Who wants to retain, engage and excite their members? Trick question –  we all want to.

That said, who has ever thought to look a little more into the psychology behind why, as health club operators, it is actually more difficult to retain and engage our members compared to other industries?

Behavioral psychologists have looked into the way that we, as humans, behave, contending that our behaviors are learned through 'positive reinforcement' and 'negative reinforcement.' It is this notion of 'positive reinforcement' that can help health and fitness operators understand the absolute value of rewarding our members.

Positive reinforcement is the answer to your retention questions

Positive reinforcement involves 'the addition of a reinforcing stimulus following a behavior that makes it more likely such behavior will occur again in the future,' and it is believed that 'when a pleasant outcome, upshot or reward occurs after an action, such particular behavior will be strengthened.'

A practical example of this in the health and fitness world involves giving positive reinforcement some much needed perspective. If after a member visits your yoga studio for the 10th time, you give them a free yoga session, you are conditioning the member to visit another 10 times to reap the reward again.

Skinner went one step ahead and developed some more in-depth insight based on how the frequency (how often) and predictability (how likely) of rewards influence human behavior. Skinner proposed five different components to reinforcement:

  • Continuous reinforcement: You reward the behavior every time it is completed.
  • Fixed interval: You reinforce the behavior with a reward at fixed time intervals after the first time the behavior is undertaken.
  • Variable interval: You provide a reward after an interval of time, but you randomize the amount of time to make it unpredictable.
  • Fixed ratio: Rather than basing the reward on time, it is determined by the number of times the behavior is completed and this number remains constant. An example of this is Perkville’s Frequency Bonus.
  • Variable ratio: The reward is based upon the number of times the task is undertaken, but the number is randomized to make it after a random amount of time has passed.

Once you get past the terminology, you start to see this actually has definite meaning for the fitness industry. Here are some practical examples of how these reinforcement types could be used at your gym or studio.

  • Continuous reinforcement: Give a member some points each time they visit the gym at a fixed rate, such as when they check in to your gym.
  • Fixed interval reinforcement: Give a member a personal training session for every 3 months they exercise in your facility.
  • Variable interval reinforcement: Give a member a free month membership at random times throughout their customer lifecycle.
  • Fixed ratio: Give a member a free T-shirt for coming to your gym 100 times.
  • Variable ratio: Give a member a free shaker after visiting the gym 54 times, then giving them their next reward after hitting the gym 63 times.

Get your beginner members engaged

Behavioral psychologists have suggested that continuous reinforcement is most effective when somebody is trying to establish a new behavior. This is why loyalty reward programs based on collecting points are highly successful at engaging beginners on their fitness journey. Once that behavior has been established, it is important to move on to other reinforcement techniques.

Keep your members engaged past the beginner stage

To make behaviors stick and encourage repeat behaviors, psychologists suggest using the Variable Interval Reinforcement or Variable Ratio methods of reinforcement. Due to the sheer randomness and unpredictability of these, people don't know when the reward is coming, so it keeps them 'on their toes', thus coming back for more. Loyalty reward programs which allow for 'random acts of kindness' work better than fixed loyalty reward programs because they effectively keep members engaged. Perkville’s Promotion Bonus is an example of a random, extra opportunity to earn points.

Research suggests that we should show how close our members are to achieving the reward as they progress towards the goal. Perkville does this right on the customers' front page. The thought here is that humans are much more motivated by how much is left to reach their target rather than how far they have come. Based on this knowledge, it would be wise for a gym operator to allow a member to see their progress and communicate just how close they are to achieving their next reward.

See sudden bursts in engagement and behavior

If you want to see a sharp burst in engagement, behavioral psychologists suggest using the Fixed Ratio reinforcement. In this case, make the reward easy to achieve based on the amount of times an activity is carried out. With this in mind, it would be wise for an operator to have such activity on for a limited time only. A reward incentive activity may be to refer five friends and get a free 6 months membership, but restricting this to a 30 day window! Again, the Promotion Bonus and the Time Bonus work well at influencing this type of behavior.

Having in place a robust loyalty reward program that has elements of unpredictability as well as rewards based on the frequency of activity will help to engage and retain your members.

Want to learn more about the psychology behind a Perkville rewards program? Schedule a demo here.