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Customer Service: One of the Most Important Features of a Software Solution

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For most fitness businesses that employ a comprehensive software solution, it’s impossible to imagine day-to-day operations without that solution. And these days, it’s almost impossible to imagine a fitness business that doesn’t use a software solution. Fitness facility management software allows for the optimization of resources; the streamlining of daily tasks; the automation of payments, reports, and communication; and the maintenance of member profiles and marketing efforts — among countless other benefits — to a degree that simply can’t be achieved without software. Yet, what good is any of that if the program you’re using fails in the customer service and support department?

Even if you’ve got the absolute best-performing software solution imaginable, if that solution doesn’t provide a top-quality customer service department for training, support, and troubleshooting, it’s ultimately not worth much. This is the case in all industries, but it’s especially key in the fitness industry, in which software solutions are so integral to the running of all aspects of a business that the customer service you provide depends on how well your software is running. If there’s a glitch, or if you just have a simple question, you have to know that troubleshooting is available immediately and efficiently.

How do you judge the quality of a software program’s customer service? First, check out the product’s website. The support feature should be prominent and available with a single click, and it should quickly and clearly explain how to reach a customer service representative. Ideally, it offers both a phone number to call and an online form you can submit. If you fill out an online form, you should receive an answer promptly. Both online and phone responses should be polite, friendly, and helpful, and the representative you’re dealing with should bend over backwards to make sure your questions are answered and your needs are fulfilled, and that you’re walking away a satisfied customer. If any of these elements are not in place — you can’t find the support page easily on the website, there’s no phone number to call, there’s a number but your call is handled incompetently, you submit an online request and do not hear back within 24 hours — you might be using the wrong software.

In addition, your software support team should offer training. There should be online courses that quickly, clearly, and effectively show you, the end user, how to optimize the product, and there should be opportunities for personalized training support. Again, if the product you use does not offer these customer service basics, you’re probably using the wrong one. After all, what good does your software do you if you don’t properly understand how to use it?

Ultimately, the management software solution you purchase should be backed by a company that employs an easily reachable team of dedicated, knowledgeable professionals who genuinely care about your business. If it’s lacking in that department, you would do well to seek out a software package that fulfills that most basic of business needs: help and support.

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Jumping on the Machine-Based Workout Trend

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Machines in group workout classes: It’s a trend that started slowly and quietly picked up speed, until all of the sudden it’s everywhere. What began with stationary bikes in the exercise room has exploded into treadmills, rowing machines, stairmasters, and ellipticals in the exercise room, and health clubs around the country are benefitting in terms of both retention and secondary revenue. If you haven’t yet begun offering machine-based group classes, or you haven’t yet expanded your offerings beyond daily spin classes, it’s time to consider the possibilities.

First, understand what kind of machine-based group workouts your community would be interested in. Take an online poll or ask members to fill out a survey when they walk in. Ask questions carefully: You want answers not only from members already familiar with exercise machines but also from members who do not regularly use them. Ask survey-takers what machines they have used in the past, what machines they might be willing to try, whether they’ve ever taken a machine-based group class before, and what might incentivize them to try one. Once you’ve gathered enough responses, assess the results.

Weigh the intelligence you gathered from members against your capacities as a club. If the majority of respondents said they’d like to try, say, a rowing class, consider whether you already own enough rowing machines to begin offering such a class. If you don’t, do a cost-benefits analysis to determine whether it makes sense to purchase additional rowing machines. If your members’ responses to survey questions leave you with no clear direction — that is, equal numbers want rowing classes and treadmill classes — you’ll need to decide whether you have the space, machinery, and resources to offer both. If not, you may need to make an educated guess about which one seems more likely to attract members (and new clients).

Next, plan out the logistics. Machine-based class programming is necessarily more involved than other kinds of class programming; you have to know what space in your facility can serve as a dedicated rowing classroom or stairmaster classroom — or, consider whether it’s possible to hold the class right in your current cardio center. Perhaps the machines you need can be isolated to one side of your cardio room and reserved for forty-five-minute stretches at a few points during the day or week when you offer the class. While this kind of planning is under way, consider what new equipment you might need to purchase, and how you’ll go about doing so. Will you take out bank loans to cover the cost? Will you lease machines? If the latter, what type of lease will you seek? It’s best to start a few direct conversations with both banks and leasing companies so you can decide which option will work best for your facility.

Once you have those details plotted out, try offering mini trial classes. You can consider these market research. If you pitch them to members as focus groups that will allow them to have a hand in shaping the class experience, you’ll likely find enthusiastic participants. After the trial classes, survey participants to find out what they liked and didn’t like. Ask specific questions: Did they appreciate whatever music and lighting effects accompanied the class? Do they have suggestions for improving the instruction? Did they like the warm-up segment of the class? The cool-down? What would they change if they could change anything?

Finally, when you have the form of the class fully figured out, advertise it like crazy. Post videos, photos, and testimonials on social media sites; paper your facility with informative flyers; give trial participants incentives to spread news of the class by word-of-mouth. Soon you’ll find yourself wondering why it took you so long to set one up, and you’ll be considering what new machine-based class to develop next.

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Your Management Software Solution and Your Front Desk

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If you ask yourself where your facility’s nucleus of member service lies, what is your answer? The front desk? Most likely. It’s where almost all member-related activities take place, and it serves as the main communication point for prospects, members, trainers, sales staff, instructors, and managers. At the same time, chances are you rely on a management software solution that is the beating heart beneath your front desk, a system that, for starters, organizes, maintains, and stores member information and allows you and your staff to access that information instantly and easily. Given how important a software solution is to your front desk’s functioning, it’s crucial to ensure that the two elements—the desk and the software—are fully integrated. Here are a few ways to do so.

First, train front desk staff completely. If your software system is going to fulfill your needs, your staff will have to know how to optimize its capabilities. A software solution package should come with training support (if you’ve purchased one that doesn’t, it’s probably time to shop around for a better alternative). Sign up with your provider for a training course, and be sure to sign your key staff members up as well. Moreover, know how to answer your employees’ questions about the system (and where to go for answers if you don’t have them). At base, you — and at least some of your employees — should know how to use the system to process payments, manage sales leads, attract new members, retain members, address attrition, and forecast revenue. Get up to speed on anything you’re unsure about, and keep your employees up to speed as well.

Once you know your front desk staff is using your software system to its full capacity, you’ll want to focus on how well your security procedures integrate with your system’s security features. Management software enhances front desk security in a number of ways. First and foremost, it can pop up photos of members as they check in, allowing staff to verify that the member and the person present are the same person. Moreover, your management software can help you fine-tune access to your club. Member-specific features, such as image capture and fingerprint scanning, help deter nonmembers from entering. These features also can help alert front-desk staff if memberships are past due or expired, allowing them to deal with issues on the spot.

On a lighter note, your software solution can help enhance member experience by providing your staff members with instant, member-specific alerts. If someone checks in on their birthday, you can configure your system to display a happy birthday message, so that front-desk staff can convey their wishes on behalf of the facility. If someone is recovering from an injury that they have reported to your facility, a message to that effect can pop up, allowing staff to enquire about their progress. All in all, the front-desk experience can become a more personal and enjoyable one, helping to create an atmosphere that keeps members coming back (not to mention renewing their memberships and spreading the word to prospects).

One more feature of your management software solution to pay close attention to when it comes to front-desk business: back-up. As with any system that channels important information, your management software solution requires efficient data backup and storage. Find out what kind of backup/restore utilities are available with your system. How frequently does your software transmit information from your facility to your provider’s mainframe, and how often is that mainframe backed up? Do you have online access to member information? The last thing you want is for front-desk staff to be checking someone in, only to find out the system has crashed. Be sure to institute a regimen of periodically backing up your data, whether by archiving it on another network computer located off-site or distributing it to removable storage media. Review your regimen with key employees, and check it occasionally to be sure it’s functioning as intended.

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Matching Future Goals with Software Solutions

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When it comes to facility management software, it can be difficult to know what product will be a good fit for your company. What features do you assess in order to make a determination? How can you know, before putting money down, whether a given product will be right for you?

One factor that can set a product apart from others is what is planned for it in the future. As Athletic Business magazine put it in a recent article, “What are the vendor’s future plans — and yours? Given how rapidly technology is evolving, this might be the most important question to ask once you have your priorities in mind.” The question is crucial not only because of the pace at which technology changes but also because, as a business, your facility must grow in order to thrive. If you invest in a software solution that will not grow with you, you’ll find yourself in a few years having to choose a new solution all over again — or having to figure out how to live with an inadequate one.

To understand what a vendor plans for a software product’s future, you need to know two things: what additional features a company has in development and how your own needs might change. In talks with salespeople, ask what features the vendor plans to implement in the future, and when implementation is expected to happen. Some particular features to consider inquiring about: mobile compatibility (if the software doesn’t already have a mobile feature, will it? Will it work on all devices?), simplified registration for and checking into group fitness classes (will the software solution allow for one or two clicks that let members efficiently register or check in?), encryption techniques (will software updates include whatever encryption technologies are most cutting edge at the time?). Also, think about your particular future needs. If you’re a college rec center, perhaps you plan to offer occasional outdoor adventure programming — does the software solution you’re considering allow for this, or might it in the future? Are you considering implementing wearable integration, and, if so, can the solution support this?

Clearly, you need to undertake some self-reflection before you begin asking about the future of a given product. If you haven’t already, sit down with your core team and brainstorm how you want the next five years — and the next ten and fifteen and twenty years — to look for your facility. What’s your wishlist in terms of general development and growth? What do you imagine for your facility particularly in terms of technological implementation? What do you hope your management software will be able to do for you down the road? Once you articulate answers to such questions, you can begin to understand the kinds of questions you need to ask about management software products. Don’t be afraid to get carried away. If you envision eventually have a sixty-foot rock-climbing wall that ascends from the deep end of a swimming pool, but you currently have no wall and no aquatic center, make sure your management software package either has the capacity to handle a climbing-wall-cum-swimming pool or will have it. Anything you can project as a possible reality for your facility, you want your software to be able to handle — if not now, then at some point.

So think ahead, think big, and ask questions about what’s to come.

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How a Software Solution Could Maximize Your Time

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If you run a sports center, health club, gym, or niche exercise venture, chances are you don’t have enough time. It would take someone superhuman, after all, to open a facility early in the morning; oversee employees, attend meetings, troubleshoot, pay bills, coordinate with contractors, and do all the other zillion things required of business owners (including maybe even running a class or a training session or two); perform end-of-the-day accounting and shut-down routines (the end of the day often being 10 p.m.); and tend to post-work familial and social obligations while still having time leftover. Never mind finding the hours needed to grow your business in whatever way you dream of growing it.

Where Does a business software solution come in?

Software packages designed for the sports and fitness industries automate many of the processes that consume a great deal of time if you do them by hand or using basic word-processing or spreadsheet programs designed for other purposes. Business software solutions produce user-friendly reports, convey messages to employees and members, send out automatic notices to collect member dues, schedule trainers and instructors, track equipment, manage leagues, provide marketing tools, and much, much more. Automating these functions gives you more time for the things you want and need to get done. It also gives you the security that comes with knowing that one, overarching system is running your entire operation.

How do you choose the solution that’s right for your facility?

First, you have to know what needs the software must meet. Take the time to study your current business requirements, design, and mission. Review the hardware and software you already have in place, and analyze their current strengths and shortcomings. Consider also what kind of financial investment you are willing and able to make in a software package. (If all of this seems like too much of a burden on your already stuffed schedule, consider hiring an organizational analyst who can come in, determine your needs, and make recommendations. Sometimes having an outsider’s perspective is more helpful anyway.) A key part of this step: Consider not only what your business needs now, but also what it will need a year, five years, ten years down the road. You don’t want to invest in something your business will outgrow quickly.

Second, consider security.

With each passing day, more and more business applications use the cloud: that mysterious, invisible place where so much of the world’s data is stored. The more applications that use them, the more vulnerable businesses are to hackers and malware. Before you choose a software solution, ensure that the company that provides it has a reputation for security. Ask what security options the software includes. Does it encrypt stored data? What level of encryption does it support? Doing your homework in this area could save you many headaches down the road.

Finally, don’t evaluate just the software — also evaluate the vendor.

You don’t want to choose a company that executes great ideas poorly or mismanages its people or products. You do want a company with proven vendor stability. That’s not to say it has to have been around for decades, but the executive team should include industry leaders. You should consider the size of the vendor, what its core business is, and whether its software truly supports the sports and fitness industries.

Finding the right software can mean reduced expenses, increased profits, happier employees and members — and more time for you. If you’re not already using a software solution, start looking into the possibilities today. And if you are, consider an overall assessment to be sure the one you’ve got is the best one for you.

 

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Grow Your Business with the Right Software Solution

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So you want to grow your fitness facility but you’re not sure how to do it. The answer might be staring you in the face — literally, if you’re reading this on a computer or other device. The best way to grow your business? Find a software solution that’s going to help you do so.

The right software solution can take your business to the next level in a number of ways. First and most obviously, a good software solution helps you store your key business and client information and access it whenever you need it, from any kind of device. If you’re relying on spreadsheets to track your key financial and client information, you’re quickly going to find yourself overwhelmed — or at least less efficient than you could be. With a business software solution storing your most important data for you, you have the capacity to instantly and easily find whatever information you need. Instant, easy access to crucial information equals a smarter, faster, bigger business.

Moreover, a business software solution allows you to run reports and perform functions that spreadsheets simply can’t do. Imagine seamlessly producing reports that allow you to ensure all of your books are reconciled, analyze your membership base, monitor member attendance, track referral sources, determine your most popular sessions, pin down your busiest time of day, identify underperforming classes, and run a range of financial and point-of-sale reports that highlight opportunities for business growth. For starters. And, again, all at your fingertips, with such reports available from any device at any moment. How much more smoothly would your business run? How much more quickly would you be able to develop ideas for growth?

Of course, the right business software solution also will help you with your marketing needs. For one thing, it will enhance your website by allowing you to embed key tools and features. Embedded class schedule, anyone? Also, customizable automations can help you reach out to students who failed to join your gym after signing up for a trial membership, or supply visitors to your website with key marketing materials when they click a “request more information button.”

Another way your software solution will help you grow is by making it easy for your clients to pay you. All well and good, you say, but how does this lead to growth? Essentially, if paying you requires effort — even slight effort — your clients will be more likely to cancel their membership. Think about it: Each month, they have to make a choice about whether to remain with your club or find another one (or quit club memberships altogether). On the other hand, if payments are automatic, there’s no monthly decision point. There’s no opportunity for your clients to — consciously or unconsciously — reevaluate the benefits gained at the cost of their membership. So what’s another thing a great business software solution will provide you with? An affordable payment processing option. Looking for the right one means finding one that makes it easy for you to make it easy for your students to pay.

All in all, investing in a software solution, or shopping around for one better than the one you already use, just makes good business sense. The more smoothly your operations run, the more time, effort, and resources you can devote to growing your business. Get that software solution going today.

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Making Your Facility Wearable-Friendly

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After the recent release of the Apple Watch and continued release of Android Watches, wearable technology (wearables) seems to be all the buzz these days. With the involvement of these major players and their cult-like following, it’s clear that wearable technologies are not going away anytime soon. If you haven’t already, it may be time to start thinking about how to make your facility more wearable-friendly.

Wearables are electronic devices that are physically worn, either incorporated into a piece of clothing or as an accessory. Their capabilities make it easier to monitor certain aspects of your life, such as calories burned, distance ran, emails, and even messages. In essence, wearables aim to make life much more convenient.

The wearable tech market is filled with a variety of products, with the two popular ones being fitness trackers and smartwatches. But what’s the difference between the two? A fitness tracker monitors physical activity without the need to manually input data, while smartwatches act as an extension of your smartphone. Despite their differences, fitness trackers are slowly being developed to display time, incoming calls, emails, and notifications—much like a smartwatch.

So why should this matter to your business? According to Business Insider, it is expected that in 2019 there will be more than 145 million wearables shipped worldwide, as compared to this year’s 30 million. With Google and Apple in the mix, it’s believed that many mobile users will gravitate toward the Apple Watch and devices that operate Android Wear. A common thread among those adopting smartwatches into their lives is that a majority will be using them for fitness purposes. Keeping that in mind, how can you incorporate wearables into your facility?

Opening your facility up to wearables can be done by making a convenient device even more convenient to use. For example, a recent Android Wear update allows users to escape the tethered range of Bluetooth and operate their smartwatches without their phones being near—as long as both devices are connected to Wi-Fi. Apple Watch is expected to incorporate this feature in the near future. Consequently, it’s a great idea to offer your clients free Wi-Fi so they may take advantage of such a feature.

In addition to free Wi-Fi, send your members who have wearables with displays their ID card via email. Having their ID card (compatible with your club management software) in their inbox encourages them to use their device to check-in, and it’s also one less thing for them to carry. Technology is always changing, as are consumer preferences, which is what makes it so hard to predict the next big thing.

One thing that is clear is all signs point towards the continued integration of wearables into daily life—which makes this the perfect time to make sure your facility is accommodating these devices and their owners.

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Be Indispensable To Wearable Technology Users

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Be Indispensable To Wearable Technology Users This fall, my gym buddy acquired wearable technology. You know the drill: a sleek-looking wristband; an endless stream of personal fitness data collected, analyzed, advertised on social media; a self-regulated, continuously fine-tuned fitness plan based on the constant feedback. All well and good, but suddenly I found myself going to the gym on my own a lot more. With a sort of built-in trainer and a shift in fitness goals (now, instead of running for thirty minutes on the treadmill, she aimed to take 10,000 steps per day) my friend seemed not to need the gym so much any more — at first.
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Video Games and Exercise

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Video Games and ExerciseA friend of mine recently told me about a deal she cut with her twelve-year-old for the summer: He’s allowed to play video games for an hour a day, provided he spend at least two hours running around outside first. She was starting to get worried about how much time he spent indoors in a sedentary position.
Of course, she’s not alone. For decades, parents have been worried about their kids sitting around too much, and the problem seems to grow worse each year. And this issue affects adults too! After my friend told me about the deal she made with her son, she admitted that she’d privately made a deal with herself as well: She’s allowed to watch television at night (and, she sheepishly said, to play her own video games) only if she’s managed to take 10,000 steps during the day.
But what if she could take her 10,000 steps while playing video games? I wouldn’t advocate this for her son — I want him to get outside and learn the joys of real-life play before he gets bogged down in all the grown-up responsibilities that make it such a challenge for his mother, for all of us, to get the exercise we need. But new developments in video games designed for the purpose of enhancing workouts could help us feel like we’re getting in both the exercise we need and the kind of entertainment-relaxation we want.
Blue Goji is a company aiming to produce video games for workouts. Established by the creators of the popular video game Guitar Hero, Blue Goji has spent several years devising games that can safely be used on the treadmill or elliptical, and that track exercisers’ heart rates and other data. The idea, the creators have explained, is to provide distraction from the workout so that exercisers don’t even pay attention to the pain and boredom and discomfort they might be feeling. Television monitors attached to exercise machines — or just stands that hold magazines while you run — have long served this purpose.  Through interactivity and the incentive of having something to win, video games might do so as well, perhaps even more effectively.  Also, video games are potentially more addictive — this time, in a good way.  If you start a workout game, you might be highly motivated to get back to the workout so that you can continue playing the game.
The Wii console has melded physical activity and video game play for a long time, but Blue Goji’s product is made exclusively for use on gym equipment. Other companies are working on similar products, and also on other types of video game exercise products, such as ones that use virtual reality devices. What does all this mean for gyms and fitness centers? It might be time to start researching how you could incorporate video games and exercise into your facility’s offerings.