16 Jan 2021 World leisure: news, training & property
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Health Club Management
2014 issue 10

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Leisure Management - Intelligent systems

Tech series

Intelligent systems

With reams of membership data available at the touch of a button, how can clubs use the information they have at their fingertips to make smarter business decisions? Kate Langrish reports

Use software to optimise sports pitch and court bookings photo: www.shutterstock.com/monkey business images
A previous party booking can be followed up 11 months later photo: www.shutterstock.com/Zurijeta
Clubs can track online behaviour via computer, phone or tablet bookings photo: www.shutterstock.com/sanneberg
Analysing group class usage could produce opportunities for upselling photo: www.shutterstock.com/Markus Gann

Things have moved on from the days when member data was just a list of names and addresses. The latest customer management software allows health and fitness clubs to mine detailed information about member preferences, motivations and habits – and use it to drive revenues and increase profits. So why do so many operators make so little use of it?

“Typically operators use basic statistical evaluations of the demographic build-up of their customer databank – gender, age, location and birthday,” says Guenther Poellabauer, sales and marketing director for software provider TAC. “This is a very basic observation of a company’s customer pool, and a very small percentage of what’s being captured by the software.”

In fact, a study by Harvard Business School found that, such is the volume of digital content and data generated by businesses across the board nowadays, at least 80 per cent of the data captured remains unstructured and unused.

So within the health and fitness sector specifically, what sort of data is being captured that clubs aren’t really using – or at least not using to its full potential?

Making use of space
Be honest, how often is your squash court/children’s pool/sports hall/delete as appropriate, empty? One of the areas many clubs leak profit is in the under-utilisation of certain areas, and even certain classes.

“More and more, people want to understand how to make better use of their empty spaces, be it in bookable areas or classes. Software systems allow clubs to contact members who have done certain things before, and who would therefore be likely respondents in the future – for example, sending an email to five-a-side users if a pitch is free, or inviting parents to book a birthday party for their child 11 months after the previous booking,” says Georgia Dowdeswell, senior product design lead at Gladstone Health & Leisure.

It’s one thing knowing how many people are in your club at any one time, but understanding exactly where they’re going can help you optimise space, as Dowdeswell explains: “Translating a list of attendances into hourly breakdowns can reveal the usage trends and help better manage classes, courses and resources/space. It can also enable managers to identify classes that are showing a decline over time. They can then take immediate action by getting customer feedback and potentially making changes to the class timetable or the way those classes are marketed.”

Keep them coming
Client attrition and retention data is arguably the most important information to have at your fingertips, and newer software allows for more sophisticated management than the standard ‘we’re sorry you’ve left’ letter.

“We did a survey of clubs and found that many suffered the same problem of membership dropping off after the year anniversary. Very often, members were being contacted about renewal as the year approached or membership had already expired, but the feedback revealed they felt the club hadn’t communicated with them,” says Damien Brown, general manager at ClubWise. “You need systems in place that will contact members long before they think about leaving.”

Having a member journey in place is vital, agrees Ieuan Williams of XN Leisure: “Text reminders for induction, motivational emails dependent on number of visits, getting clients back in for reviews to freshen up programmes and so on – all of this can help retention.”

The latest systems also help manage retention on a month-by-month, even class-by-class, basis. “These reports can show you who ‘no-showed’ to a class so you can follow up with them, or who hasn’t been to your health club in three months so you can email them with a ‘We miss you!’” email,” says Stephanie Jennings, senior vice president of sales for MindBody. “There are a huge variety of automated emails and text messages that can be sent out to clients like these, and this can help with relationship-building as well as improving retention.”

More for your money
Member data can also reveal other potential sources of revenue. “Analysing class usage, for example, means you can see opportunities for upselling,” says Shez Namooya, business development manager for EZ-Runner. “Perhaps members who don’t attend classes might be more likely to buy PT services. Or could you use it to track certain class attendees and influence what you cross-sell or promote?

“Meanwhile, tracking turn-away bookings, or tracking the reasons you’re unable to fulfil a booking, can create business cases to justify extra space or resources. What if a change in opening times could increase revenue by 10 per cent, for example?”?

Online behaviour
With members increasingly demanding the convenience of booking through their computer, smartphone or tablet, tracking online behaviour becomes ever more important for clubs.

“Studying customers’ online behaviour is a big opportunity, and generally one that’s under-exploited in the industry,” says Legend MD Sean Maguire. “Our customers are able to study when customers browse their self-service web pages and smartphone apps. As a result, they can respond on the very same day to opportunities or unproductive campaigns.

“Sometimes customers are put off by the perception of it being difficult to do, but this is much simpler than non-technical people might think it is.”

It’s all about the customer
Many club management software systems also offer indirect benefits to members of the club, which consequently helps increase loyalty and improve retention – a win-win situation.

“Gladstone’s new reporting tool, eyeQ, allows clubs to really understand the value of the membership fee to each individual. It reveals high users and allows rewards to further their loyalty, and also identifies people attending less often, who may be at higher risk of leaving. In this case, it works hand-in-hand with our other products to create direct interactions to encourage retention,” explains Dowdeswell.

“This enables members to feel like they’re not just a number. There’s no use in sending out texts and emails encouraging a member to make use of your seldom-used weights room if she’s only interested in classes. But send that same member targeted details about a new, similar class and she’ll feel like you’re talking just to her.”

It’s the nature of this direct interaction that’s all-important, agrees Brown, and software isn’t just a tool for managers. “The training area on our dashboard allows personal trainers to see their prospects, view and tap into client records. They can also create tasks and add notes on the member’s record, increasing the sense of a personal, bespoke service.”

The front desk can also impact on customer satisfaction, says Poellabauer, and with a general trend towards fewer staff behind the front desk, it’s never been more important for them to have the right information at their fingertips.

“If a member’s preferences are there, a receptionist will immediately know upon booking whether, for example, the customer prefers a male or female massage therapist. It all means better customer service,” he explains.

“With wider automation due to pressure on costs, there’s a lot more data being generated. But frontline staff still must service customers swiftly and properly,” adds Maguire. “Trusting what’s in front of you on-screen has become much more important as fewer staff service more customers.”

What help is available?
With all this to gain, why aren’t clubs making better use of software systems they have in place, or looking to invest in a new one? “In the past, specialist reporting software has been expensive and unwieldy to use. But these days, products like ours are designed for non-expert users,” says Dowdeswell. “Importantly, they have an intuitive user interface, so users can easily connect to data on members, attendance, bookings, class viability and subscriptions – but the system also has automated responses to action improvements.”

This is a key development. Having reams and reams of data will not help a club’s business if no-one is using it to make informed decisions. The good news is that the latest software management systems not only track data but can, if required, play an interactive role.

“Reporting systems that simply spit out spreadsheets of customer data are no longer useful enough,” explains Maguire. “A good reporting system must sit with all the customer data on it and must have the ability to set targets, budgets and KPIs, and generate alerting so staff can drive action in real time.”

Namooya agrees: “As software suppliers, we have the opportunity to aid data analysis and extraction. You create the parameters and the system communicates to your members and lets you analyse the data.

“But the key is always to ‘KISS’: keep it simple, stupid! Don’t over-analyse and stick to key areas and outline goals you are trying to achieve.”

And don’t be afraid to ask the software experts for help. “We do this day in, day out, so we can assess where the customer is and what will be the quickest wins,” says Williams. “The process of automating communications can be extremely simple – and very beneficial.” It’s time to get to know your members that little bit better.

From static to active reporting

Sadly the challenge doesn’t end with operators’ limited use of data: what clubs do with the information they do successfully access often also misses the mark.

“They use reports to tell them what the numbers are – such as participation and finance – and they tend to pull off lists of this information. We call this static reporting,” explains Ieuan Williams, bid manager for XN Leisure, who believes this sort of ‘static reporting’ is not worth the paper it’s printed on, as many clubs don’t have the time or skills to interpret the data and put changes into action.

In today’s market, with profit being squeezed from all areas, static reporting no longer cuts it. Clubs need to be reacting quickly and efficiently – and the latest management software enables this by providing active solutions, such as automatically sending alerts to people who have used courts before if there’s last-minute availability, or highlighting how a simple change in class time could turn a half-filled class into a sell-out. 

“Nowadays, being able to respond swiftly to threats and changes is essential, and it’s interesting how these business systems can facilitate that,” says Sean Maguire, managing director of Legend Club Management Systems. “Where previously you would discover a problem a month or two in arrears – at best – you can now identify the same issues in real time and respond quickly.”


photo: www.shutterstock.com/Ammentorp Photography

Make sure you contact members well before they think about leaving

Originally published in Health Club Management 2014 issue 10

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