Personal trainers are often measured by the results that they produce. Most of the time this means pounds lost or pounds added (to lifts). However, that pales in comparison to the most important metric—lives changed. None of these outcomes are possible without consistency from the client and the trainer. And what drives consistency? A great experience for each client from the moment they walk in the door until the moment they leave.
While creating a great experience may sound fairly intuitive, it is easy to miss the mark as a coach or trainer. This is often due to a heavy focus on exercises and programming with little or no attention given to other aspects of a pleasurable gym experience such as club culture and coaching centered on the person instead of the exercise. Personal trainers are not just in the business of fitness, but customer service as well. By implementing these strategies, personal trainers, training facility owners, and coaches can increase their impact and improve their bottom line.
Create a Community
In the book “Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time,” Howard Schultz talks about the desire to have his coffee shops become his customer’s “third place”. With someone’s “first place” being their home and their “second place” being their work, the “third place” is the one that offers a reprieve from the other two, and is a place where social connection is built. Common characteristics of these types of places include regular attendees, a sense of commonality, and a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere. Personal trainers or facility owners should strive to make their gym or environment a “third place.”
When accomplished, it is often referred to as “club culture” and can be very beneficial for a successful business. Once the club culture is established, clients will form new friendships, create a support system for each other, and desire to refer new clients to the facility. However, this will not happen on its own, and personal trainers and owners must lead the way. This can be done by introducing clients to each other, organizing group activities outside of the gym, and keeping the mood of the gym light and fun, but still focused. Personal trainers and owners will know that they have nailed it when clients are consistently staying longer than their sessions and high fives are as common as personal records.
Coach the Client, not the Exercise
Clients are more than workouts on a clipboard or whiteboard— they are people who are in constant flux and have a unique set of responsibilities, complex emotions, and needs. This means that trainers and coaches have to dig deep to find out more about their clients in order to coach them efficiently. What are their family and support systems like? How stressful are their jobs? What motivates them? What communication style seems to elicit the best response from them? Finding the answers to questions like these can build trust and create buy-in to the program.
Training sessions should be customized to the client’s physical and emotional state each day. Trainers and coaches cannot always anticipate how someone will show up to their training session. Some days they may show up excited, well rested, and ready to conquer the world, while other days they may appear tired, stressed, or on the verge of tears. Personal trainers should consider how the planned workout will make the client feel. The personal trainer can choose to push them through the sets of heavy deadlifts that were scheduled or shift gears and bring them to a better emotional place with a workout of lower intensity. If the saying “people won’t remember what you did, but they’ll remember how you made them feel” holds true, then it would appear that the latter is the best choice for delivering a lasting positive experience.
Consistency Is Key
While it is clear that clients want a great experience, that is not all they want. In fact, according to Michael Gerber in “The E-Myth Revisited,” what they want even more is for that experience to be consistent. When it comes to trading their hard-earned dollars for a product or service, people would rather bet on a sure thing than try something new each time. A perfect illustration of this point is getting a haircut. Most people go to the same hair stylist for years because they know that not only can they count on the same pleasant conversation, but they can be assured that they will receive the same cut each and every time.
As a business, the only way to ensure consistency in your service is to have systems and procedures in place that take the guesswork out of day-to-day operations. This can be done by taking all the typical daily tasks performed as a trainer or coach, such as handling phone calls from potential new clients or taking someone through their first workout, and dividing them into individual steps that you could to teach to someone if necessary. This is especially helpful for facility owners or personal trainers managing their own gyms. When you have these processes solidified and written down into a manual, it will be much easier to train staff in making sure that customers get the same experience regardless of who is assisting them.
To build a successful business and reputation, personal trainers must do more than get their clients physical results; they must also create a positive experience. That experience must be inviting, engaging, and consistent if personal trainers want to make a real impact on their community and bottom line.
This article was originally written for and featured in The NSCA Personal Training Quarterly.