In 1993, the first Fitness First club opened in Bournemouth in the south of England. Today it has over 400 clubs in 16 different countries with 14,000 staff serving over 1 million members.

This year they were the overall winners at The UK Employee Experience Awards for their staff engagement programme that helped them embed global customer segmentation and provide a differentiated member experience.

In this article we’re going to be looking at the developments behind the implementation of this programme as well as analyse the steps taken by this company to better understand the thought process behind the change and possibly learn something in doing so.

The Business Context behind the Change

To better understand the developments, we should first look at the business context that encouraged them.

Fitness First, as a health club, found itself in a dangerous middle ground between the rise of budget gyms and premium health clubs with spa facilities. In order to stay competitive, their model had to be branded as ‘mass premium’ instead of ‘mass market’, which would allow the company to stay competitive by differentiating themselves.

The new approach to branding was also designed around the employees themselves and the in-club member experience as two of the greatest assets of the club.

In order to move forward with their plans, Fitness First also had to support the idea of becoming a brand that supports people to achieve more in life, instead of just being another gym.

Based on robust quantitative research and cluster analysis, Fitness First was able to identify six most valuable member segments that would help the club distinguish members by their fitness goal orientation, primary motivation and the level of comfort in the gym.

This led to a company-wide recognition that different members had different needs and therefore, they had to deliver a service designed to segment members and distinguish between their goals in order to deliver a tailored and truly supportive service.

Staff also needed constant support as well as encouragement of behaviors that improve member retention while also helping serve and identify the most valuable members to the club.

How the Change Was Implemented

In order to push these changes further, Fitness First had to implement a series of stages that would help them implement the segmentation developments while also providing the employee support to back them up.

The segmentation construct had to be developed which involved the member and market research that would help develop the framework behind the change. Through this research, the company was not only able to gather useful information for marketing, but also information that would develop the way of thinking about club members in the context of service and operational decision making.

Furthermore, service principles were developed. Through a series of facilitated workshops with HR, Marketing and Operations teams, ideal service principles were identified which would help tailor the experience for each of the six priority member segments.

The changes were backed up by a constant input and feedback from management and fitness teams, ensuring that they were fully adapted to the newly implemented changes in their area while having shared responsibility for making the initiative a success.

Engagement was also promoted through the implementation of training toolkits which made the segmentation and service principles easy to understand.

The changes were also unique to their region, with country specific plans being developed, allowing for different levels of maturity and readiness across regions and countries.

Employee Experience, Engagement and Input

Fitness First understood that in order to roll out the initiative successfully, all members had to get involved and be eager to make the changes. This meant that the club had to encourage employee input while providing the support necessary to facilitate the changes.

Through annual employee engagement surveys across 450 sites, Fitness First gathers important employee input through a method that allows them to gather insights into the key drivers of employee satisfaction with trend analysis information and site-by-site comparisons.

This information is crucial, and in 2014, Fitness First initiated a global review of their people strategy which was a 3-year roadmap that prioritized initiatives designed to align employees with the evolution and improvement of the Customer Experience.

The improvement of employee experience which resulted from these developments, carried over to customer experience which was improved as a result of a more coherent staff structure that encouraged better interaction with members.

As a result of this smarter, tailored service approach, low confidence members were reassured, which allowed them to make more progress in the gym and sustain higher interest and energy levels. Higher confidence members on the other hand are now making more social connections, discovering more choice and being made to feel valued and respected in the gym.

The Lesson behind the Developments

Through clear employee support and the desire to improve customer service, Fitness First was able to successfully rebrand themselves as a leader in mass premium with a special focus on tailored programs and member support.

But what do these changes mean for the everyday business owner? What is the underlying message behind these developments that could be taken away and perhaps implemented in another business elsewhere?

Well for starters, it’s clear that clear employee support and engagement can go a long way. Customers are also very responsive to initiatives that further tailor the service to them instead of just making them feel like another number.

It’s understandable that such developments do take a lot of effort, as just the identification of the segmentation factors can be a complicated task; however these don’t always have to mean a complete overhaul of customer-facing areas, and sometimes just a little change can make a huge difference.

Overall, customer-centric developments always lead to greater business results, however with the aid of internal employee-centric developments, execution of these changes can be made much easier.

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