Episode 316

Why Aren’t You Enforcing Your Membership Policies? with Ben Pickard

In this episode, Ben Pickard joins me to talk about the question – why aren’t you enforcing your membership policies?

[00:00:00] Hello, my friend on today’s episode, I’m speaking with Ben and we’re talking about the fact that most gym owners have membership policies that they just don’t enforce. You have some rules and boundaries for how you want your clients to, to act and promises you make about how you will act and you just don’t enforce those policies.

And it leads to a lot of. difficult conversations. You’re constantly making exceptions for clients and trying to keep track of those exceptions. And so if this sounds like you, we offer some ways that I think you can do this a little bit better and use your membership policies to your advantage, maybe even as a selling point for your membership.

So if you want to get better at reinforcing your membership policies, this is a great episode for you. Keep on listening.

Welcome to the business for unicorns podcast, where we help gym owners unleash the full potential of their [00:01:00] business. I’m your host, Michael Keeler. Join me each week for actionable advice, expert insights, and the inside scoop on what it really takes to level up your gym, get ready to unlock your potential.

And become a real unicorn in the fitness industry. Let’s begin.

Hello, fitness business nerds. What’s up? Welcome to another episode of the business unicorns podcast. I’m back with Ben. What’s up, my friend? Hello. Hello. Hi, everybody. I’m so excited for today’s chat as always. But before we dive in, I want to give a quick little, um, shout out to, uh, our email list. Y’all, if you’re not on our email list, you should really get on it.

We are putting out several emails per week, and they’re all really, in my opinion, I think Ben would agree here, full of like tremendous value. We try to put out content that actually is helping you run your gym more effectively, helping you grow your gym more effectively, helping you use your time more effectively.

And we try not to fill your inbox with any spam. [00:02:00] And so if you want more tips, like the ones you hear on this podcast, click the link down below and join our email lists. We promise no spam once in a while, we’ll try to sell you something because we’re humans who run a business, but 90 percent of the time, you’re going to get really great takeaways, tips, advice, best practices, just like you get on this podcast.

So go join if you’re not on there yet. And we’ll see you in our emails. Um, that being said, let’s dive into today’s topic. And I want to preface it by saying, today’s topic on the surface doesn’t really feel sexy. Today’s topic doesn’t maybe really feel like the most exciting reason you all, uh, became gym owners.

It’s important. And so we’re going to talk about it. And what we’re going to talk about is. Yeah. Yeah. Policies, specifically kind of client policies that make like the rules and boundaries for your gym to make sure everyone’s treated fairly, that everyone gets a level of service that you can consistently deliver that, that your clients want to expect from you and to expect from them.

So we’re going to talk about membership policies today. And [00:03:00] Ben, can you just like tee this up for us? What makes clear membership policies, such an important topic that we’re spending a whole podcast up on it. Yeah, what comes to mind for me is exactly what you said. It’s not the reason we started our gyms.

We didn’t start training people because we wanted them to tap the sign and remind them about our freeze policy. God no. But they’re the things that, you know, if we had a magic wand and this was friggin Narnia, that you wouldn’t, like, you wouldn’t need any policies because everyone would just be respectful of everything and everyone would do what they implicitly are supposed to.

But if you don’t have policies in place, as your gym starts to grow, You end up dealing with all these like minor headaches that are solved with the policy and instead of putting the time into Mastering your craft or serving your community or making a greater impact or leveling up your coaches or some like genuinely important thing You’re spending your time getting on the phone with somebody who didn’t know that they can’t carry a session forward Yep So policies are [00:04:00] the necessary evil that if you don’t get them out of the way at the beginning you will perpetually deal with them It will take away From the impact you are going to make yeah said my friend and we listen we have conversations with unicorns I remember all the time who have not done this well, right who have have policies But they’re not written down anywhere or they’re not well communicated to their clients or the clients Maybe we’re told about it, but the team doesn’t really know so the if he asked Different people at the gym, different employees will give different answers or do you have policies and maybe they were communicated and they are written down, but then you make exceptions every time someone pushes back just a little on your policy.

So then you’ve made up different rules for literally every client of your gym. And so these are just a few of the pain points you might be feeling. And Ben and I are both smiling and giggling a little bit because we’ve done this. We’ve seen it done hundreds of times and the reality is that it doesn’t have to be that hard.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult. Many of you know how important it is to create like a robust kind of culture at your gym, both for your team and for your [00:05:00] clients. And creating a culture really starts with creating norms. Creating, creating standards for how we will treat each other. And these policies are really a roadmap for how everyone agrees to treat each other in this relationship.

And so let’s organize our conversation like this, but let’s talk a little bit about the kinds of policies you want to communicate when you’re first building relationship with clients. Let’s talk about the policy then we’ll talk about the policies for ongoing on an ongoing basis What you need to communicate with clients as they’re around for months and years and then maybe let’s talk a little bit at the end About when we get pushback from clients on policies and how to handle that So first things first when you’re first forming a relationship with clients What is the kinds of policies you’re trying to communicate and how?

Yeah, absolutely in my mind. Most of these are though like the big rock membership agreement type stuff. How often am I going to get charged? How many dollars is it going to be? Is there some sort of money back guarantee? What happens if I go on vacation? What [00:06:00] happens if I get sick? These are things that will honestly probably come up as objections in the sales conversation, to be completely honest.

They’re probably not going to ask what’s the dress code at the gym and you have to have that in writing, but they are going to ask you about like how much money does this cost for how long? Yeah. So, The best approach I’ve found for this is to put it, all of that stuff like liability, billing frequency, money back guarantee, cancellation, contract length, freeze policy, even potentially changes and carry over policy, like no shows.

All of that stuff goes in your membership agreement. But it’s not written in legal jargon that nobody else can understand. It’s written in like plain old English. And you’re going to do a quick review of it with them when they sign. Now you’re not going to sit there and read it verbatim, read the contract, but you can go through and be like, you know, this point talks about our freeze policy.

You get x many weeks of freeze. This point talks about what happens if you’re sick. This point talks about how much [00:07:00] money you’re going to get charged. Um, and by having it in writing and I’m assuming they also get a copy, cause that’s usually the norm in most places and going through with it. And so you can give them context on it covers most of it right off the bat.

Yeah. Depending on your, go ahead. I was just going to plus one that and say, I’ll just go even farther and say, yeah, 100 percent all of those things go right into your contract. And I want to just underline what Ben said, which is this shouldn’t be written in some sort of legalese that they can’t understand.

We’re not trying to make it. Complicated for them to grasp. We want to make it as clear as possible. And I’ll, I’ll give you an example of what I think this should look like. I’ll preface it by saying again, not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. And if I was working with a lawyer, I would say, Hey, I want all the legal stuff to be in one contract that I want that contract to have a line that says I’ve received my membership handbook and agreed to all the policies and terms contained therein.

And so the initial or sign that they’ve received an employee, a client handbook. And then there’s a separate, maybe one pager. That’s a separate from the contract. Maybe it’s an appendix or just a [00:08:00] separate handout that just says in plain English, like the 10 policies you need them to care about so they can have that piece of paper, take it with them, hang it on their fridge, put it in their desk, take a picture of it, whatever it is.

And I’m probably also going to like email that to them. Afterwards, or put it on a page on our website, because if it’s buried in contract language with all the other stuff that no one ever reads, you’re never going to get them to comprehend it. So I think that part is just so important. You’re going to keep talking.

Sorry. Keep going, Ben. No, that’s a really good point. I love the idea of it’s, Hey, I’ve received this and I understand because we’re like. The joke I will continue to make but it’s because it’s true is we’re not taking anyone to court over their gym membership No we have this so that when the time comes which we’ll talk about later in the conversation of somebody has an issue with something because Probably they forgot or they’re going through a really stressful time and you’re unfortunately the person that’s getting the bad end of that stick Yeah, you can be like hey, remember we talked about this and you talked let me let’s go there.

So it’s It’s you’re really just setting those [00:09:00] mutual expectations and cultural norms of how we’re going to treat each other. Yeah. And you’re really making it clear. These are all things that are aligned with us getting you to attend. If you were to sign up for a gym and you can freeze in perpetuity, unlimited amount of times.

There’s no point signing up for the gym. Yep. Get a counter. Yeah. I want to double down on this point. Well, one with one more, one more thing to add, which is by also having this language, these policies separate from your contract, you get to use language that actually markets them like a benefit. For example, when you have a one pager that talks about your freeze policy, you can be like generous freeze policy So traveling is never a reason you don’t have to exercise Or generous cancellation policy, no hassle cancellation policy so that you can leave without us having to harass you You can market these policies to something that are beneficial to them and then to Ben’s point these will often help you overcome Objections in the sales process.

So we’re not trying to make it Seem more complicated or daunting to become a long term [00:10:00] member. We want to market these policies as things we’ve designed to make it easier for them to get the results they’re looking for. Yeah. Big time as a kind of in practice example, I had a conversation with a client last week who I’ve got a good relationship with, so I was the one to field it.

And she was like, feels like I’m trying to get like locked into another contract. Like it feels one sided. I’m like, Oh, that’s strange. Tell me more about that. Anyways, we’ll go through the whole conversation, but basically it came to him like, yeah, for our cancellation policy is 25 bucks a week for the remainder of weeks on the contract.

And that’s because when you commit for a year, you get this big discount and every other gym on the planet, for the most part, at least in my city, there is no cancellation fee. The cancellation fee is you can continue to pay whether you come or not. She’s like, Oh, so it’s 75 percent off plus I get a discount.

I’m like, yeah. Oh, and then it clicked and it was reframing as the benefit, which you don’t always have that luxury when it’s a legal jargon contract. That’s exactly it. Yeah. Good for you. I love that example. I [00:11:00] love that. Okay. So we talked a little bit about the stuff that we want to communicate right off the bat.

We talked about the fact that most of these policies go in your. Contract ideally there’s maybe some supplemental material like a handbook or a kind of a quick start guide or some sort of thing that That has in plain english the policies that matter most But then let’s talk about the policies that often get communicated once someone started Once some and as people have been around for a long time There’s policies we have to share and then reinforce again and again to get everyone on the same page and establish those norms So talk through a few of those Yeah, that’s a great point, because you can’t just expect people to read it once and never forget, even if you read it, explain it, and they signed it.

Honestly, a lot of this you’re going to have to remind people periodically about. I’m not suggesting that you send out an email every year that says, Hey, Michael, as a friendly reminder, you’re paying 143 a week. But for instance, One way that you could remind people, and this is what we do at our gym, is every time somebody goes to cancel a session, and it’s a late cancel, they get an [00:12:00] automatic email that says, hey, this was a late cancel, here’s the late cancel policy.

If there was a medical emergency, respond to this email and we’ll talk about crediting the session back. So literally every time somebody late cancels, they get reminded of the late cancel policy. Another example would be for like a freeze policy or a termination policy. Instead of just fielding it as an email request and be like, Oh yeah, no problem.

I’ll just get you on freeze right away. That’s, we don’t want to piss you off. We send people to a Google form that reiterates the freeze policy, they fill it out, then when we get it, we can then respond to them and if they request a freeze that doesn’t align with the policy, we can then be like, hey, just like you saw in the form, this isn’t going to fly, let’s talk about it.

So it’s every time they go to do that action, that’s the trigger to remind them of the policy for that action. Yeah. Another example that’s a little simpler is punctuality. If you need people to be. They have to be at the session within, let’s say five minutes of the start time. So they don’t miss the warmup and movement prep.

The coach can remind them in the moment when they walked in five minutes [00:13:00] late to be like, Hey, friendly reminder, like you were cutting it close today. Let’s still get you in the session to get some benefit. But five minutes is our cutoff just so you know, for next time. Yeah, those are great examples, Ben.

Those are such great examples. I think those are where often the reminders happen. They happen at the moment when someone on your team sees a norm or a policy being broken. There’s some friendly, in the moment, verbal reminders. I love that you said there’s some automatic emails that go out. There’s some processes they go through where they’re driven to a form or a page where the policy is there to remind them what they agreed to.

Also, add one more, which is signage in your space. For example, if you have a dress code, put up some signs in the locker or changing areas about what that dress code is, what your functionality policy is, or how wait lists work, or whether or not people are allowed to have kids or pets in the gym, right?

These are things that signage can go a long way to just giving a little reminder. As a reminder, this is not a place for kids under 12, just not safe. But I think those are all really great examples of where policies [00:14:00] get reminded. Let’s maybe use the, our, Final time here because we can, this could be a much longer podcast, but I the third piece here.

So I think it’s the thing that people want us to talk about the most, which is, okay, let’s just say I have these policies. We’ve got a contract. I’ve been communicating it. We’ve got signage. We did all the things we’ve talked about so far and. People push back that you’re trying to reinforce your policies and uphold these standards and clients just seem pissed every time and push back.

And it’s one of the least fun parts of working in any sort of customer service environment is customers are pissed. And so how do you uphold these standards without seeming like your job is just being like the rules police? So how do you do it, Ben? Ongoing effort is probably the number, the actual answer here.

I’d love to say I’m sitting on my ivory tower and everything’s perfect in my life, but that’s obviously not the case. I own a gym and I have the same problems the rest of us do. I think the first step is being really clear on, [00:15:00] are you really going to enforce it? Cause I’ve talked to gym owners where they’re like, every time somebody goes to cancel, they just let them cancel for free.

And I’m not saying we should be making money off the cancellation policy, but if you’re never going to truly enforce it and you don’t in your heart of hearts feel like this is the right thing to do, your clients are going to pick up on that. People can tell when you’re being genuine. So I think the first step is make sure that you’re doing things that like you truly can get behind.

Yep. Because this ties into the second piece in my head, which is these policies are all things that benefit our members. I’m not trying to make money off of anybody when they go on vacation. But if you’re going to be on vacation for 12 months a year, like maybe you shouldn’t have signed up for personal training.

That’s geographically in one city. It’s things that are supporting our members benefits. When I’m looking at the list here, like it’s around freezes. If you’re always on freeze, you’re not going to come. If you’re always no showing, you’re not going to get any results. If you’re not showing up on time, you’re going to have a.[00:16:00]

Hard time getting results or knock on wood, get hurt in the warmup. Like if you’re not paying the right amounts in the right time, like that’s one of the fundamental rules of business. We trade money for a service. If there’s kids in the gym that are getting in the way of other people’s sessions, or God forbid your kids do get hurt, these are all things that support the success of the member.

So this is my long winded way of saying point number two is reminding the person talking to you that it’s actually for their benefit and you can frame it as a benefit. You’re never going to hold your nose up and be like, I’m assuming on the phone. Yep. Our policy is this. So essentially you’re going to have to fuck yourself, which is what you get when you call your.

Internet service provider or your phone company or most customer support. Yeah. Yeah, I think really well said I think that the idea that we want to frame this, hey, let me explain to you why this is how we do it. And we do it because this is what helps you get the best results. If you’re showing up consistently, paying us on time, we can hire the right people to be here for you.

If you’re showing up on time, you’re getting the full workout. If you, you get the idea. So I think that’s a great way to look at this [00:17:00] is to say, can we frame this in a way that makes it clear that these policies are here to help you get the results you told us you want. And I think that’s a really great way of thinking about it.

Yeah. When I think of, when I think of client pushback, when I think of enforcement of these policies, I, the first thing I think of is what you just said, which is we don’t really use the policies as like a shield. We don’t quote our policies. We say, let me tell you how we do things around here. Right. Let me tell you why we do things like this around here.

I think those are, that’s much better language than our policy is. It just is immediate turnoff. But generally speaking, when I think about how to handle reinforcement, I really think of it like an 80 20 rule, which is for me, and this is my different people could have different approaches here, but for me.

80 percent of the time you want to be enforcing your policies, right? Which means if you have a policy that you charge for a no show, then you charge for the no show like 80 percent of the time. If you have a policy that you charge for cancellation, you charge for cancellation. If you have a policy that people can’t wear their [00:18:00] street shoes inside, then they shouldn’t wear their street shoes inside.

Like there should be enforcement for me, like at least 80 percent of the time. And then the 20 percent of the time is meant for the one get out of jail free card. Oh, you’re a new member. You just started this last month, and you didn’t know that you can’t get in our class if you’re 10 minutes late. I’m going to give you one, get out of jail free card.

I’m going to write it down. I’m going to put that note on your mind, body profile. And everyone on our team is going to know that you’ve already gotten your one, get out of jail free card. So now you’ve got to show up on time. And the other 20 percent is for those things where you want to be a human because your clients are really going through some shit.

Your client really just had a kid in the hospital, a parent die. They’re in a car at, we want to be human, right? But the reality is that your clients are probably not going through life, altering. Drama every single day. And if they are, just let them go focus on their life and not doing your gym for a little while.

But that’s why I think that like, it’s really 80 percent of the time, but what policies that we’re [00:19:00] actually willing to and able to enforce then 20 percent of the time when I give them a jail free card or be human and say, listen, I know you’re going through a lot. So I’m going to let this slide this one time, because I know your family’s been really sick or whatever the case may be.

And. That’s the right balance for me. And I feel like that’s also been the kind of right balance for my, our team at MFF over the years, which is we don’t want to be hard asses and never make exceptions. So we want to 80 percent of the time, do what we said we’re going to do, which is enforce a rule. And then 20 percent of the time have a little flexibility so that we can be human and responsive to our clients needs.

Yeah. What’s your reaction to that then? One strongly agree. I do think it takes for listeners out there who are probably being, if anything, you’re probably erring on the side of. 80 percent exceptions, 20 percent of course, you need to flip that around. Yeah. It does take some skill to train your team and delegate these appropriately and not just be like, can your team members read the no show policy, but can they explain it in an empathetic way to a person?

Yeah. Even if they’re [00:20:00] not going to hell and back in their life, they might feel that they are because true with a capital T is not always the same as what someone’s experience of truth is. Yeah. But I think it really is probably a conversation for another time. It gets into just like having really good what we call coaching conversation skills, like making people feel heard, reflecting back everything you’re hearing, validating their feelings, even though in your head is holy shit, can you just fucking show up on time or just change your schedule?

Stop booking 6am. If you’re going to leave your house at 5 59, that seems like a very solvable problem. But to me, Or sorry to them, maybe they don’t feel that they could do a 7am session because something else is an issue. And I’m referencing back the conversation I had late last week with that client.

It seemed like a really big deal. We talked on the phone for 10 minutes. I made, I’m not trying to downplay what I did, but I made her feel heard. I validated her feelings. I explained the fitness landscape as a whole and I framed it as a benefit for her. You get it. We. You can do a short term [00:21:00] agreement. It just costs more.

Basically long term agreement is the equivalent of wholesale. If you know, you’re going to be here for a while, save 20%. But if you don’t want to feel locked in, like that’s totally cool. We’ve got this other option exactly for that reason. It’s just being a human being with those people. And I don’t think we can be in a customer service industry if we don’t expect to serve customers for stuff that isn’t just a workout.

There’s always going to be some of this. So get good at that stuff. 100%. I think that’s such a great lesson. And maybe that’s a whole nother podcast. We can talk about is how to do the kind of emotional management required of customer service sometimes. And you’ve heard me a million times and listeners of this podcast have heard me a million times.

Prominent. That is both in fitness. And when I was in hospitality, it’s just like my experience in hospital and hotels is yeah. When people are not having a good vacation at the resort that they are at, there’s a lot of emotions that come with that. There’s a lot of expectations that came with that trip because it was their honeymoon or their reunion [00:22:00] of their whole family or their birthday trip or whatever it is.

And there’s a lot of emotional, not just mad about the towel. They’re mad about it. Yeah, but I’m just mad that there’s not enough chairs at the pool. They’re mad because this somehow feels like a reflection of this trip. They’ve been waiting for months or years. And, and there’s a lot of that happens at the gym too.

People have expectations of, of reinventing their life, of getting all these physical wellness. Results and both mental and physical results. And if they’re not, and they feel like the process has gone off the rails, there’s a lot of emotion tied in that. So anyway, let’s put a pin in that, but I think that’s such a great point, Ben.

I’m glad you brought it up. So closing thoughts here about membership policies. What’s your kind of, if people are like, yeah, I need to tighten this up. I really have not been doing a good job of establishing great policies and enforcing them. Where do they start, Ben? Well, step one is the step one that we present at the beginning of this podcast, which is like write the stuff down, handbook, legal contracts, and make sure that you’ve actually told the [00:23:00] expectation to them because if it hasn’t been told to them, you cannot expect them to do it.

Make the implicit explicit. It should go without saying that you show up on time, but not everyone’s on time for everything in their life. So if you have a five minute rule, you need to tell them that. Step two is re communicate it often. Usually the trigger is going to be when the thing happens, but you can also get ahead of it with signage.

Do not send out legal jargon once a month. Hey, everybody, reminder of our policies. Don’t do that. But when it comes up, you can train your staff to be like, Hey, Michael, friendly reminder. I’m going to let it slide this time, but you make sure you’re here at least five minutes. After the session times, we can get in your warmup.

Cool. Thanks. Great. And then step three is get good at with the customer service stuff. And I know that’s a very big bucket to unpack. So it’s not like me just saying, go get good and that’ll work. Go lose fat. No problem. It’s not that easy, but it’s getting clear of what you’re going to enforce that it’s for their benefit.

And that if you want to serve customers, you need to serve customers, even when it’s sometimes problems that you wish you weren’t dealing with. Yeah. [00:24:00] Well said. Great summary, my friend. All right. Listeners, if you found this valuable, please leave us a five star review everywhere you listen to podcasts. And if you’re not on our email list, go click the link down below in the show notes and join our email list.

We’re putting out great shit. Go ahead, Ben. I have had people just for the record about email list. I have had people hop on. Unicorn Society calls with me to learn more and outright reference that they use some of the stuff on our email list and they are making money every month. They are saving time every month.

Like this isn’t just join our newsletter. It’s you can get valuable stuff to make your business and life better. People have told me that unsolicited feedback. Yeah. I love that. Yeah. Great plug. Yeah. So go join my friends if you’re not on already and podcast. Thanks Ben. Goodbye. Thank you.