Why member experience starts with data!

  • Andy Hall
  • Oct 12, 2020
  • 17 Min Read

By Matt Adey and Ryan McNicholas

We live in a digital universe, with 1.7 megabytes of data being created for every person on earth – every second of every day. It’s no wonder then why businesses are prioritising their data strategies to improve member experience and drive commercial results. For some time, however, the fitness industry has been lagging behind other sectors. Thankfully, that’s all about to change, as we enter a data revolution! 

If it wasn’t obvious before, Covid-19 has shown that those who understand their customers the best and have the tools to reach and engage them in the right ways, at the right times, through the right channels are going to be the most successful, both now and longer-term. Fortunately, there are many great examples from other industries that we can turn to for inspiration.

Just look at the way Netflix uses data to fire up its ‘recommendation engine’ to suggest what people might like to watch based on their previous viewing habits, also using data to commission original programming content that it knows will be popular globally or to purchase the rights to films and series/box sets that will appeal to specific audiences. Always forward-thinking, placing people at the heart of its innovations, Netflix is now trialling a new Shuffle Play function, which randomly plays content it thinks members will like. This helps them to quickly and easily find content that’s tailored to their tastes – great for indecisive people or couples who can’t agree on what to watch! 

Retail giant, Amazon, gathers a massive amount of.data on each of its customers as they use the website, monitoring what they buy, what they search for, their shipping address – even making a surprisingly good guess at their income levels based on location – to offer up bespoke recommendations that reduce people’s search time and persuade them to buy. 

Uber is another global company with a strong data game, using the personal data of customers to closely monitor usage patterns. This determines which features of its service should be focused on to improve the user experience and, subsequently, how its pricing strategy should be altered to generate higher commercial returns. 

Harness the power of data or risk being left behind

Used correctly, data allows businesses to make better, smarter and more effective, real-time business decisions to enhance customer experience and lifetime value; the opposite of going by gut feeling! 

According to a recent study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, “The expectation of consumers today is that everything exists in the world of the now, and that their interactions will be personalised.” In line with this, 60% of the 560 business leaders interviewed said that the ability to use real-time customer analytics to improve customer experience across touchpoints and devices is extremely important today.

Retailers are experts at using real-time data to enhance business performance by mapping trends – quite literally. As reported by Forbes, thousands of retail executives use a geographic information system that layers multiple data sets onto smart maps in real-time, enabling them to “analyse connections between hundreds of categories, from demographic traits to consumption patterns to characteristics of areas ripe for expansion”. 

In an era where physical stores are subject to the same high expectations as online stores, retailers are also using real-time purchase data to personalise offers at the point of sale, regardless of whether the customer is new, infrequent, regular or part of a loyalty scheme. Importantly, these offers are based on the shopper’s behavior (past purchases, items in the basket, etc) and can include coupons, discounts, stretch spend offers, new product promotions, or ‘value-adds’ such as product care tips on receipts. Faced with the unique challenges of Covid-19, real-time location data allows retailers to make data-driven decisions around restocking, staffing and store design to improve traffic flow, customer safety and personalisation of experience. For example, data can show the best times for at-risk demographics to shop, and which stores or zones are most congested so the appropriate action can be taken. According to Retail Customer Experience, “Understanding how customers move through the space, where they dwell, where congestion is happening, and where missed sales opportunities sit, provides a layer of insight that can boost sales, improve efficiency and increase overall safety.”

These real-time data solutions previously didn’t exist in the fitness industry and, for years, operators have been trying to make sense of different data points on different systems. Although data is becoming much better used – particularly amongst the budget and boutique operators – there’s still a long way to go and countless opportunities to be seized. Many facilities have been running with the same CRM systems or ways of reporting for the last five or ten years, not operating in real-time, and, therefore, are at risk of being left behind. With fit-tech and data accelerating at an extraordinary pace, the gap between those who are using it well and those who need to improve in this area is only set to widen, and it’s up to the operators to decide where they’ll end up. 

We’ve seen what’s happened with brands like Blockbuster and Nokia who failed to move with the times and suffered the consequences, with one forced into extinction by the birth of on-demand, streaming services like Netflix, and the other ranking 13th amongst smartphone brands, having once occupied the top spot. This is the same ‘innovate or die’ challenge that operators are facing right now. 

New start-ups can come in and immediately create something the market has been asking for overnight; likewise, online platforms and smaller boutique operators are seemingly able to innovate much quicker, particularly when compared to the likes of mid-market and premium mainstream facility operators. The good news is, data can help to defend against this and future proof your business by enabling you to build a roadmap of innovation so you know exactly what to focus on in the coming years. By working in this way, when the next great innovation comes along, your members won’t be looking to jump ship as you’ll already be on the front foot; leading in a way that hits the right notes with your community. 

To deliver what members want both now and in the years ahead, you need to ask them what they would wish for if they had a magic wand; the sort of high-level question that doesn’t often get broached because it’s not something that’s practical right now. But we need to tear up what’s practical, adopt a new way of thinking, and trailblaze a bold, new, data-driven world of customer-centric experiences.

Another advantage of having a strong, central data system, like a virtual hub, in place is that it can evolve with your business. So, if a new, third party app comes along that’s all the rage amongst members, you can quickly work out a way to integrate this (dependent on programmatic access) into your offering and track the data from it. In the future, it may even be possible to aggregate multiple apps into your data system.

Making data “live and breathe” in your facility

How do you make data live and breathe in your facility? It’s a question on every operator’s mind, and a challenge that excites us at Volution!

To maximise data and make those marginal gains, operators must realise that every data set tells a story. For example, if the data shows that members want to do more of a certain type of training at a particular time, then the message of the story is that the timetable needs to be adapted to reflect this, which will subsequently drive member attendance and engagement.

Data also comes alive when you tweak it, as demonstrated by David Lloyd, one of the leading operators in terms of whole-facility programming. David Lloyd understood from its data that it could increase attendance at adult sessions by scheduling them 10 minutes later than kids sessions to give parents enough time to reach the studios and prepare before their workouts. A small action with a big impact on member experience; potentially the difference between low-performing classes and having many more people attend! Something that might otherwise have been missed if data wasn’t central to their operations. 

Interpreting data in the right way

A challenge for every industry is interpreting data. If you look at one data point on its own, it won’t tell you the full story. For example, if you have ten people in a fitness class, but the weeks prior, you had 15 or 20, you could view that as a bad result. But if that was in half-term and overall visits to the club were down 50 per cent, then that attendance is, in fact, very high within the broader context. That’s why, at Volution, we help to educate operators on the best ways to understand how all the data points interact with each other to provide the full picture. This avoids making those knee-jerk, cost-cutting decisions that can actually damage a business. Data is not something to be interpreted quickly, but rather smartly, if it’s to stand the best chance of enhancing customer experience and growth of membership.

In order to build up that ‘360-degree view’ of your facility and members, it helps if all of your data can be found in one place. With a virtual hub, operators can see the length of stay for each product or service (online and offline) their facility offers, all via a central dashboard – making it easy to be proactive and make smart business decisions in real-time. This allows data to become part of the day-to-day operations of your facility where it’s most effective, rather than something that’s only addressed at the end of the week or in monthly board meetings. The way we work at Volution is not to replace your current systems, but to unite and maximise them, while identifying opportunities to increase your data functions to increase the lifetime value of members.  

That all-important member feedback

When it comes to member experience, the most important data is the feedback from members and the visit rates or take-up rates of a certain activity which provide a strong indicator of whether people are enjoying your facility and services. 

Depending on what your member feedback mechanisms are, which could include Listen360 scores, member reviews, mystery shopper scores, or Net Promoter Scores, this is really important data to analyse because it’s direct feedback from members in real-time. Good operators will know that quantifying that data, and – most importantly – acting on that data, helps you to make the right decisions that increase business performance. 

Once you’ve made changes to the business based on member feedback, it’s then essential to track those over time in terms of their effect on key metrics – attendance, penetration levels and lifetime value. However, it’s important not to change too much at once; if you’re switching all the dials, you don’t know which dial has made the biggest impact when looking at overall member experience and, from a data perspective, you could end up with misleading results. There’s a balance to be had between how you’re going to measure and review these changes and what data points you’re going to focus on; something we’re only too happy to help with at Volution. 

The power of hyper-personalisation

It’s no surprise that businesses achieve an average 20% increase in sales when offering personalised experiences, but now, the big new trend – and holy grail of customer service and marketing – is hyper-personalisation. 

Instead of grouping people into categories or personas as per the traditional way of marketing, hyper-personalisation is about diving into the granular details, and is a much more effective way of engaging your customer base. The danger of grouping by category is that it doesn’t take into account the individuality of each customer. Possible fitness categories, such men over 50 who enjoy Yoga or women under 30 who enjoy weight training, are just too broad and don’t provide businesses with the level of detail they need to effectively target and communicate with these members to guarantee their attendance and loyalty. 

And what about the ‘clubs within clubs’ that exist – the groups of people who socialise and exercise together outside the gym. The Saturday morning cycling club or Thursday evening running club. How do you know where all of these ‘clubs within clubs’ are if you’re not connected with them? And how can you hyper-personalise their in-club experiences without this data? This is why operators need to have a solid virtual engagement strategy to develop those extra touchpoints with members that reveal this type of beneficial information. 

Spotify – one of the world’s most popular music streaming services – is a master of hyper-personalisation. The Discover Weekly feature analyses your played tracks and cross-references them with people who have listened to similar music. It then identifies songs from the playlists of your ‘kindred spirits’ that you haven’t heard of, knowing there is a high chance that you’ll like them, too. Finally, it filters those findings using your taste profile, areas of affinity and exploration to give you a personalised playlist that continues your journey of discovery with the app; a complete stroke of genius.

The online personal styling company, Stitch Fix, has also hit the nail on the head when it comes to hyper-personalisation. After sharing your fit, style preferences, and budget, your very own stylist curates a selection of items to match for a small fee that’s deducted from anything you buy. Once the items arrive, you can try before you buy and only pay for what you keep. Added to this is a note from your stylist with expert advice for pairing items with styles you already own, whilst a pre-paid return envelope makes⁠ the whole experience a breeze. The longer you’re with Stitch Fix, the better they get to know your preferences, even giving you the chance to swap stylists to find a better match or to mix things up.   

Once you start to really look at how individual people are, it’s hard to look at grouping people at all. The boom in connected fitness apps, services, and equipment, allowing people to work out how they want, when they want, is also helping fitness operators to hyper-personalise experiences. Connected fitness allows the operator some degree of control – or input – into the workout experience of its members outside the four walls of the facility. For example, if an operator is running Les Mills classes and they’re used to doing BODYPUMP™ or BODYCOMBAT™ in the studio, they can continue this experience at home through LES MILLS On Demand. Another way is using your own coaches to deliver virtual training to provide the same great experience at-home and in-facility. If you leave members completely to their own devices when they’re not with you, then the connection is lost, so it’s about making sure that your virtual experience aligns with your physical experience, driving members back towards your facility. 

Automation – an operator’s best friend

Capturing large amounts of data is great, but how do you handle it all to boost member experience? As humans, it’s impossible for us to read through every line of customer data, all day long. But that’s where technology comes in… Not only can computers operate 24/7/365 without taking a break, they can also sift through data much faster and more efficiently than we ever could. With automated member journeys built into your system, this can make light work of turning data insights into actions and ultimately commercial return. For example, if a prospect interacts with your app or platform in a certain way, they’ll automatically be sent the communications, offers, and information to move them along the sales funnel. 

Automation isn’t replacing people with robots, like the scenes from some sci-fi horror movies; it’s about making the member experience more personalised. It could be that your data system triggers the head coach to call a particular member because they’ve interacted with one of your platforms, showing that they require intervention, motivation, or can be upsold to. There’s a general fear within the industry that because people want real human connection, it has to be done in person. Of course, that will always be important, but there are now some really cool ways we can do this virtually. In many ways, automation takes away the human guesswork of when a member or prospect should be approached and interacted with. Data never sleeps, so you need a virtual hub that’s always at work!

Getting smarter with data

During the pandemic, many operators have dipped a toe in the virtual world, offering members digital experiences for the first time; typically, using platforms such as Zoom and Instagram Live to host virtual workouts, personal training sessions and coaching. However, the problem with those free-to-access platforms is they’re not built specifically for fitness, and don’t provide the metrics that operators and staff need to track and truly hone their members’ digital or digit, hybrid experiences. A purpose-built virtual hub gives you that functionality, showing exactly which classes work best, at what times, and with what trainers to increase attendance and engagement by giving members more of what they want, more often. It’s great that the industry has become more tech-savvy, but now’s the time to build on that foundation and take it to the next level. 

The long-term effects of Covid-19

It remains to be seen what the longer-term effect of Covid-19 will be. Will visitor rates get back to where they once were, or not? We believe that the future is the digital, hybrid membership, combining physical sessions at the gym with virtual workouts at home. It will be interesting to see what the data tells us. Members who are following a very specific routine and need very specific equipment will most probably still attend the gym on a frequent basis, but other exercisers might not train in-club as often as they’ve found at-home solutions that work for them and fit their lifestyle better. One thing’s for sure… having a virtual hub will be essential for operators to identify these behaviors, habits and trends to adapt their business models accordingly and deliver great member experiences.   


As an operator, the digital world can sometimes feel overwhelming, but hopefully, you can see – if it wasn’t clear already – that improving member experience starts with data. The more data you have at your fingertips, the better you’ll be at observing the various customer-related patterns, trends and behaviors that are essential for delivering a knock-out member experience that triggers loyalty and retention. 

If you’re still unsure where to start, no need to worry. As your true data partner, we can identify the key data points relevant to your facility, map out what to do with that data from the best practices we’ve seen and experienced globally, and unearth new opportunities and challenge areas within your business that can make a significant impact to the lifetime value of members. Together, we can navigate an exciting path forward with data!
To unlock the power of data to deliver a digital, hybrid gym model that delivers results, download our playbook now!