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What Do People Want In a Gym?


Over the last year, the fitness industry has transformed to survive amid the pandemic. Vaccine rollouts are now underway across the world and at some point, this year gyms will reopen – and this time stay open.

But as we slowly return to ‘normal,’ whatever that may look like in the near future, member expectation in the fitness industry will have changed. The convenience and flexibility that digital fitness has given to members over the last year will prove to be more than just a solution to exercising during a pandemic. Creating an exceptional member experience post-covid will rely on how gyms and studios adapt to providing hybrid services that meet this new consumer demand. 

There are many aspects that go into creating an exceptional member experience, but in our transformed industry – what do people want in a gym?

Here, we look at why member experience is more crucial than ever, and how to find new ways to exceed member expectations. Skip ahead to:

Experience in the Fitness Industry

A great customer experience stays with you. It provides long-term satisfaction, and regardless of price, it creates a sense of loyalty: 86% of consumers are willing to pay up to 25% more for a better customer experience. 

The same goes for a negative experience, the kind that leaves you feeling annoyed, upset, or frustrated; it stays with you, but for all the wrong reasons. 

Then there are the average experiences. The ones that leave you neither exceptionally happy or disgruntled – they’re just “fine.” 

Out of these experiences, which ones do we actively seek out again? 

According to research from Zendesk, 75% of people would return to a company with excellent service, and 56% would recommend it to family and friends. On the flip side, Esteban Kolsky found that only 1 out of 26 unhappy customers complain. The rest will keep quiet and leave.

According to Walker, an experience management services firm, it was predicted that by 2020 customer experience would overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. This was taken to a whole new level with Covid-19, as customer experience took on a new definition and dimension amidst the overwhelming challenges every industry had to face. But when it comes to long-term retention in the fitness industry, the emphasis on experience as a key differentiator has been apparent for a long time. 

In fitness, the member experience is about more than signing someone up with an incentivizing offer and leaving them to it. Whether online or in-person; this is an average member experience in the long run. There’s no long-term satisfaction, and nothing is creating a sense of loyalty. 

Why a Great Member Experience is Crucial For Success

In this section, I’ll outline an example to highlight why a great member experience is crucial for success. 

Pre-Covid, the member experience at my gym was exceptionally average. The physical gym itself was great; it had everything you’d expect from today’s boutique gyms: top-quality fitness equipment, training zones, and a selection of small group classes with edgy lighting and pumping music. But in my first few months of joining, there was nothing about the experience prompting me to think, “I love my gym.” I wasn’t raving about it to friends or trying to drag them along with me, and I didn’t feel like I was a part of anything. I was just there to exercise.

For me, the gym had failed to create a sense of loyalty, and soon, I began trial hopping at some gyms near my office. When Covid came along, my gym quickly pivoted to providing online workouts, but with no sense of loyalty, I canceled my gym membership and sought out alternative online fitness options. 

I didn’t leave my gym because I’d had a “bad” member experience, but it’s safe to say I didn’t have  an “exceptional” one either. I could access great equipment and classes at a fair few other gyms – there was nothing about my experience incentivizing me to make me stay at that one. This is not the member attitude you want at your gym or studio, because it’s a retention-killer. 

The member experience, whether online or in-person, is about continuously providing customers with exceptional service. It’s establishing relationships and building communities. It’s consistently anticipating, meeting, and exceeding customer needs and providing them with an experience that they feel they won’t get anywhere else. 

To create an exceptional member experience, you need to understand three key things. We’ll explore these next.

What Do Members Want in a Gym?

While keeping up to date with industry trends is crucial for being at the top of your game, like any industry, fitness is influenced by broader consumer habits. So let’s start by looking at three consumer trends and how they affect what gym members expect today.

1. Convenience 

We now naturally expect convenience in everything we do. In fact, we rely on it. A 2019 article in The Atlantic pinpoints the driving force behind this expectation perfectly: 

“Starting about a decade ago, a fleet of well-known start-ups promised to change the way we work, work out, eat, shop, cook, commute, and sleep.”

Pre-Covid, these lifestyle adjustment companies were hugely influential in how we functioned as a society. Think WeWork, Uber, Deliveroo, and HelloFresh; with the latter two becoming even more indisposable since Covid. While the future success for some of these companies is debatable, there’s no question that they’ve played a massive role in fuelling the millennial culture of “we want it all, and we want it now.” 

Demanding? Perhaps. But while in the past Millenials have been blamed for killing everything from cereals to banks, this generation is now credited for bolstering a variety of industries – one of which is fitness. 

2. Community

People are craving community now more than ever. According to a study from Latent View, pre-Covid, an engaging community was one of the top reasons people went to the gym. Making up 80% of fitness club members, research shows that Millennials and Generation Z are behind the trend. 

Fundamentally, Millennials have woven social aspects within their fitness experiences. It’s as much about getting together with like-minded people and having fun, as it is about working out. This social aspect of fitness has become all the more imperative since the pandemic; which has forced people apart and into isolation for months at a time.

Millennials are now entering their prime spending years and to top it off; they’re the most significant generation yet. So Millennials: they want it all, they want it now, and according to American Express they’re willing to spend 21% more than any other generation on great customer care. 

Ultimately, they’ll pay more to feel special and like they’re a part of something bigger: a community.

3. Personalization 

63% of consumers now expect personalization as a standard of service, so this must be a part of any customer experience. Luckily, 54% are willing to share personal information if it will be used to create a personalized experience.

Every gym goer and each of your members is different, and they’re already sharing tell-tale information with you just by booking in for a gym class, whether that’s online, in-person, or a combination of both. Their attendance reveals what kind of workouts they like and what time of day suits them best – though this will likely change once the world goes back to the working routine of 9-5’s.

Creating an exceptional member experience relies on what you do with this data. You could ignore it and do nothing – or you could use it to make them feel valued and personalize their experience with you. 

How to Give Gym Members What They Want

Tapping into these consumer trends will enhance your member experience. You’ll be creating a community that your members want to be a part of – and you’ll be conveniently reminding them about it with the way you engage them. 

1. Be Convenient

In a recent article from Forbes, Contributor Allen Adamson points out that while online fitness may has been a quick solution for the fitness industry, in reality, it will have long-lasting impacts on the  way the world works out: 

 “What started out of necessity – a temporary disruption of the fitness category — may permanently alter how and where people get their exercise.” 

Allen Adamson for Forbes CMO Network

Behaviors and expectations have changed, and as Les Mills CEO Jean Michel Fournier points out in this Forbes podcast episode – fitness businesses must be prepared to meet the consumer wherever they are. Offering a hybrid combination of onsite and in-person services is how you can provide this concenience, but the bigger picture inclusdes how you will reach and communicate with your members.

According to Statista, as of March 2020, the pandemic caused significant spikes in media device usage. Worldwide, smartphone usage increased by 70%, followed by laptops (40%) and PC/desktop usage at 32%. Your customers are now checking emails, scrolling through social media, and working out across various digital devices. So whether it’s an upcoming event, special promotion, or a members’ fitness journey; you need to actively put your studio in front of your customers, where it’s most convenient for them to see you:

2. Build a Community 

Community is about bringing people together. But the key to fostering an engaged community at a gym extends beyond fitness goals alone – it’s about creating something more. 

Barry’s is one of the world’s fastest-growing fitness franchises, and it’s a brand that’s built on community. People want to be a part of it. And not just because Barry’s classes are an insanely good workout. The brand shows off its community on social media; it engages people and invites them to join in. With its unique concept and community-focused approach, the brand has established a cult-like following over the last two decades and secured success with its digital offering Barry’s At Home: through the pandemic in 2020, 140k of Barry’s members took classes every week.

So aside from working out, how can you engage your members and bring them together?

The Customer
Engagement Playbook
for Your Fitness

Discover more
  • Engage people in and outside of your studio. 80% of accounts on Instagram follow a business, for your members – your studio should be one of them. Check out this post for some inspiration and tips on how to build a community on Instagram. 
  • Host and promote fun events that extend beyond fitness. Think along the lines of a fundraiser virtual class for a local charity, or hosting a fitness bingo night over Zoom.

Building both an online and in-person community at your studio is about more than catering to a consumer trend. It’s creating loyalty and a reason for members to keep coming back – and it’s one of the most valuable assets a fitness business can have. 

Use Personalization

Use. Your. Customer. Data. It’s right there in front of you, and it’s your go-to insight for personalizing your communications and giving members what they want:

  • Analyze information like class/club attendance, goals, and fitness interests.
  • Identify what your customers want from their experience and segment the information to target them with helpful, personalized content. 

Take a group of customers who’ve just finished your 6 pm HIIT class. How can you go the extra mile to make these members feel valued? Schedule a targeted email to that group for soon after the class finishes:

_ _ _

Great work this evening! 

Give these 5 stretches a go to speed up recovery and prepare your legs for their next session. 

_ _ _

Take personalization to the next level by preempting members needs:

_ _ _

You’ve got a HIIT Class Tomorrow! 


We can’t wait to see you for HIIT at 6 pm tomorrow – you’ll get your Zoom invite via email half an hour before the class, so keep a lookout!

In the meantime, plan a moderate to high-carbohydrate meal a few hours before class. Check out these easy pre-workout meal plan ideas to get HIIT-ready:

  • Whole wheat toast with peanut butter and banana
  • Almonds with dried fruit
  • Non-fat Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fruit

Fuel your body right and you’ll have a great session. See you tomorrow!

_ _ _

This kind of communication will make those members feel important. It’s convenient (straight to their inbox) personalized and helpful. 

How to Measure Member Experience

Almost 70% of customers leave a company because they feel neglected: signing members up and just ‘leaving them to it’ could hurt your retention.

You don’t need to go around tapping members on the shoulder mid-workout to ask if there are enough towels in the changing rooms. You don’t need to have your coaches make everyone stop mid-movement during a Zoom class to give a thumbs up if they think the workout is great. But there are non-intrusive ways you can let them know that you care about their experience – and want them to get the most out of it. 

Ask For Feedback

You want your members to love your gym – that’s what keeps them loyal. So tell them. Let them know it’s important to you that they love their workout/class/events. If you’re actively asking how you can improve, you’re telling them that their member experience matters to you. Collect feedback with a quick post-class survey. 

You killed it today. Tell us how you’d rate your workout. 

How would you rate the class?

* * * * * 

How would you rate your instructor?

* * * * * 

We want you to love joining us for a workout. Can we make any changes? 


Thanks for your feedback. See you soon! 

Monitor the feedback and analyze your overall member satisfaction. If there are any constructive comments on how you can improve, act on it, and tell your customers that you’ve listened to them.

Collect NPS

One of the most straightforward metrics used in customer experience programs is an NPS (net promoter score). Ask your customers one question: 

On a scale of 0-10, how likely are you to recommend us to a friend?

The scores are then used to group respondents:

  • Promoters. These members will score between 9-10. They’ll speak about your studio positively and drive growth.
  • Passives. Passives will score between 7-8. These members are generally satisfied, but they’re unenthusiastic and vulnerable to competitive offerings.
  • Detractors. Scoring between 0-6, detractors are unhappy members who are likely to cancel their membership and actively spread negative word of mouth about your studio. 

Your studio’s overall NPS score can range from -100 to +100, and the higher – the better. You’ll want to establish your own benchmarks for what a good score looks like for you, but calculating your score is simple: subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters. So if 20% of your members are detractors and 70% are promoters, your score is +50. 

Opt for an open comments box for members to explain the reasons for their score – so you know where you’re doing things well and going wrong. As you’re able to reopen your gym, you’ll want to gather separate NPS scores for your onsite and online offerings, as each may have different areas for improvement.


A member’s experience impacts whether they love being a member of your gym: they can’t imagine being anywhere else and actively promote you to their friends and family. Without the experience, they’re indifferent and just “there for now.” They could cancel their membership at any point, and they’re unfazed whether or not they take part in your online classes, or any of the thousands of options now available online. 

To succeed and grow – the member experience you provide is everything. Even if you sell single classes at your studio – you don’t want customers to make a one-time purchase. You’re selling a continuous service, and you want them to come back for more.

So make their experience exceptional; and do it continuously.

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Owner at Carpe Diem BJJ

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