January is a busy month for gyms and leisure centres. Demand spikes as people set health-related resolutions and gyms respond with cut-priced deals. But how well do you know your new customers? Do you know what will keep them coming back?

The reality is that much of this demand is short-lived. Many people’s desire to feel healthier isn’t strong enough to overcome the pain of getting there. After a few months attendances drop, and soon after the payments stop too. In other words their needs and expectations aren’t aligned with the actual experience they’re signing up for.

There is another way

But what if there was a way to break this cycle? What if your whole organisation could know why these customers really joined your gym, and what would make them stay? Would that insight be valuable to you?

Spoiler alert: price is not the reason. No matter how compelling the new year discounts are. Price only influences why they choose you over other options. Price is not why they’re trying to change their behaviours and habits.

Getting to know your customers

So how do you get to know your customers? The simple answer is, you ask them. Of course, it usually isn’t that simple, but it could be. Customers already get asked lots of questions when they join. They speak to sales staff, complete registration forms, then speak to the trainers running their induction. Meanwhile, they share their impressions and experiences with gym floor staff, trainers, reception staff, friends and family.

The trouble is, this information usually lost. It ends up stuck in people’s heads, captured on paper forms or trapped in multiple systems. It doesn’t get aggregated and no-one has the time to make sense of it all. Then as customer needs and expectations evolve, it doesn’t get updated either.

As a result, the organisation isn’t learning how to keep these customers. The business leaders, operational managers and gym floor staff aren’t learning how to ensure that the customer’s experience matches their expectations.

Your customers know how to grow your business

Which is a shame, because customers are usually happy to tell you what they like and dislike about their experiences. Where it is exceeding their expectations and where it is falling short. However, without a consistent process for aggregating and using customer feedback, organisations default to ‘fixing’ mode. It’s human nature to focus on fixing individual issues. Staff enjoy giving good customer service, and that customer usually goes away feeling happier.

However, the fix rarely improves the customer experience for anyone else. The feedback then gets lost or forgotten and the same problem happens again. Worse still, no-one is capturing why certain experiences are delighting customers. With your consumer hat on, I’m sure you have examples of where a product or service you liked was suddenly discontinued or changed for the worst. For me it was usually a favourite pair of running shoes. We scratch our heads and wonder why the organisation made such a decision. We ask ourselves “why did they change it, surely they knew it was good the way it was?”

These are common blind sports for organisations of all shapes and sizes. But they get bigger as a brand stretches across more sites or as the distance grows between decision-makers and the gym floor. Bain & Company once found that 80% of business executives believed that their company delivered an above average customer experience. But when they asked the customers of those same companies, only 8% agreed. These blind spots expand because staff assumptions about what customers want and enjoy tend to evolve much slower than actual customer needs.

So this January, break the cycle. Get to know your customers when they arrive and keep learning from them as they progress. If you all stay on the same page, customer retention becomes easier and positive word of mouth referrals increase too.

Get to know your customers – 3 simple things you can start doing today.

1) Ask open questions
Multiple-choice questions are great when there are a limited number of options. But to understand people’s needs, motivations and expectations we have to ask ‘why’ questions. When we are talking with our friends and family, we never ask them a question and then give them multiple choice options. It would be rude to assume we know the answer. So why do we still do it to customers? It’s a poor way to learn, and it doesn’t build trust.

2) Write down the answers
Start capturing all customer comments and feedback in one place. A customer comment book that staff and customers write in would be a fast and simple starting point. Or use a shared word document. There are of course more elegant digital solutions, like MyCustomerLens. But don’t let the possibility of a future solution stop you learning from customers today. A good digital system will be able to import this feedback anyway.

3) Share the results
Making sense of a large number of customer comments can be a slow and painful process. As a result it often gets put off until ‘tomorrow’. So each week have a different operational manager spend an hour reading through the comments, and sharing their summary. The best customer-focused businesses ensure all managers stay connected to their customers. But one manager a week is a good start.

In summary, your new customers can tell you how to retain more of them for longer. To unlock this goldmine, you need to take a systematic approach to collecting, aggregating and sharing customer feedback. Solutions like MyCustomerLens make it fast and easy to do this automatically. But while you’re waiting, you can get started today. After all your customers want to help you succeed.