Advice on Club Hospitality and Member Experience

For Gym Operators

Advice on Club Hospitality and Member Experience

When was the last time you had a strategic discussion about your club’s hospitality service and member experience? Did those conversations begin with the club’s vision and core values? Learn 12 key support areas to help build hospitality excellence in your club. Get tips on service standards, assembling the right team, internal communications, interview tips, and staff onboarding to deliver a quality member experience.

The following is a summarization of an education session from the 2016 IHRSA Convention, produced with full permission from IHRSA. The full-length video is available for purchase at

About the Speaker

Bret Darden, owner of Insight to Influence, is a recognized leader with an established career in the health/fitness industry for over 35 years.

Give Yourself a Grade

How would you perform in these 12 key areas involving creating a quality member experience? Is there any room for improvement? Take a look and give yourself a grade.

  1. The Cornerstone of a Brand Framework: How well-defined are the vision, brand purpose, and core values of the club, studio, or gym facilities? Are member experience or customer service a large part of this architecture?
  2. Commitment Publicly Communicated: Is the club’s commitment consistently displayed, posted, and promoted within the facilities, on social media, and on the website? Are the club’s core values broadly communicated to members? Are staff aware of the company’s commitment to its members, staff, and the community? How well is it reinforced?
  3. Lead by Example: Does the leadership team demonstrate the qualities and behavior they want to see in their staff? Are they leading the effort towards a quality member experience?
  4. The Drivers in Hiring: Are commitments to customer service and a quality member experience some of the top aspects when making staff hiring decisions?
  5. Staff Onboarding: Does the club have a consistent and structured hiring process? Is there a training program for new members? Do you communicate to staff expectations in delivering the member experience?
  6. Staff Knowledge and Understanding: Have you acknowledged and defined every staff member’s role in the ongoing delivery of customer service? Do staff understand their role as part of the customer service continuum?
  7. Simple and Sufficient Systems: Are processes, technologies, and protocols in place to help support efforts to deliver on member expectations?
  8. Member Satisfaction, Measured and Managed: Does the club use programs such as Retention Group, Medallia, or Listen 360 to capture feedback from customers that provide valuable insights to create deliverables? Is satisfaction not only measured, but tracked and managed?
  9. Communications: How well does the club communicate consistently with its community? How effective is the club in using social media?
  10. Building Brand Ambassadors: Does the club empower passionate members as brand ambassadors to run with your vision and to better the lives of others as a result?
  11. Support Service: Is service reinforced at appropriate levels with recognition and reward programs?
  12. Setting Standards: Has the club identified a set of standards to deliver the member experience from a service standpoint?

Communicating Core Values  

It is essential to communicate the club’s core values and vision. These business fundamentals create the foundation of any club’s communications plan. Develop a plan that holistically integrates key messages through various opportunities, e.g. within the facilities, on social media, from the front desk, in the locker rooms, and by the staff and trainers. Communicating a club’s narratives to members emphasizes accountability on the part of the club. 

Internal Communications

Distribute to staff a pamphlet with the club’s core values and member experience defined. Recognize employees who have demonstrated the club’s values or went above and beyond to deliver on the  member experience. Remember to associate those actions taken by a staff member with a core value or an aspect of the member experience to reinforce the behavior to the team. Highlight examples in weekly or monthly internal communications.

Member Satisfaction

Clubs need to measure member satisfaction continuously and to react with strategies to improve the level of customer service. Systems such Retention Group, Listen 360, or Medallia automate the process and take gathering and measuring information to a new level. Whichever system or method you choose, it is important to ask questions targeted to different areas of the club, e.g. personal training, front desk, café, etc. This will help to distinguish scores based on areas within the club. 


Give a customer service play book to staff and develop a recognition platform that is accessible online. Set up a structure to reward staff with points for going online to recognize staff members who have demonstrated quality member service. Provide a system to turn in points for gym swag.

As important as it is to recognize excellence. The subtle influence and reinforcement of any recognition program is to connect the staff’s behavior to the club’s service standards.

Presentation Is Everything

Presentation is part of setting a health professional standard. The majority of clubs have a dress code, though they are becoming increasingly more casual. The more successful clubs adhere to a dress code policy, which consists of either uniforms or business casual.

A dress code policy help members differentiate among which staff are working, especially If a working staff member is dressed in workout apparel. The club may choose to have a different shirt or dress policy for managers and supervisors. Again, this distinguishes the management team. As a customer, they appreciate this because of the expectations that managers have an authority role in scrutinizing and overseeing operations.  

Club Apparel

Consider varying shirt color or style for each department or different staff roles. Customize uniforms for club-sponsored events or designated programs. Equipment manufacturers may provide shirts with their logo to help promote the equipment.

Incentivize the dress code and club apparel. Create additional custom accessories for employees who reach a certain level, develop an innovative way for the club to improve on its member experience, or perform exceptional service over a given period. Make it fun and engaging for your team.

The Right Team

The single most important thing club owners can do is to hire the right people and give them the best training. It all comes down to people and the relationships. Staff friendliness is cited as one of the top reasons members quit. Empathy is an indispensable quality to have in staff members. Are they able to place themselves in the member’s shoes? Do they ask themselves at the end of the day, “Could we have done something different or better today?”

Candidate Interview Tips

  • Develop a homework assignment as part of the interview process. 40% of applicants do not complete the assignment.
  • Have candidates write about when they delivered a great customer experience. In what way did they handle themselves? Was it to recover a member after something went amiss?
  • Conduct an initial group interview with candidates, followed up with an assignment for an individual interview. 
  • Allow the applicant to pick the time and day of the interview.
  • Ask applicants to bring 10 written questions to the interview. Questions can reveal the type of character of the person. Do they pose questions more self-centered, e.g. when do I get a raise?  Or, do they show an amount of research into the club’s core values, and are more thoughtful?

Some organizations have developed hiring practices that disqualify an applicant if they don’t have 25 hours of community service. If an ideal candidate doesn’t have the required community service hours, the club provides a list of service organizations they partner with to complete the required hours. It helps demonstrate a future staff member’s commitment to service both to the club and the community.  

Staff Onboarding

It’s often challenging to come up with ways to demonstrate service quality expectations to new team members without coming across as lecturing. Provide new staff members with exercises and materials to review followed by a quick questionnaire. This is a simple method of engaging new employees and checking that they’ve completed the assigned task. The book The Fred Factor is a simple, short book on a disruptive approach to customer service. Ted Talks offer a wide selection of inspiring talks on the why and how of quality customer service.

Standards of Service

Success in delivering a high level of service is in part attributable to defining your club’s standards. Determine the standards of service for each position in every department. Don’t leave it to interpretation. Ask each department manager or supervisor to work with their team to write the service standards for their own area. They can begin by asking what the service standards are that they should have in their department to deliver the highest level of quality customer service, e.g. make eye contact as a member enters, answer the phone before three rings, have a member’s training program written, etc. Standards are a set of practices or actions performed every single time, repeatedly with a view to offer a consistent service experience to members. In developing the standards of service, your staff will be more empowered to follow through and maintain the standards.

Top Three Drivers of the Member Experience

  1. Staff – The process of hiring and training should not be underestimated. Instruct staff on how to deliver your brand of service and member experience. Define expectations and give the staff parameters to work within. Demonstrate what quality service looks like throughout the training and onboarding process, for example, knowing a member’s name, how to respond to a complaint, etc. Role play so staff are prepared to deliver the service your members expect. Let the entire team know they’re empowered to make decisions on their own. Allocate an “up-to amount” staff can offer to members to correct issues or mistakes without seeking a manager’s permission.
  2. Vision, Core Values, and Service Begins at the Top – Having too many priorities can overshadow goals, leaving a lack of direction and focus. Gym operators and club owners should obsess over the consistent reinforcement of core values throughout every decision-making process. This is where every conversation starts.
  3. Best Business Practices – You get what you demand and you encourage what you tolerate. Creating a successful hospitality service program means zero tolerance. Continually coach management and staff on defined practices and standards. Demand club cleanliness and a rigorous attention to detail in all matters related to facility maintenance. Fix things when they go wrong. Build relationships, communicate, and seek every opportunity to create member interactions.