Analysis: Understanding why people drop their gym memberships is key to determining how to get them back

By Therese Hurley, TU Dublin

Are you a former health club member or have you ever been a member of several different health clubs? Did you know that less than 52% of health club providers actually care why you left? The author of this study examined the factors that influence re-engagement intentions and re-engagement behavior of members of health clubs who have ceased their activity.

A mail survey of 100 Irish health and fitness providers was carried out, as well as a mail survey of one hundred recently deceased members of a mid-sized suburban health club in Ireland. An experimental field study was then used to measure real-world re-engagement behavior to re-engage 300 former members of the same health club.

Attrition rates in health clubs are typically high, representing a large, lucrative and untapped market of unused members readily available to re-engage. However, if health clubs don’t actually know why members are leaving, how can they solve the problem and how can they get former members back on track and rejoin them?

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It is essential for health club providers to find out why members are leaving by performing an exit analysis of all disengaging members, as it can cost up to seven to ten times less to reactivate a former member than to enroll. a new member in terms of marketing, recruiting, training new members on machines and club running issues, etc.

The results of this study indicate that 45% of respondents would join again if invited, with 95% saying they would be more incentivized by the price. Some operators ignore this old member market and instead focus on targeting new members. This excessive concentration of health club providers on new members versus the old member market has been highlighted in a number of previous studies over the years (Thomas et al., 2000, Reinartz et al., 2004; Homburg et al., 2007; Mandina & Karisambudzi, 2016).

So, although it is not a new phenomenon, it still does not seem to have been tackled by the Irish health and fitness industry. Health clubs should consider changing their strategic focus, moving from an excessive focus on acquiring new customers to actively re-engaging the market of former members by finding out why they left and offering an incentive such as a price to re-engage. Indeed, offering an incentive of any type to reactivate former members seemed to be better than offering no incentive in this study.

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Interestingly, 85% of the former member market surveyed had not joined a club since leaving, with 54% indicating that they would consider joining the same club, reinforcing the need for health club providers to offer old member a good incentive to join.

21% of former members in this study cited “club related” as the top reason for discontinuing membership, including cleanliness, hours of operation, access, and operational issues. These are issues the club can monitor and address as part of a broader customer service policy by regularly soliciting customer feedback throughout the customer/member experience, providing and rewarding good suggestions for customer service and letting members know that they have been implemented.

In this study, it was found that highly satisfied customers were more likely to have stronger re-engagement intentions. Therefore, striving to increase customer satisfaction should be an important part of any customer service policy. The more frequent participants also had higher re-engagement intentions, with those who dropped out more recently demonstrating stronger re-engagement behavior. This supports the notion that the earlier the reactivation program begins, the greater the chance of re-engaging the member who is no longer active. Ideally, members should be offered a promotional incentive or customer loyalty reward before the membership expires.

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Using membership fees was found to be effective in improving customer retention, but only up to the six-month period, with 29% of former members saying it helped prolong their club membership. Membership supplements should be viewed as a strategy to extend membership duration while improving club performance during the typically low-income summer season. Former members in the €21,000 to €40,000 income bracket were found to have stronger re-engagement intentions than other income brackets. Therefore, knowing your market segmentation could prove useful in knowing which customer segments are likely to respond best to an incentivized customer reactivation policy. .

There are clearly a number of strategic ways in which health club providers can reduce member attrition rates and improve customer retention, customer service and frequency of use, strategies that could prove useful in improving more than the bottom line of the club.

Note: This study was based on a medium-sized suburban health club in Ireland. Therefore, no comparison can be drawn between the results of this study and those involving larger health clubs, chains, city clubs or those outside Ireland.

Doctor Teresa Hurley is a lecturer at TU Dublin currently seconded to Campus Planning by the Head of School of Management role at the College of Business.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ