Have We Made Health Club Customer Service Too Frictionless?

Technology needs to complement the personal touch, not replace it. A great health club member experience requires a balanced approach.

As far as current marketing buzzwords go, few have had as much traction as “frictionless.” There’s good reason for that. Consumers have far different expectations in today’s “one-click ordering” digital marketplace. Plenty of evidence proves that speed and convenience are the key to keeping today’s extremely online customers satisfied.

To achieve a truly frictionless experience, you need up-to-date technology that may include artificial intelligence (AI), chatbots, and other automated communication tools that replace an actual human interaction. While these digital instruments have greatly enhanced many aspects of customer service, some business experts are wondering if some of these experiences are too frictionless.

The movement toward robotic process automation (RPA) may streamline customer interactions, but increasingly the human touch points that bond consumers to brands are being lost. If you’ve ever yelled “representative” into your phone during a frustrating experience with an automated customer service system, then you understand the limitations of RPAs. Some interactions demand human-to-human connection.

This is especially true for health clubs. While your CRM software may eliminate “pain points” in the customer experience, it may also be missing opportunities to strengthen relationships and sell more services to your members and prospects. Consider the old sales adage: People buy from people. You still need the personal touch.

So how do you strike that tech-human balance in the digital landscape?

Knowing When to Put the Touch into Touch Points

The company often touted as the gold standard for frictionless customer experience is Amazon. Now valued as one of the richest corporations in the world, Amazon is fiercely focused on eliminating the steps it requires to complete a retail transaction—even offline.

Their new brick-and-mortar stores, Amazon Go, are set up so that customers can pick up merchandise and walk out of the store without stopping at a register. Advanced technology, including sensor fusion, geofencing, and deep learning algorithms, register the merchandise and connect it to your smartphone account (once you’ve downloaded the app). Then your credit card on file is automatically charged.

This extreme frictionless model may work for simple retail goods, but it’s a mistake to apply this to the health club industry. It may seem to be a well-worn cliché that fitness professionals are in the people business, but it’s an inescapable truism that personal connections and social atmosphere are key factors in keeping health club members engaged and motivated. Human contact is a type of friction—the good kind.

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“Friction is simply the result of objects interacting with each other,” writes sales expert David Brock, founder of Partners in EXCELLENCE, on his blog. “In the absence of this friction… we might never change what we are doing without someone giving us new ideas and helping us recognize the need to change.”

Brock points out that even the experience of online shopping isn’t truly frictionless until the final transaction. Before a person makes a purchase, they may expend a great deal of energy researching a product before choosing what they want. Think of how much time you spend reading reviews and comparing brands before you hit the “buy” button on Amazon. The online consumer is doing the work a sales representative does in brick-and-mortar establishments.

“Consciously or unconsciously, customers seek the friction that great sales people bring in helping them understand what it takes to be successful, challenging their thinking, facilitating their buying process,” says Brock.

“Consciously or unconsciously, customers seek the friction that great sales people bring in helping them understand what it takes to be successful, challenging their thinking, facilitating their buying process.”

David Brock, Founder

Partners in EXCELLENCE

As communication channels evolve, they tend to flatten out. A chatbot is going to use the same language in an exchange with an 18-year-old as it will with an 80-year-old. And not every member and prospect is going to respond to the same messaging platform. Some consumers will open emails, others will mark it as spam. Some people welcome text messages, others block notifications like the plague.

Unlike automated web communications, great salespeople know how to calibrate their delivery depending on the age, gender, and goals of the consumer. This is true of health club member engagement as well. With today’s members putting a premium on experience, creating unique personal connections helps establish a relationship between the consumer and the brand.

As customer service consultant Adrian Swinscoe points out, “If we eliminate all of the ‘friction’, do we not eliminate the opportunity to create a meaningful and lasting experience?”

The Right “Friction” At the Right Time

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“We need to develop digital tools that help people on the frontline create the best experience they can for the member,” says Dana Milkie, president and CEO of InTouch Technology. “You can’t eliminate the personal experience. Ultimately, some of the touch points have to be human.”

This is the idea behind InTouch’s new communication software Converse+. Converse is a clutter-free messaging tool that leverages email to provide personal interactions that are true conversations. This is a one-to-one email communication platform that allows for a deeper level of customer engagement that’s more direct and personal.

“Not all prospects are created equal,” says Milkie. “Everyone has their own unique fitness and wellness journey. Converse+ broadens the way you can communicate with prospects to build stronger personal connections.”

“If we eliminate all of the ‘friction’, do we not eliminate the opportunity to create a meaningful and lasting experience?”

Adrian Swinscoe, Customer Service Consultant

Converse+ works seamlessly with other InTouch software products, such as SmartGoals and InSights, which are designed to maximize your sales leads by cutting through the clutter and making the most of data analytics. InTouch engineers their products to create a balance where a frictionless experience doesn’t get in the way of human touch points

“Automated services have more value when they free up your employees to increase the level of member engagement,” explains Milkie. “Your digital tools should help you create the right experience for members, so they’ll increase their time in the club.”

To learn more about Converse+ and other products from InTouch Technology, visit InTouch’s website, or email them at sales@intouchtechnology.com.

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Jim Schmaltz

Jim Schmaltz is a contributor to IHRSA.org