Serving Members Through the Internet. Part 1

The Internet will not replace excellent service in person, but it can extend the boundaries of your club and keep members in touch.

Many health clubs make use of the Internet to attract new members, generate advertising profits and develop e-commerce revenue by selling products. You may already be doing some, or all, of these things. But have you ever thought of the Internet as a member-service enhancement tool? The Internet can be used to position your club as “the last word” on fitness, health and wellness. If you have a multi-club operation, you can link all of your clubs and create a virtual club community. Or, you can boost non-dues revenue by promoting extended club services.

Traditionally, fitness facilities have been a place where members exercise for 60 to 90 minutes, two to three days per week. Visionary club managers, however, are trying to make their clubs the “third place” for members: the place where members go when they are not at work or at home, a community to which members feel connected. In this “experience economy,” where Starbucks can get consumers to pay $3 to “experience” a cup of fresh coffee, couldn’t fitness facilities become a healthy-living resource for their members? Of course, the Internet will not replace face-to-face contact or excellent personal service. But it can be used to extend the boundaries of your club and, in many instances, enhance communication with your members.

Enhancing service

So, how can you use the Internet to take you to higher levels of service? Consider the following nine points borrowed from forward-looking facilities around the country, and decide whether some of these strategies could help enhance services in your club.

1. Stay in touch with members through your club’s website when they are traveling. Track their progress, remind them that they are not alone and provide helpful recommendations, such as specific stretches while a member is on a golf vacation.

2. Enable members to log new workout data from outside your club. Allow them to remotely access their activity log and compare their results with other members of similar age, sex or lifestyle.

3. Through your website, give members access to articles, tools and resources specific to their interests — sports, disease management, nutrition, etc. Become a valued healthy-living resource for your members.

4. Offer online class schedules, arrange personal training appointments and book court time online, thus providing an opportunity to increase non-dues revenue.

5. Take your existing programs and suggest ways that your members can actively participate in your programming while outside the club.

6. Create fun, in-club and online interactive contests that keep members communicating and motivated.

7. Offer virtual memberships. Generate revenue from members who do not even enter your club by offering online personal training programs and external personal training sessions.

8. Post your newsletter online. Build interest groups and email chains, and save postage, paper and staff time.

9. Encourage communication — and stronger relationships — between staff and members.

Solutions exist that can help you enhance your services and improve your overall member service and bottom line. Following are three examples of clubs that are using web-based technology to target three specific member populations.

The active professional

The Fitness Company has 55 clubs stretching from Connecticut to Miami, all of which are linked through their website. All members are assigned to a trainer and are registered to use the site. This gives them access to online training, feedback from their trainer, and authoritative health and fitness information. They can also take part in online fitness contests.

“This is great for both members and staff,” says Dave Ruff, national fitness director. “Many of our members are busy professionals who travel. [They] can log in exercise while on the road, which is powerful for adherence. As a trainer, I can make sure that person is doing the proper workout.” The club, in turn, can communicate with members inside and outside of the club. “It takes seconds for a member to connect with us. If they think of a question back at the office or at home, they can ask via email,” says Ruff.

In addition, the club can provide fitness and health information for members and the community. Ruff states, “Our website ( has tapped into the biggest and brightest minds in the industry. A member interested in cycling, for example, can read information from John Howard, an Olympic cyclist and adventure racer. There’s also information on nutrition and weight loss. They can select FirstTraxx, a 12-week program built around research by James Annesi, one of the top exercise and sport psychologists, or NextTraxx, which is a 12-week maintenance program. They get a personalized email newsletter based on their needs.” Another plus: Members can accumulate FitPoints, similar to frequent flyer points, and participate in competitions such as Olympics 2000 to win gold, silver or bronze medals. “We’ve also held virtual races. People do their best 5K on a treadmill and compare that time with [other] club members, with all members of The Fitness Company and even people across the nation,” states Ruff.

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