e-can't, e-can, e-comms

Written by Jon Nasta, UK MD, Retention Management

At the recent SIBEC EU networking event in Croatia, associates for Wahanda (www.wahanda.com) delivered a key note speech that made such an impact on the majority of delegates attending that it dominated discussions for the duration of the event.

Wahanda highlighted many ways of using social media and e-comms that have helped to make businesses in many sectors masters of their own destiny in controlling their interaction with customers and furthering sales across their portfolios by using the web.

With 54% of businesses saying they believe the web is the best way to retain customers and the Return On Investment (ROI) on e-marketing crushing the ROI from other forms of marketing why is it that so many Health Clubs are not capitalising on this easy to access and relatively low cost medium?

Medium used for Marketing Communication ROI per £
Email £45.06
Non Email Internet Mktg £19.94
Catalogues / Brochures £7.28
Telephone £15.55
Source: Direct Marketing Association

Since SIBEC, we have spoken with many Chief Executives, Operations Directors and Marketing Directors from each of the respective sectors of our industry about their experiences with implementing the use of these mediums for Customer Relationship Management (CRM) -The e-can’ts, e-can’s and e-comm’s.


The “e-can’ts” (those that are not capitalising on these technological mediums) point to a fundamental lack of expertise in understanding how to manage such projects from initially defining the operators own policy on communication and retention through to a history of poorly implemented software packages that have failed to deliver time and cost savings let alone consistent and reliable CRM.

They recognise the benefits but do not feel they have access to the skills to manage such strategies themselves in a manner that will deliver a substantial ROI. One Operations Director pointed to the fact that it had taken almost two years to rollout the last major IT based project within their group, leaving them terrified of changing or adding any other IT-based projects to an already busy schedule. Others had similar experiences with IT, citing several problems:

  • Over promised and under delivered solutions with some suppliers in this area.
  • Jumping on the band wagon with companies reporting evidence of success in other industry sectors without showing an understanding the leisure industry.
  • Working with companies that fail to provide testimonials and support services tailored by experiences in the leisure environment.

The other main area of feedback from the “e-can’ts” speaks of too many demands on staff time to make full use of such strategies. Providing informative, targeted e-communications and developing programmes tailored to making new and existing member experiences more cohesive using the latest technology is like adding at least one more full time job. “We end up with many great tools to help us, but fail to use 90% of them due to lack of support, training and additional demands relating to the management of these initiatives . This is made worse by the transient nature of gym instructors in our industry,” said one marketing manager from the trust sector. “In such a tough economy it has been hard to justify such expenditure”, added another.


So what of the “e-can’s”? We are seeing some very successful use of mediums such as Twitter and Facebook with a client having over 30,000 fans on Facebook alone. Does having fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter improve retention? Undoubtedly it improves communication with members. However, these social medias must be managed and updated consistently to avoid becoming another initiative that started strong but lacked sufficient long-term momentum to have a sustainable impact.

Certainly Twitter and Facebook can help deliver fantastic referral and special promotion campaigns to a group of customers that have, after all, classed themselves as fans of your service. They can clearly show which customers you owe a pat on the back and a large thank you to for their support -a message that in our experience many operators have forgotten the importance of. Remember, happy customers will always willingly recommend you. Consumers see testimonials from their peer group as extremely influential in purchasing decisions.

Just take a look at sites such as www.tripadvisor.com. How many of us truly seek and openly discuss the experiences of our members? Is it time we got together to create a www.gymadvisor.com?

Digging a bit deeper with the “e-can’s” began to reveal much more candid feedback. All wanted to make it easy in terms of cost and speed for members to communicate with their clubs. Ultimately this made it easier for them to communicate with, market to and retain customers at a cost that was far lower than in the past. Again it was apparent that it was a sensible business decision to create revenue at lower costs that was driving policy in this area.

One of our clients has broken their previously bulky and expensive-to-produce welcome pack into seven emails delivered week-by-week through the new member integration programme we deliver on their behalf, saving over one thousand pounds each month across three sites purely in print and postage. Others are using e-surveys to elicit feedback on a regular basis -far quicker, less intrusive and more efficient than mail and phone surveys and, of course, much cheaper.

These are just a couple of examples of how the “e-cans” are making a good and sustainable ROI by embracing technology for communication, marketing and retention. Without fail, those that have embraced e-comms have said to us they will continue to use the medium. So if you want to get out of the “can’t do” frame of mind and into the “can do” camp what advice can you take from those that have gone before you?


Here are five golden rules that our clients have helped us to create that we think will help make your efforts a success:

  1. Define a communications policy. Ask yourself what you want to achieve, who you want to communicate with and what will be the KPI’s for the process.
  2. See it through. Many new communications initiatives open with an element of negative feedback from members. It is usually the case that those with gripes will be the first to speak up. View this as an opportunity to get things right for these people or at least show you understand their views. The good feedback will soon takeover.
  3. Get your staff on board early. With many of these programmes needing a healthy penetration of your members email addresses, your staff needs to commit to helping in this process and be given an understanding of how this can help them with their working day (see previous article “just five minutes”).
  4. Be consistent. If you say you will be communicating no more than twice a month with members do not bombard them with messages every day. Make yourself aware of spam regulations and any restrictions your ISP may have on use of mass mailings to avoid getting yourself into trouble. (see “push the button”)
  5. Monitor and respond. You need to measure results yourself in a “like for like” manner. All service providers will tell you they are doing a great job for you but only you know your own business. Make sure you respond to all communications from members.

Finally, if you really want to become an e-can but just cannot find the time or resources to break into this exciting arena, remember there are methods, systems and companies that can be adopted, implemented or contracted to help you focus where your e-comms successes are most likely to come from.

Jon Nasta, UK Managing Director of Retention Management, can be reached at +44 1527 870875 or Jon.Nasta@retentionmanagement.com. Comments and questions are welcome and appreciated. Retention Management is a privately held company that manages the complexities and time demands of running a comprehensive retention improvement service for health clubs. It focuses on new member orientation, member attendance, health/fitness education and the automation of attrition defence systems. Retention Management’s mission is to create a positive impact on a club’s bottom line through improved member retention.


Chris W

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