer.

Here’s an example of an absent member communication process:

To get started today, take the 100 or so members who have recently become dormant, say from the last month or two. Don’t begin by contacting members who've not been for over a year, as they truly are sleeping dogs. Run a report or build a list of members who visited 4 to 8 weeks ago, but have not visited in the last 4 weeks. Put a stake in the ground, and resolve to get newly absent members back into the club, then repeat weekly.


It is notoriously difficult to leave many clubs, but making it hard to cancel a membership does nothing to improve member retention. You might get another month’s membership from them, but they leave feeling totally disillusioned. Finding out the reason someone wants to leave and offering an alternative or a membership freeze can help, but by the time someone wants to stop paying it’s usually too late, hence why you must contact them earlier, when you notice their visit rate dwindling.
If you want to report on reasons for leaving, it is a good idea to give members a choice of options when they leave, for example health/ service/ money/ location/ results.  You don’t need to make it easy to leave, but the process should be simple and straightforward, just like your join process.

Leaver’s survey

Once they've gone, ex-members are largely overlooked. If you have good ex-member data, it is worth regularly contacting them for research and resale. Even if you recorded why they left as they cancelled, consider sending a leaver’s survey a month later. This can tell you the real reason they left (rather than the excuse they gave), and check what they’re up to now, or where they've gone. All this information can be used to trigger future contacts, as well as collecting feedback to improve your club.

Continue to contact ex-members regularly; a quarterly newsletter and/or survey to ex-members should be a regular communication from your database. The prime focus here is to stay in touch, and if an ex-member completes the survey, they get a voucher to re-visit or re-join. The actual answers to the survey are less important. That said, it’s good to use positive questions rather than reminding them why they left. Ask about current exercise goals and habits, perhaps use the Net Promoter question, and include an open question for comments and feedback.

You will get some interesting comments, possibly even some spiteful ones (these are ex-members after all), and occasionally some unsubscribes. Focus on the positives; if there is anything that you can change then do so, respond to positive comments, and track the vouchers or offers redeemed.

Face your fears

The complete member journey should run from beginning to end, and if possible beyond. To run a successful club, you need to face your fears, and contact absent and ex-members. When members stop coming, do something about it; some may leave because of your actions, but you’ll get many more back and re-engaged. When members do leave, don’t ignore them; learn from them, turn them back into prospects if you can, and try to get them back when the time is right.

Thanks to Health Club Management for publishing these articles, based on extracts from our new book, Stick Around. 
This article originally appeared in Health Club Management July 2013

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