A Practical Guide to the Emotional Bank Account for Health Clubs

Creating a desirable customer experience does not happen by chance, it happens by design. 

It’s vital that Health Club Operators come to terms with this and lead from the front. It is hoped that by the time you’ve read this feature, you’ll have a better understanding as to why. 

Last week I wrote an article on how the ‘Aggregation of Marginal Gains’ can help improve your Health Club business in many areas, today I want to introduce you to another concept – the Emotional Bank Account. 

The Emotional Bank Account was pioneered by Stephen Covey, in his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. 

Essentially the metaphor described ‘the total amount of trust that’s been earned in a relationship’. The fundamental belief of this clever, insightful and philosophical principle is that humans keep an ‘emotional bank account’ with others they are connected to. 

The account always starts on a neutral balance, and like actual bank accounts, we make deposits and withdrawals. However, it is not money we are concerned with here, it is ’emotional currency’. 

When one carries out an act of kindness without any expectation of something in return, they are making a deposit into someone’s emotional bank account. 

On the other hand, when one shows a lack of empathy, or if they’re rude, unforgiving, dishonest, abrupt, impatient or dismissive toward someone, they are placing a withdrawal into someone’s ‘emotional bank account’. 

If businesses (and Health Clubs, in particular) are to take anything from this Covey’s proposition, then they need to not only address this but scrutinise all the areas of their customer experience they are delivering to see whether it is actually withdrawals or deposits which are being made. 

Covey cleverly identifies six ways to make deposits or reduce withdrawals. I will attempt to break down what this means for your Health Club. 

1) Understanding the Individual. 

This means listening attentively to what the other person is saying and showing great concern and empathy, whatever their situation. 

Today, your Health Club members assumably have a chance to echo their voice both ‘online’ and ‘offline’. At a basic level ‘online’, a member can air their views over social media, or typically contact a customer services team via an email address. Where ‘offline’ is concerned, members are usually able to talk to a member of staff such as the General Manager or a Membership Advisor within their club (I hope).

Why stop there though? The more Health Clubs listen, the more they can truly say they aim to understand their members. The more opportunities you give members to echo their voice, the better. 

Consider having a live chat service on your website, a chatbot on your social media, and a social media and customer service support team who operate during all your business opening hours to deal with any serious issues. Having all these in place will allow you to listen more, especially if you operate using a customer service ticketing platform which can manage each message for your team. 

If you haven’t got an NPS tool in place, I’d also suggest you seriously contemplate the idea. You can read my previous article on how you can boost your clubs retention rate. This system will further help to show you understand your members.

It’s no use having your ‘online’ tools optimised for listening if your customers’ views are falling on deaf ears ‘offline’ with your employees. You must train your employees, including those ones who work on social media, to listen intently to your members and to recognise how they can offer genuine assistance without expecting anything in return. 

Of course, for businesses, it’s not just about actively listening, but you can also utilise your data to truly understand what a customer wants and needs and then serve them with the appropriate, personalised marketing content. This can be considered ‘passive listening’, but it is still listening, and when done right, it makes an emotional deposit, not a withdrawal.

You’ll notice throughout I have placed the terms ‘online’ and ‘offline’ in inverted commas- that’s because Millennials and Generation Z, who are the future customers of your business, don’t perceive there to be ‘a clear line’ any more – they want their customer journey from one channel to another to be seamless. Health Club Operators must respect this, too. 

So if you take into account what I’ve just said, your Health Club needs to ensure that all your online systems are not merely used for show, but are fully integrated and connected to the real world. Only that way will you be able to make true emotional deposits. See my post on omnichannel marketing for more guidance on creating a seamless, connected member journey.

2) Keeping Commitments. 

A commitment means staying true to your word. Think about how you feel when someone arrives late to an important meeting? Or think about how you feel when people say one thing, and do another? You feel annoyed, disappointed and let down, right?

For businesses, it’s the same. If you keep to your promises and stick to your guns, you’ll make emotional deposits, if you do the opposite and go against your word, you’ll make withdrawals, simple as that.

As a Health Club, think about what your mission statement is and your values. If your branding is about ‘Changing lives for the better’ and ‘encouraging healthy lifestyles’ yet your membership cancellation process leaves a bitter taste in the mouth and causes emotional upheaval among members, then there’s a clear conflict in your messaging.

If you genuinely want to holistically improve the health of your members, this should mean you are passionate about optimising their mental health. Any process within your customer journey which may impact on a members’ mental health needs to be swiftly eradicated, otherwise, you’re making emotional withdrawals to your member without realising.

Think about what else your branding says and what you actually stand for. Make sure it’s consistent throughout. Furthermore, promises shouldn’t come with a swarm of terms and conditions as long as your arm. That’s not how humans work, and nowadays as soon as someone sees the phrase ‘T&C’s apply’, it may arouse suspicions, mistrust and worse still, it means you’re making another emotional withdrawal.

3) Clarifying Expectations. 

We are not psychics or mind-readers ourselves, yet we often expect others to know what we expect of them. By communicating our expectations we can create higher levels of trust. 

Once again, it’s the same for Health Clubs. 

So how do you communicate your expectations of members? Do you even know what your expectations of your members are?  Work these out. Think about all these areas – membership subscription terms, general gym floor etiquette, goal accomplishment, and class attendance. If you can clearly outline what you want from members, in a friendly, positive manner you’ll earn more trust.

Your initial membership terms need to be open and transparent to start with. They must be made clear at the point of sale and your members should be able to access the terms very easily via your app or website. The fewer terms in there, the better. 

Your gym floor etiquette expectations must be displayed visibly in more than one place within your gym. More importantly, they need to be highlighted in a tone of voice that matches your brand. I see many gyms trying to be quirky with pointing out their gym rules, but they end up sounding like an angry, deranged Army Sergeant, it certainly leaves me with an emotional withdrawal. 

As for goal accomplishment, tell your members you want them to train 4/5 times per week. You can do this by implementing a loyalty program that rewards your members for such behaviour. 

Similarly, encourage your members to attend 3 classes per week and inform them that they should book on to classes via your app if that’s the necessary process. Don’t expect them to just somehow know, a newcomer may be unfamiliar with the booking process so show them the ropes.

With highlighting expectations, this is where you can use social media to your advantage. I do believe that using User Generated Content from your members is the best strategy when it comes to Health Clubs on Social Media, but when your post does come from you (the brand), everything you say must sound human and meaningful. By sharing your expectations you will achieve just that and subsequently, you should gain the trust of your following. 

4) Attending to the Little Things. 

The little things tend to become big things when they are neglected. It is by doing the little things that we show respect for others. In human terms, small kindnesses like a smile, a hug, buying a friend or spouse an unexpected bar of chocolate, or surprising them with a phone call while you’re away can be considered the ‘little things.’

As a Health Club, you need to think about what the ‘little things’ are in your business. 

I would urge you to write them down because each health club is different and just like humans, fitness facilities also have their own nuances which make them great. 

Some industry examples may be; 

-Your reception team knowing a members name and asking them how their 10K run went at the weekend. 

-Your Personal Trainer knowing what ‘muscle group’ day it is for their client even when they are not training with them, and offering them a small tip before their session.

-Your Class Instructor asking a member if they can give them a shout out because it’s their 100th class they have attended with you. 

-Your smoothie bar team already knowing the flavour of shake your members like and what they don’t like, so when you order they can make reference to it, i.e, ‘You like two scoops with your pre-workout and you prefer blue raspberry, right?’. 

-Your membership team thanking a member for a referral made online and giving them another guest pass for a friend without asking for anything else.

These ‘little things’ are often better done in person. However, as I’ve said, the modern-day consumer expects their experience to be connected, so if you can them replicate these ‘little things’ online too, then you will be making even more emotional deposits. Once again, this is down to you.

Here are some examples

-Your twitter team remember when you spoke to a member about their holiday to Gran Canaria they were counting down to, so without prompting, you ask them how it was?

-Your Instagram team search out your gyms on the ‘Places’ function and comment on people’s photo’s who have tagged themselves in your gym, but haven’t tagged you, with a motivational message. 

-Your members receive an email the day before their birthday saying ‘It’s your birthday tomorrow, come to the gym and we’ll give you a special gift’. (If this is then followed up, it’s perhaps more powerful than just a simple happy birthday message).

-Your buying experience is super easy. Once a member has already purchased 2 1-2-1 Personal Training Sessions online, your website recalls this and informs that they can buy 3 PT Sessions next time for a discounted rate if they wish.

As you can see, two of those ‘online’ examples required human intervention, the other two were ‘automated’, while automation is great and something I will always champion when it comes to running a business efficiently, it is perhaps the ‘human intervention’ which is needed in order to make stronger emotional deposits with your members.

5) Showing Personal Integrity. 

Integrity is the quality of being kind, honest and having strong ethical principles, in other words – your moral compass. When we meet someone with a strong moral character, we trust them. Conversely, when we meet someone who appears to be dishonest or unscrupulous, we don’t trust them.

For Health Clubs, it’s the same. You can refer back to the points I made around ‘Keeping commitments’ for this, but I don’t want to just gloss over this point, so I’d like to further add a little something…

Business integrity is around doing the right thing when no one is around. 

It’s not about scoring points from the public, it’s about acting honestly and consistently, at all times, and not because you’re trying to get another review on TripAdvisor or Google, or worse still, deflect attention away from an already existing negative comment on social media. 

It’s not about building up your Corporate Social Responsibility portfolio, because it may get you a few extra hits in the local press. It’s about taking action which shows you actually care for the community without expecting a pat on the back. 

As a Health Club, outline what you believe gives your organisation integrity. If you’re doing it to impress others then you are already misunderstanding what it means to display integrity. 

Rather than boasting about charitable actions you’ve done, think about who you’ve actually helped. Focus more on how you convey your morals with your members and your staff members on a daily basis, this will allow you to make the right changes if they are needed. 

Only when you fine-tune your integrity strategy will you be in a position to make more emotional deposits than withdrawals.

6) Apologizing When We Make a Withdrawal. 

Hey, let’s face it, we all make mistakes; that’s life. But when you recognise you have breached someone’s trust, offering your sincerest apologies is how you make a deposit to neutralise the damage which has already been done. 

Elton John once sang ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word.’ It seems this is often the case for brands as they are too worried about looking vulnerable and attracting more attention to their errors than doing the right thing. 

Think about these possible scenarios;

-A member wants to buy some of your clubs merchandise, but when they go to do so, the item is incorrectly processed through the till because a member in your finance team at Head Office uploaded it with the incorrect price attached, sadly, the customer ended up paying more. 

-A Group Exercise instructor has called in sick at the last minute so you’ve now had to cancel your class as alternative arrangements couldn’t be made on time.

-A thunderstorm with flash floods has hit the town and sadly it’s damaged your roof, there’s been a leak on the gym floor, unfortunately, you’ve had to close for a day. 

-Your wearable technology has had a temporary glitch which means it’s not displaying any heart rate values on the television. As a result, your members can’t track their progress for the night

Would you apologise in these situations? Or would you pass the blame on to David in Finance, Sharon the GX instructor, the bad weather and ‘bloody technology’ respectively? It’s easy to blame others, but the truth is a customer doesn’t care. They see all parts of your business as the same, so they want an apology. If you are failing to realise the error of your ways and working in an organisation that has a blame culture, then you will only ever make emotional withdrawals. 

How to summarise all this… 

Businesses, and namely Health Clubs, require constant deposits with our members because such relationships can grow and change overnight. In order to make the most from this, you should map out each stage of your customer journey and note down whether you believe you are making a deposit or a potential withdrawal.  

Unlike an actual bank balance, the goal is not to build up enough deposits in order to make a huge withdrawal at a later stage, nor can you rely on recurring direct debits as a way to make deposits with one’s emotions. Rather, you must continuously strive to make emotional deposits with each and every member on a daily basis. While you can use an abundance of automation to assist you, you cannot automate the perfect customer experience. It must come from you and your team of employees.

Just remember, customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.

Written by
Joe Hall
Joe is a content creator for eFitness Club Management Software. He holds a degree in Physical Education and Sport and Exercise Psychology, alongside an MA in Sport Business. He is a qualified Level 2 Fitness Instructor and Level 3 Personal Trainer and was the previously Head of Customer Engagement for a leading UK gym brand for 6 years. Nominated as an IHRSA rising star in 2018, Joe has got a lot to say on all things FITNESS!