Key to Client Retention: Persistence Pays Off
After being a part-time coach for a few years at 7 Mile Strength and Fitness in Grand Cayman, a little over two months ago, Meredith Whitney decided to go all in.
She left her full-time job to embrace coaching as a career. The next thing she knew, COVID-19 hit and everything changed.
From gym owner Carl Brenton’s perspective, Whitney’s timing couldn’t have been better. That’s because, when it comes to taking care of clients, she has gone “above and beyond” the call of duty, explained Brenton. She has scratched and clawed and refused to accept no for an answer.
- “Where a lot of coaches may just throw their hands up in the air and say, ‘What am I supposed to do? My clients don’t want to participate,’ she has done the opposite,” Brenton said.
On her end, instead of wallowing about having changed jobs at the worst possible time, Whitney chose to attack the situation.
- “This is what I am meant to do,” she said about what she thought when they closed their doors and she was forced to become an online coach.
- “I knew I would have to become innovative and change my mindset…I had nothing to lose.” And everything to gain,” she added.
Whitney immediately went to the drawing board to brainstorm a plan. The first thing she did was break her clients up into categories.
- “I grouped them into three different pods: Those who need a weekly check-in, those who need a bit more of a kick in the ass, and those who need a lot of emotional support regularly,” she explained.
It was time to step on the gas: Whitney personally reached out to each client individually. Some were happy to embrace their new online coaching services, but others were hesitant to join Zoom classes or do online personal training sessions and ignored her WhatsApp messages and emails.
Despite being blown off, she didn’t back down.
- “I started calling them and left voicemails to schedule a personal training session with me, and I think they got so annoyed with me that they eventually called me back,” she said with a laugh.
Fast forward seven weeks: To Whitney’s surprise, the clients who were most hesitant at the start are “the ones who I have had the most success with, because I have exceeded their expectations,” she said.
Brenton explained that Whitney has exceeded their expectations, not because of the workouts she has coached them through, but because of the emotional support she has provided day-in-day-out through this difficult time.
One of her female clients was particularly hesitant to continue working out without a gym, Whitney explained.
- “I finally told her, ‘OK, let’s just do a half hour personal training session and I’ll owe you the other half hour, and you can tell me at the end if this is something you want to continue. It was a bit of a push and pull, and I made myself available whenever she wanted,” Whitney said.
In fact, it took two weeks for this client to agree to a half hour online session.
- “After the session, she said it was such a good release for her anxiety and we have been doing regular sessions since, except now we have taken our session so far beyond working out. We do goal setting and are now having deep-hearted chats about what’s going on in her life,” Whitney said.
Turns out, this client was dealing with the loss of a family member, whom she was very close with, due to COVID-19. Opening up to Whitney about this experience, as well as other struggles in her life, have helped strengthen their coach-client bond, Whitney explained.
- “Before the lockdown, we had known each other for a few years at the gym, but not that well. Now we have gotten to the point where we’re really close and she knows she can reach out to me when she needs me,” Whitney said.
That client isn’t the only one who has benefited from Whitney’s persistence. In fact, Whitney has discovered that all of her clients who were hesitant to continue to workout during the lockdown, have something bigger going on in their lives. So it wasn’t that they didn’t want to workout; it was that some other stress was preventing them from prioritizing their fitness, she explained. And all it took was a little push to get them to come around.
- “Sometimes people will tell you they’re fine and they don’t need you, but then all of a sudden everything comes out at once and they tell you about all the stress in their lives right now,” Whitney said.
- “There’s definitely a lot of anxiety and depression out there right now. Being stuck at home, and we want to be out there being active, hugging people, seeing friends. It has been tough to see what some people are going through.”
Consistently showing them she cares has helped develop trust, she said. She believes this is why she has retained almost all of her clients — except for two who recently moved back to the UK — since closing their doors.
- “Sometimes it’s just about sending them a funny meme in the morning, or checking in to see if they’re cooking and getting outside for their 10-minute walk. It’s not necessarily really long conversations all the time. It’s just about making sure they know I’m there for them,” Whitney said.
Having Whitney on board has made all the difference to his business right now, Brenton explained.
- “She has embodied what a great coach does for clients. To use a cliche corporate term, she absolutely thinks outside the box to give her clients value. She was our first coach to move a specialty program online with her six-week pre and postnatal program in March, (and) is launching her next version of that program again in May,” Brenton said.
Further, Whitney has been sending out weekly emails to her 40 clients — ”super goofy and lighthearted ones,” she said — and has been putting out additional fun challenges for them to try. And, on her own accord, she also decided to host a stretch session one Saturday. Clients enjoyed it so much that it has become a regular weekend class at 7 Mile.
While Brenton considers Whitney’s actions above and beyond, she said she has just been doing what has needed to be done.
- “I think that I’ve just done what I needed to do to make sure that I’m keeping my clients and keeping the business happy, as well,” she said.
Whitney is optimistic her gym will be able to open sometime in June or possibly July, but it’s still unclear if that will be possible. Whether it’s June, July, or even August, Whitney intends to take what she has learned about coaching back to her in-person coaching role.
- “I think what I prioritize with my clients has changed. It’s not just about asking about how the workout went or what they had for breakfast. It’s about asking them how they really are doing. So yeah, I have stepped away from the fitness aspect of coaching a bit and have been diving deeper into what’s really going on in their lives,” she said.
- “Moving forward, that will be a priority for me: To make sure my clients are getting what they need outside of fitness.”