The bottom line with respect to membership retention is ownership. Who owns this opportunity/challenge? Until someone senior in the organization takes ownership of this opportunity, and until compensation opportunities are attached to it, and until budgets reflect a commitment to success in this arena, creative solutions and significant improvements will continue to be unlikely.
The front desk is on the front line for combating attrition.
A friendly, welcoming, hospitable and efficient front desk is an important piece of the membership retention puzzle. Conversely, a cold, unfriendly, unwelcoming or hostile front desk can be a major factor in accelerating membership attrition.
Whereas a warm and welcoming front desk is no guarantee of rising retention rates, a cold, impersonal and hostile front desk is almost certainly a leading indicator of a club that is destined to have higher membership attrition. If there is any single litmus test for the personality of a club and, in particular, for the personality of a club’s general manager, it is the hospitality (or lack thereof) of the club’s front desk.
Courtesy is a factor in membership retention, and the lack thereof can be a factor in membership attrition.
When staff members open doors for club members, or when they step aside for them in lines at the club café, or when they ask them if they would like a towel, etc., these are all factors that make a favorable impression on club members and tell them, often in non-verbal ways, that they belong to an organization that places a high value on the quality of their membership experience.
The credo of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel chain comes to mind: “The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission. We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”
A staff culture that appreciates every member every time they enter the club can be a factor in membership retention.
It is a basic, but all-too-often overlooked fact that members delight in being appreciated, recognized, and acknowledged. Club cultures that emphasize this will tend to have higher retention rates than those for whom this is not a priority.
Strong staff/member connections boost retention.
Clubs in which a large percentage of members have strong personal connections with front-line staff personnel, such as personal trainers, tennis pros, yoga instructors, etc., will have higher retention rates than clubs where this is not the case. Such people are the Pied Pipers of the entire industry. They are internal magnets drawing people into the club again and again and again.
High turnover rates in front-line staff personnel are a factor in member attrition.
Anecdotally, we know that clubs with high front-line staff turnover also tend to have high member turnover. These are the staff members who are most visible to the average member on a day-to-day basis. Implicit in this fact is the importance of acknowledging the enormous contributions that front-line personnel make to this industry. They are the foot-soldiers in this industry, and, as so often happens, the praise and glory goes to the generals (the general managers) who are far-removed from the front lines.
The great WWII journalist, Ernie Pyle, noted the same phenomena in his classic, The Battle is the Pay-Off. He noted that in every engagement the soldiers who really won the battle were the front-line soldiers, but all too often they were the last and least to be honored.
This industry cannot expect young people (or any people) to continue for long in jobs for which there is little acknowledgment and no upside opportunity. But if from the outset these ‘front-liners’ are acknowledged at every opportunity, and if they can envision an upward career track, then not only will they be inspired to perform at the highest possible levels, but they will also be much less likely to resign when the first alternative employment opportunity is presented to them.
Back-office inefficiency can create hostility between a club and its members and can also engender negative word of mouth.
For example, whenever a club makes billing errors, such as double-charging or losing records of payment, such inefficiencies can become triggering factors in membership termination.
Every hiring decision is a retention decision.
Every person hired either strengthens or weakens a retention-based culture. They either make the club more hospitable or less hospitable, more appreciative of members or less appreciative, more welcoming or less welcoming, more responsive or less responsive, and more proactive or less proactive.