Crisis communication is an essential aspect for any brand that is usually overlooked... until there is a crisis. The way you communicate with clients or members during a difficult situation will dictate how they perceive your brand afterward.
If you ignore it or try to hide it, your members will surely be dissatisfied and might renounce your services. However, if you are open and explain exactly what happened, and promise to do everything in your power to fix it, your members will be more lenient.
It is also essential to have a well-thought plan to help you in these situations when it's a little difficult to be objective and maintain calm.
Thought it might sound ominous, a crisis situation is not necessarily the end of the world. For gyms and fitness centers, it might be that one location must suspend their activity or might not be able to provide full services to members.
The situation generated by the COVID-19 pandemic that led to complete lockdown and closure of gyms in many parts of the world is an ideal study case for such situations. Many gyms had to close down without being able to provide many answers to their members.
Even though they had valid questions like 'What will happen with my membership, or with the PT sessions I purchased? When can I use them, can I get a refund?'. All these questions were pertinent, but very few actually got the right answers.
It's true that in this situation, gym operators had very few answers themselves about what will happen with their business. But 'I don't know right now' can also be the right answer for members in some situations.
Sometimes it can be challenging to draw up a communication strategy, particularly in a crisis that was not foreseen. That's OK. It mustn't be perfect, but it must have a well-established goal and consider a few aspects.
As soon as you find out about the issue, it's essential to communicate with your members. Even if you don't have all the answers, notify them about what happened, and assure them you are doing everything that you can to remedy the problem. This is more important if the situation will last several hours or days, and members will inevitably realize that something is wrong.
Don't wait to be asked about it. The gym should say it first.
You must provide only information that you are sure they are correct. No guesswork. Even if that information is sparse, it's essential to provide members with the right details, and if you don't know something, be honest and say that.
For instance, if the gym closed suddenly because of a power outage, This aspect is surely unforeseen, and it doesn't depend on the gym, but the electric company. If you don't know precisely when the power will resume and open the gym, tell your members just that.
Do not give a date or an hour, unless you are absolutely sure. If you cannot resume work when you say you will, then your members will be furious even if it's not exactly your fault..
That means to admit the impact the crisis has on your members. Apologize for it (even if it's not really your gym's fault), avoid being defensive, and don't try to blame others. Members expect you to solve the issue, and if they don't get a relevant explanation, they will not be thrilled.
Communicate as much information as possible so that members can adjust their expectations accordingly. They don't need to know every detail about how you handle the issue, but it's useful for them to understand the problem and your general plan to solve it.
That way, they can figure out if it's something that will last for hours or days, or if certain services will be unavailable for a more extended period.
That doesn't mean that only one person should be in charge of communicating with members. Still, anyone representing the gym must use the same information and language, and definitely do not give explanations that contradict themselves.
Before answering any questions, talk to your team and decide on the information that will be published and how it will be published. In no way do some employees start answering questions on their own, particularly if they don't know all the details about the issue or how they will be solved.
It will be very frustrating for members to receive a different answer depending on the person talking to them. Establish a clear message that will be presented by all gym employees.
How to communicate during a crisis is just as important as the way you do it. No matter how good your communication strategy is, if your message doesn't reach the target audience, it's useless.
Therefore, make sure you have identified the most efficient communication channels, and you know how to use them properly. During a crisis, the communication should take place through several channels to ensure your message as many people as possible, that might be affected by it.
If it's a long-term situation, then set up a special page or section on your gym's website where you can explain the situation and update it as things progress.
Post all updates on your social media pages. You should notify about any change on your gym's Facebook and Instagram page. Provide any new information in a friendly and warm way to reassure your members. It might be a good idea to suspend any marketing posts (special offers for memberships and so on) until the situation is solved. These types of posts will probably attract negative comments.
Try to contact as many members as possible by phone or email and let them know what happened and how you are working on fixing it. If you have a very large number of members, a newsletter might be a better idea.
Each situation is different. A minor problem that is fixed in a matter of hours will not need an elaborate plan. However, a major crisis that can stretch throughout several days needs a well-thought plan.
The first step you should take is to make public an announcement regarding the incident as soon as it happened. You don't need a lengthy press release. A message about what happened and that you are working on fixing it is enough.
Then you should determine the seriousness of the problem and its impact. Based on this, you can draw up a detailed plan on how you will keep your members informed.
Update all social media accounts, your gym's web page, and send emails to your members about the situation's current status. You don't need to give out all internal details or a precise deadline when the problem will be fixed if you don't have it. These messages are more about ensuring members you have not forgotten about the issue and that you are still working on it.
In a situation like closing the gym during the lockdown, extended throughout several months, it's essential to communicate with your members frequently. It is not just to keep them posted about what is happening, but to provide engaging content that might help them during the lockdown and remind them about your business.
Otherwise, when you reopen, it will be more difficult to remind them about your fitness center and why they chose you in the first place.
In the end, let everyone know that you have reopened or that your operations and services have resumed as usual. Thank your members for their patience, and if some of them have been more affected, you can make up for that by offering extra days to their membership. If the incident has changed how the gym operates, then be completely transparent about it. Show your members what changed and explain why.
When gyms reopened after lockdown, they had to add extra sanitary measures like disinfecting all surfaces and limit the number of people at the same time in the gym. All these aspects should be made public on all your communication channels to assure your members that you have taken all the necessary safety measures.
After the crisis has passed, don't forget to review what happened and how you communicated.
Only that way you'll know what to improve in the future. Identify the strategies that worked and those that didn't, so the next time something like this happens, you'll be better prepared.
No matter how well-prepared you are, nobody knows when a crisis might occur. But it's important to know what to do during such a situation - to work closely with your team and be empathetic.
It's crucial to focus on the quality services you usually provide to members, but it's just as important to take care fo them during bad times and talk to them in a way that you won't alienate them. No matter how unpleasant a crisis might be, if you know how to communicate with your members, in the end, they will have a good impression, even if they couldn't use all the services they paid for.
Ensure you have a well-thought plan, and don't forget to be as open and empathic with your members as possible, even during moments when you tend to focus only on fixing the issue and ignoring the rest. It's essential for members that your gym goes back to normal, but it's equally important to know what is going on, so they can adjust their expectations.
There is an easier way to get more members! Communicate efficiently with them through automated emails, provide them the option to purchase memberships online, delight them with a professional mobile app and member account, and surprise them with fast services at the reception desk.
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