In 1998, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore published an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Welcome to the Experience Economy,” and later co-authored a book on the same topic. Pine and Gilmore’s work chronicled the evolution of successful businesses from commodity-based to service-oriented to experience-driven. Since that time, the word “experience” has been used in many different professions, and means much more than selling a product or providing a service to someone. It means engaging the consumer on all levels of being – and developing a business model from the perspective of the customer (Pine & Gilmore, 1998).
Creating a meaningful experience for your personal training clients is easier said than done. To do it well, you must really understand what makes or breaks an experience, and how to create a professional brand for yourself that sets the stage for the unique experience that you promise to deliver to clients.
Understanding Good vs. Bad Experiences
Everyone knows what a bad experience is – it happens all too often in our everyday life. Think of how often you feel ignored by someone behind the counter in a store or you feel like you are intruding on the workers as you try to give them your money. This kind of interaction can strongly influence whether you return to that business.
It is more difficult to articulate exactly what makes an experience a good one, but you know it when it happens. Think of the last time you went to a restaurant and had a great time. Maybe you can’t really say exactly why, but it all worked. Perhaps everything went smoothly from the moment you arrived early and were directed to the bar without feeling in the way. Maybe the water was always full even though it never seemed like the server interrupted you during the meal. It takes a real commitment from the owner and employees to make their service seem so effortless (Myers, 2006).
Disney World is often cited as the quintessential example of how to create an experience. Each and every second of the visit is choreographed, with the employees as actors performing their roles and making each moment a magical one.
Starbucks is another classic case. Starbucks doesn’t simply sell cups of coffee. The purchase of coffee is merely the stage they use to deliver an experience designed to entice customers to come back for more.
Incorporating Experience into Fitness
When starting with a new personal training client, you have the opportunity to set the stage for the fitness experience you want the client to have. Industry experts have been encouraging health club owners, sales people, managers and trainers to wrap our heads around this concept for years (Scudder, 2003; Bensky, 2007; Durkin, 2010). Every year international fitness conferences and tradeshows such as IHRSA, IDEA and Club Industry hold numerous sessions with the words “experience” and “customer relationship” in the titles or descriptions, but the concept is still not commonly taught in personal training certification courses.
There are three key steps to creating a fitness experience that will help you attract and retain clients:
- Establish your brand.
- Focus on your promise.
- Eliminate distractions.
Creating a great experience for your client requires more than simply developing an exercise program; it requires you to relate to this person on a whole other level, from the very first fitness assessment through to each individual session.
Establish Your Brand
The first critical step in creating an experience is to develop a brand. Your brand is your identity and will come to express what people can expect of you, so do this step carefully.
All day long we observe people and form opinions about them. What do their clothes and body language say about them? What does this person seem like?
When a member sees you in the health club, what do they think about you? What about when they run into you in the deli or the restaurant down the street?
When you think about developing your brand, it helps to answer these questions:
- Who are you as a trainer?
- What would you like people (current clients, managers, etc.) to say about you as a trainer?
The more specific the answers to these questions are, the better you will be able to tweak and enhance your brand. Your brand is what you portray to others about what they can expect from you – your promise to them.
Focus on Your Promise
When you are clear on what your brand is, you can focus on delivering the experience that your brand promises to your clients. You need to constantly enhance positive cues by tweaking every aspect and learning to communicate it well (Pine & Gilmore, 1998).
For example, if you want to be known as a serious clinically-minded trainer, you need to think about what that kind of trainer looks like, i.e. what kind of clothes to wear and what words to choose to instruct movements and exercises.
If you promise a fun and entertaining workout, you can use cues, toys and progressions that require the client to interact in a dynamic manner.
Crunch Gyms made a decision many years ago to include boxing rings in their gyms. This immediately conveys a message to members and prospective personal training clients that intense, interactive, hard workouts could be in their future! Crunch offers education programs to qualify personal trainers in boxing instruction, in support of this brand and promise. In contrast, health clubs that promise a clinical and medical post-rehab environment do not need this same kind of branded experience.
One way to further refine your brand’s promise is by eliminating components that distract from it. Specialization is one way to accomplish this.
Women’s-only fitness clubs are a good example of making a deliberate decision to target a very specific population. At first it might seem that this would limit the club’s income, but when the focus is on women and they can get rid of everything else – in this case, men! – then they can get more specific in planning what experience they want to provide.
As a personal trainer, if you want to specialize in working with seniors, you can concentrate on what you need to learn for that population, rather than distracting yourself with other specialties.
Staying Consistent with Your Promise
Once established, providing a consistent experience for your client is crucial as the relationship continues. This is one of the reasons trainers lose clients without realizing it. If you tell a new client how important it is for you to reassess every three months and then stop doing it, you may negatively affect the relationship.
Don’t just reassess clients’ performance; reassess your own performance and consistency!
Creating a Great Experience from Day One: The Fitness Assessment
Most health clubs and personal training studios offer some kind of fitness assessment, which is a great opportunity for trainers to get new clients. Unfortunately, many assessments are done in a robotic fashion, with little enthusiasm and no relevance to the personal training program. This is a big reason why trainers don’t turn assessments into new clients…the assessment experience is not perceived as being worth the financial investment to buy personal training sessions.
How can you improve this interaction? How can you promise a different, better experience and entice the prospective client to sign up for more sessions? Well, in addition to doing the assessments that an organization requires, you can ask this person what she would like to specifically see or feel in terms of results.
For example, if a woman wants to be leaner, you could use the traditional 3-site skinfold test, but these sites – tricep, hip and thigh – don’t necessarily measure where she stores more fat. She wants to lose fat in the midsection by the navel, so why not measure there? By inviting her to be involved in planning the assessment, you’ll ensure that this client feels her specific desires are being heard and that she emotionally buys into the relationship. This personalized assessment can then be used to measure results throughout the program.
You can do the same with strength, endurance or other assessments. There are at least 20 assessment topics on PTontheNet – including gait, foot, functional movements, and sitting – that can be personalized for the individual client and incorporated into the training experience.
I recently worked with a new client who said she wanted to be better at upper body exercises. I asked her which specific ones she would like to see improvement in. For example, would she feel successful if she were better at doing push-ups? Chin-ups? Or did she mean she wants to be better at the basic work she needs to do around the house or during her workday? She said she travels often and finds it difficult and sometimes embarrassing to get her suitcase into the airplane’s overhead bin. We can assess this! I asked her to pick up two dumbbells from various positions, and push to different angles above her head. We could also incorporate other objects in the gym, like VIPR or a Body Bar, to challenge her overhead lifting. This woman now had a real personal investment in her program. A few months later, she shared a story of her latest business trip. She picked up her suitcase, and easily maneuvered it into the overhead bin. As she sat down into her seat, the person next to her commented on the ease with which she did that and a conversation started about how great her trainer is…and her personal training experience continued…
Think of a personal training experience as the opportunity to truly affect the client’s mental and physical state during the actual workout. If you deliver on your brand and promise during the session, the client’s resulting good feeling will affect the rest of the client’s day, which then impacts every other person they interact with during that day, and continues exponentially.
Sound profound? IT IS.
- Bensky, J. (2007, July). Making Promises You Can Keep. IDEA Fitness Journal.
- DeSimone, G. (2012). ACSM’s Resources for the Group Exercise Instructor. Wolters Kluwer/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
- Durkin, T. (2010, September). Client Retention: Improving Revenues by Increasing the Customer Experience. Retrieved from http://www.todddurkin.com/client-retention-improving-revenues-by-increasing-the-customer-experience/.
- Lang, A. & Lundberg, S. (2003, February, June & August). Experience Assessment. Club Industry Magazine.
- Myers, D. (2006). Setting the Table:The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
- Pine, B. Joseph II, and Gilmore, James H (July-Aug. 1998). Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard Business School Press.
- Pine, B.J. & Gilmore, J.H (1998). The Experience Economy: Goods & Services are no Longer Enough. Cambridge, MA.: Harvard Business School Press.
- >Scudder, M.S. (2003, May). The Experience Paradigm. Retrieved from www.IDEA.com/fitness.