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The mistake of thinking you're invisible [article]

Sitting at reception or chatting behind a desk or reading the paper in front of the membership. You look like you are on the dole at work – the implicit message you are sending is you're not my customers, check out how hard I don't work and how much I don't care!

Have you ever walked in to a shop and been ignored? One sales assistant is too busy talking to another sales assistant about their weekend to notice you? Did you approach them when you needed help or did you just leave?


A survey of former fitness club members conducted by IHRSA (The International Health Racquet & Sportsclub Association) showed that 43% of former members quit because they didn’t use their membership enough to receive value from it. The other major reasons people quit were that they lost interest and motivation, they never felt comfortable, they didn’t like the club atmosphere and they never achieved their goals.


When you look at those factors they’re all quite controllable aren’t they? In addition only 24% of the people IHRSA interviewed, who quit, were actually impressed with the professionalism of the staff, only 21% thought the staff took a personal interest in them, only 13% thought the staff helped them achieve their goals and only 15% felt a sense of belonging at their club.  Now something’s really gone wrong there!


In contrast to this however, of the people who rated their clubs highly, 84% stated that the staff took a personal interest in them and 88% achieved results that validated their membership.


Let’s make some basic sense of those numbers.  Why do people join fitness clubs? They join to achieve results that will validate their investment.  What do they want from staff?  They want and need staff to take a personal interest in them and help guide them to achieving those results.  What happens when staff take a personal interest in helping members achieve results? Results tend to happen, members are happy, they stay longer and speak positively about the club and its staff.  What happens when staff don’t take a personal interest in members? Members don’t train enough to get results; they lose interest and motivation and become pissed off with the people they paid to help them.


It would seem that there’s really nothing more important than taking an interest in helping the people who have joined your club to achieve great results.  So any task that doesn’t actually result in staff talking to members in the gym or on the phone must surely be of limited or no value, and could probably be discontinued?  Ultimately as a trainer or instructor, when you are at work, if you are not taking clients through sessions, conducting screenings, programme reviews or fitness appraisals, helping members on the gym floor or calling non-attendees on the phone to re-engage them in their efforts then you’re not actually doing much of any real value. 


But you don’t want to intrude on members while they’re exercising I hear you say. They’ll come and ask me for help if they need it, and I’ll be only to glad to help then. Time for you to understand this simple truth: the people who need help seldom ask for it, they either expect to be helped or don’t want to feel like a nuisance by asking.  So they don’t approach you and without staff taking an interest in them they just end up as another former gym member.


Members that would welcome a little staff interaction are actually quite easy to notice.  They show their willingness for help by their actions, or lack thereof.  As an example, any of these members would gladly accept some help;


  • Members who aren’t actually there! People you have trained previously, taken through a gym programme and haven’t seen recently, or have popped up on a non-attendee report
  • Members training with no exertion whatsoever, i.e. completing 20 reps on a weight machine without a hint of being fatigued at the end – sound like they’ll be getting great results?
  • Members taking long rests between sets, staring out the window in a daydream and obviously bored
  • Members walking around with their programme card trying to find their next exercise but looking completely lost
  • Members trying to unload the exercise machine the previous user forgot to unload
  • Members with dangerous technique, or simply not looking comfortable with what they’re doing
  • Members going through the paces on the same old cardio machine, looking bored stiff as they try to find some humour in the tv show because they’re not getting it elsewhere.


Essentially you are looking out for any members that don’t look as though they are enjoying their exercise, or training in a way that is conducive to getting results.  When you notice them you really don’t have to do anything more than say hi, ask them how the training’s going, if they’re happy with the results they’re getting and offer to help where you can.  The vast majority, if not all members will be only too glad you took the time to show an interest in them.  And you know what, if you don’t notice struggling members, other members certainly do.


In an environment like a gym the most powerful advertising tool a trainer or instructor has at their disposal is how they conduct themselves at work, or rather how the members observe them at work. If staff appear to be more interested in chatting to each other or their mates, or browsing the internet or sitting behind a desk reading a magazine, they’ll be judged accordingly.  The implicit message conveyed to members by such staff is that they’re not interested in helping them. 


All fitness businesses (clubs and trainers) rely on helping members achieve results. The most damaging advertising for a fitness business is having staff present at work but not interacting with members.  Conversely though, the most powerful (and cheap) advertising for trainers and clubs alike is to ensure that staff are interacting with members as much of the time as possible.  Starting a business as a personal trainer in a club is so much easier when members frequently see you on the gym floor helping members.


Only the invisible man was invisible, and he needed a special watch.  The rest of us need to send the right messages every moment we are at work - or quite frankly, refrain from being there until we can.

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