Over the last 10 years I have talked with hundreds if not thousands of sports business owners, this includes swim schools (a lot), gymnastics centers, tennis coaches, etc.
I speak with such businesses on a daily basis.
Through this exposure and from asking the right questions you get to see what is working when it comes to growing a sports business.
If you want to grow an already established sports business the place I recommend starting is by attempting to improve customer retention.
Most swim schools, gymnastic centers, and other sports businesses usually have some sort of preventable attrition. If you are losing more than 2% of your customer base each month this is a sign that your retention performance can improve.
In this article, I will share our 10 best strategies for improving customer retention.
These are the strategies that can have the biggest and fastest impact on the retention performance of your business
If you do not measure retention, how do you know if you are doing well or not?
How do you know if you are improving?
The starting point for improving retention is measurement.
You should be measuring attrition monthly.
This can be calculated by taking the number of canceled students for the month and dividing that by the number of active students you had at the start of that month.
As we said earlier, below a 2% attrition per month is a good target.
Measurement of attrition can be made easier for you with the right class management software.
For example- First Class Software (shameless plug) measures this automatically for you each month so you just need to make a habit of checking it on a regular basis.
2. Give Regular Feedback to Parents via A Portal or App
Almost 10 years ago we were involved in a survey of over 10,000 parents from a swim school chain.
They were asked what is the biggest cause of frustration/dissatisfaction with their swim school.
69% of respondents said their biggest frustration was not getting enough feedback about the progress of their child.
This stands true today.
Parents want feedback.
They want to know that their child is making good progress.
If they are left in the dark for too long frustration builds.
The easiest way to give feedback is digital via a customer portal or app.
Our clients use our software First Class to update the skills of children all from one screen.
This instantly becomes available to the parent via their portal so they can see when a skill has been updated.
As part of the skill-tracking functionality of First Class, you can also quickly trigger notifications and emails to parents prompting them to check their portal after updates have been made.
3. Make Your Feedback More Detailed
The mistake a lot of businesses make in their skill tracking and assessment processes is that their feedback is too black and white.
If your skill tracking involves a tick-off of a skill this only provides a parent with a limited understanding.
What if a child has not mastered a skill but is grasping the basics?
This is the kind of information we want to relay to parents.
Achieving this requires having the right grading system.
Our personal favorite is the following
When you use a grading system like this in your skill tracking and assessment processes, parents gain a much deeper understanding of their child’s progress.
If a child has moved from introduced in a skill to consolidating this is still progress.
The more we can illustrate this to the parent the better.
Key tip – It’s also important that your parent portal highlights where the skill was previously (last assessment) as well as where it sits now.
4. Set Expectations With Parents
Many parents have unrealistic expectations when it comes to their child’s progress and how quickly they should move up a level.
Over the years we have heard stories about parents complaining that their child’s skills had not been updated this week or their child has been at the same level for 6 weeks now.
These are examples of unrealistic expectations which cause customer dissatisfaction.
It’s important to educate parents and set clear expectations.
Let them know that it can take upwards of 25 weeks to move from one level to the next and that every child progresses at their own rate.
Let them know that the key is that their child is making some progress even if they have not moved up an entire level
Let them know how often they can expect to get feedback about their child through their parent portal.
If you don’t set these expectations, many parents can get frustrated because they have the wrong expectations.
A little effort to set expectations can keep parents from getting frustrated and lift customer satisfaction.
Tip – Consider creating a video that clearly sets these expectations for parents.
5. Have An Onboarding Communication Sequence
When it comes to customer retention, communication is king.
The better you communicate and build connections with your customers the stickier they will become.
One of the pillars of a good communication strategy is an onboarding sequence.
An onboarding sequence involves a sequence of communications designed to;
- Help get a new customer get started
- Build a connection with the customer
- Help the customer maximize their success from your service
For a sports business, we recommend somewhere between 5-8 touch points in the first 30 days.
The starting point of an onboarding sequence is a welcome email that welcomes the customer and explains a few key points to get them started.
Some people make the mistake of dumping everything in their welcome email which makes it extra long and less likely to be read.
Consider cutting up key information and using it in other contact points in your sequence.
Here are a few ideas for onboarding content
- Introduce key staff via a short video
- How to set up and use your customer portal
- How to maximize the progress of your child tips
- A SPEAR email (Short, personal, expecting a response)
6. Track Non Progression (20-30 Weeks)
Progression is one of the drivers of customer retention for sports businesses.
If the child doing lessons is not making progress, the risk of dropping out increases.
In fact, we have found that the drop-off probability increases significantly beyond 20 weeks at the same level.
This is one of the most popular reports in our class management software.
For example, a swim school can use our software to run a report on students who have been at the same level for 25 weeks or longer.
This allows them to visibly see high drop-out risk customers so they can take action to help speed up progression, intensify contact with the parent and prevent dropout.
This is a process that every sports business should do if they are serious about maximizing their retention performance.
7. Watch Consecutive Nonattendance Like A Hawk
Closely tied to progression in attendance.
If a child is not attending or has inconsistent attendance this can slow progression.
If a child has missed 2 or more weeks in a row this is a red flag.
It pays to keep an eye on consecutive absences.
If someone misses two classes in a row perhaps you send a friendly email. (A good software will automate this for you)
If someone misses three classes in a row it is advisable to get on the phone and call the parent.
This may be extra work but it can be worth the effort in terms of saving dropouts.
8. Seek Feedback NPS
It is always helpful to know the satisfaction of your customers.
This is where regular surveys can be a valuable tool.
We recommend and like Net Promotor Surveys because they give you a reading which can help you track improvements in satisfaction.
It also allows you to identify problem areas or major causes of dissatisfaction.
Good businesses are always thinking about the customer experience and have an ongoing improvement attitude.
Take the information from your surveys and ACT.
Also, make an effort to communicate the actions you are taking to improve and act on feedback.
We recommend doing an NPS survey two times per year.
9. Employ Supervisors
A challenge for sports-based businesses such as swim schools and gymnastics centres is that instructors or teachers are often busy dealing with students that time is limited to connect and speak with parents.
This is where a supervisor can be a great investment particularly if you have a medium to larger student base (eg- 300+ students).
A supervisor can be a communicator with parents.
Their job is to interact with parents, help them with questions and ensure they are satisfied.
When we surveyed our customer base about supervisors we asked the question are they worth the investment in terms of improved customer satisfaction and retention and the results surprised us!
The feedback was a resounding YES – They are worth the investment.
10. Make Sure The Kids Have Fun
This is an obvious one but perhaps so obvious that sometimes we forget.
If a child enjoys their lessons and has fun, they are much more likely to continue.
If the parent must drag their child to your lessons, then the risk of dropping out is a lot higher.
Think about how you can make your lessons fun for children.
Train your instructors on how to make lessons fun.
Train your instructors on how to keep students engaged.
You can implement all of the strategies above but if your lessons are boring and your teachers lack engagement then maximizing your retention performance will be difficult.
If you implement each of these strategies in your sports business you can expect a significant improvement in customer satisfaction and retention which will drive improvement in enrolment numbers, revenue, and profit.
If you would like to implement some of the ideas in this article you may want to consider First Class Software as a tool to make your life easier.
First Class Software
First Class Software is a retention-focused class management software built for sports businesses like swim schools, gymnastics centers, and martial arts, and dance studios.