The honeymoon period between fitness professionals and their clients is a golden time for motivation. Everything is fresh and new and therefore, more interesting. But what about after the honeymoon? The client is fully onboarded and you’ve each learned your way around each other. How do you keep the excitement going?
To explore why clients choose to stay with us (and how it may be for different reasons than we think), a small cross section of trainers, allied health pros and their clients have given their input. All were asked why clients chose to stay with their pros. The results were a bit surprising. In comparing responses of those polled, it became clear that our clients often have a different way of seeing our skill sets and personal qualities than we do.
- Whether training long term with the same pro is valuable or detrimental to the client.
- The most common reasons pros who were polled believe their clients stay with them.
- The top three reasons why clients polled choose to stay with their trainers.
- The two types of client motivation.
- Examples of how to nurture the relationship and meet these top three client needs.
Is Training Long Term Valuable or Detrimental for Clients and Fitness Pros?
A great deal of emphasis is placed on fitness pros building their rosters. By comparison though, client retention gets a bit of a brushoff. In many cases, trainers are recommended to consider the client relationship as a temporary situation; help clients become self sufficient, gain autonomy in order to move on and be replaced by new clientele. Numerous esteemed industry presenters state that continuing to train a client after a year or two is actually a disservice to the client.
Many fitness professionals don’t believe it’s that simple. Clients have many reasons for coming to us, and they may have just as many reasons for wanting to continue with us long after they learn what they need in order to exercise capably on their own.
For the fitness professional, a long-term client saves both time and money in onboarding. Over time, trust is built and a familiarity that can make training skills even new ones, more efficient.
While client turnover in a fitness professional’s roster can make essential price increases simpler to initiate and prevent the pitfall of stale, boring and plateaued training, not every client feels they need to move on in order to move forward.
A longstanding relationship with their trainer is the linchpi- for countless clients’ continued progress around the world.
I've been with my personal trainer for twelve years. People ask, “Doesn't it get boring going to the same guy all the time?” No it doesn't. He knows all the right training to do for me, when to push me and when to take it easy. The main thing it's not always about the training, it's about the support and friendship you make over the years, which has led to a happier, healthier me! - Client of UK based trainer, Daniel Masters
Whether a client and fitness pro benefit from working together long-term is dependent on whether all parties are invested in moving forward year after year. The fitness professional is in an excellent position to capitalize on the foundations they’ve built with existing clientele and “keep things fresh” so clients remain engaged.
But Why Do Clients Stay in the First Place?
To see if there was a difference in how clients and fitness professionals see value in the relationship, a small cross-section of both were asked why clients stay. Fitness professionals were asked for the top three reasons why they thought their clients continued to work with them and the clients were asked for their personal top three reasons why they themselves continued to work with their fitness professional year after year.
What the Polled Pros Think:
Most commonly cited reasons fitness professionals believe client stay with them
Polled fitness professionals cited their education most often as one of the reasons for which they assumed their clients train with them. It is also was the asset most often cited as a measure of their value as a trainer. Interestingly, none of the clients polled mentioned the appeal of education or qualifications in and of themselves; instead they mentioned that they valued how their fitness professional uses that education to teach and guide them and how they appreciate that their fitness professional stays current, which helps them achieve results and keep growing.
What the Polled Clients Say:
Top three reasons clients say they stay
- Relationship: Communication & Trust
- Level of service
Looking closely at the two lists of the reasons given by professionals and their clients, the responses from each group are actually not that far apart. The main difference is that clients tend to see how the fitness professional embodies the asset: not the asset itself.
Instead of citing a fitness professional’s education as the reason they stay, clients tend to say things like:
- “____ is excellent at adapting my straining to strengthen any weakness.”
- “____ can answer all my questions about what we are doing and why we are doing it.”
Our Value Through the Client’s Eye
While the clients value many of the same assets the fitness professionals cited, clients did not articulate them the same way.
For instance, in addition to “education” many professionals cited “professionalism” as two of the top three reasons why their clients continue to train with them. The clients also referred to education and professionalism, but not outright. Instead, clients focused on the ways in which their fitness professional’s education and professionalism positively impacted them.
When giving his top three reasons for staying with fitness professional Lisa Coors for 11 years and counting, the number one reason given by her client Kevin was, “Lisa actually researches new ideas to help my condition (Multiple Sclerosis).”
Nadim, another client of Masters, says his sole reason for continuing to train with Masters (after working with several different fitness professionals) is “results.” Yet when Nadim elaborated, he revealed that he associated the value of those results with Masters’ ability to communicate and motivate effectively, “...also you make it pretty clear what results have been achieved and what actions need to be taken for next time and like I said I have seen a slow constant improvement ...which is why I stick with you...”
Ins and Outs of Client Motivation
Sport and Exercise Psychologist, Hayley Perlus, in her presentation, “How to Go From a Half Full to a Packed Class,” explains motivation as being twofold: intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external).
Perlus adds that when clients experience enjoyment in the session, their intrinsic motivation is fed. The same occurs for clients’ extrinsic motivation experience when they achieve results from working with the fitness professional.
You Do Not Need to Be a Stand-up Comic to Set the Stage for Enjoyment
Clients cited a lot of factors for why sessions were enjoyable. Simply removing some of the potential obstacles or stressors for clients can pave the way for them to find the session intrinsically motivating.
- Environment where client feels comfortable and motivated
- Positive outlook of the fitness professional
- Understands the instructions given by the fitness professional
- Has experienced success when executing the program
- Has experienced support and guidance when unable to execute the program
- Feels understood and cared for by the fitness professional (and staff) and has a passion for their progress
As one client said about his fitness professional of 12 years, “She enjoys what she is doing, which is obvious during my appointment.”
And…Sometimes it Ain’t About You
Clients mentioned some critical factors that fitness professionals will want to consider when making choices about their business model.
- Friendly environment
- Attentive staff
While each client polled had different priorities, the bottom line for staying with their fitness professional was the same:
Feeding the Relationship
Since client retention hinges on our ability to address our clients needs and desires as they see them, let’s take one more look at the top three reason clients have for staying with their fitness professionals.
- Relationship: Communication & Trust
- Level of service
Below is a powerhouse list from professionals with loyal long-term clientele on how they feed the relationship and meet these top three client needs/desires.
A head start on long-term success
1. Building the Relationship: Enhancing Communication and Maintaining Trust
Sometimes the questions you ask a client will help them get to know themselves better. These can be questions for the client to answer about themselves or questions you’d like to suggest they ask their doctor, athletic coach, etc.
As Masters puts it, “My work philosophy is to provide people the tools they need to change their lives. So I learn as much as I can about them and the things I need to help them change their lives.”
Show your client that they are more than a session to you
Cultivate a curiosity and interest in their life. The fitness professionals with devoted long-term clientele have this in common. These fitness professionals listen to their clients, and even note things the client says that are meaningful, such as family members’ names or important happenings in their lives. These professionals note doctor’s appointments, birthdays, graduations and other special occasions—sometimes on their own calendar so they can acknowledge that occasion or follow-up with a card or conversation at the next session. Celebrating anniversaries with a note or treat or even just a mention, can make the client feel appreciated and remind them of the special bond you two have built over time.
Express yourself so your clients understand you
Be able to explain to clients:
- What they are doing
- Why they are doing it
- How it will benefit them
Use long-term language
Speak about what you are doing and what you will do together in the future. Annette Lang goes into more detail in her article, “Overcoming Obstacles to Client Retention.”
Focus on the “can” aspect of the challenge, rather than the “can’t.” I explain framing in more detail in the article, “Conditioning Confidence During Corrective Exercise.” Feedback is key, and all the more effective if it’s empowering.
Offer options and acceptance
Particularly when client is anxious or otherwise resistant (hesitancy is a form of resistance)
Involve clients in setting new goals that matter to them.
Get them to vision something inspiring for themselves. After a while, long-term clients may need extra urging and even ideas from you before they begin to take ownership of new goals, but their excitement over goals they’ve chosen will give them more interest in how you make reaching those goals possible for them.
Make room for humor
Even the most intense workouts can benefit from lightening the moment. People connect through humor. Laughing together will deepen the bond your client has with you.
Designing a program that will generate optimal results for your client, is a given, Beyond that, you can increase your clients recognition of results if you:
Make a combo
Set a combination of short and long-term, achievable goals that resonate with the client. Infuse those goals with programming to address areas you know they need.
Keep it fresh
Continually re-evaluate and refresh short-term goals as they are achieved or no longer resonate with the client.
Real time feedback
Acknowledge goal achievement in the way that is most motivating for that client. Some clients respond to public acknowledgement and other prefer a private word. Some are excited by a high five and other by a surprise note or thumbs up.
3. Excellent Service
All the basics about showing up on time, paying close attention, providing feedback, keeping good records, and being responsive in between sessions hold true. Additional best practices of professionals with a reputation for excellent service and a longstanding clientele to match are:
Make doing business easy
Is it easy to schedule, reschedule and pay you? Are requests like receipts or refunds handled smoothly and quickly? The more ease and convenience of normal day-to-day business the more elevated the client experience.
Develop a finely tuned “Progress Radar"
Acknowledge progress however slight---especially easy to slip after 5 or 10 years of training!
Adopt a community mindset
Speak to adjunct professionals when indicated, so client feels continuum of care.
Have a great referral network ready to offer them when they need.
“I’ll find out” trumps “I don’t know”
If you don’t know something, let them know you will research it.
Share with them what you are learning in class/researching/studying (as much info as is interesting to them).
Be a master of Here and Now
Deal with what is in front of you and the client. Be present so you can be highly resourceful when the opportunity arises (i.e. flood in the gym, redesign the workout to take place in home).
Show your passion
Let your clients see your excitement and how much you care about them, about your work, about advances in the field and in shaping the future. Excitement is contagious. Even if they don’t want to take the con-ed course you describe, they will be glad that you are taking it.
Life after the Honeymoon
Like in any other relationship, everybody changes and so the relationship between fitness professionals and their clients will change over time too. It becomes easy to take each other for granted. A full roster of the same clients year after year can get very comfortable…and stale. Continue to show up and evolve. If you keep reaching, so will your clients, and you will often do it together. There is always the chance that, as you both grow, you may no longer be a fit at some point. Either way, the clients who wind up staying and growing with you after the honeymoon is over are the keepers.
Perlus, H. How to Go from a Half Full to a Packed Class ECA OBOW, 2014.
Lang, A. (2012, July 5). Overcoming Obstacles to Client Retention. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articles/overcoming-obstacles-to-client-retention-3626
Ilene Bergelson (2014, Oct. 5). Conditioning Confidence During Corrective Exercise. Retrieved from http://www.ptonthenet.com/articles/conditioning-confidence-during-corrective-exercise-3908