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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Avoid and De-Escalate Customer Conflicts

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part II of a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

In Part I, we discussed setting up positive, proactive communication. Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that you’ll have members and customers who are unhappy with the timing of your reopening and the policies you’ve laid out.

 

That’s understandable, say Jim Wetherbe and Ted Waldron, professors at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business. After all, this situation is unprecedented, and as restrictions start to loosen, it’s natural that folks will have conflicting viewpoints—and empathy goes a long way toward avoiding conflicts before they happen.

 

Of course, as former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey points out, conflicts aren’t always avoidable.

 

We sat down with each of these experts to bring you their tips for avoiding and de-escalating conflicts with members in your communications and, as you re-open, in person.

 

Create Member Buy-in

Building policies based on members’ own input is crucial, says Wetherbe. He suggests tapping your gym’s “opinion leaders” (the “stars” of the gym, those climbers who show up and seem to know everyone) to lead an informal focus group on protocols to keep members safe.

 

“If people complain, you can make it clear that you didn’t come to these decisions unilaterally,” Wetherbe says, adding that feeling as though one is in control is a basic human need. Knowing that their own peers are on board is likely to reduce those feelings of resentment.

 

Be Present

“If you’re anticipating conflict, you need to be there,” Wetherbe says simply. Massey also points out that there’s potential for misunderstanding when front desk staff is relatively new to the workforce and is attempting to enforce policies with older, more experienced customers.

 

In other words, no matter how well educated your staff is on the policies, and no matter how effectively you’ve frontloaded communication with members, it’s crucial that you’re physically there, role modeling protocols for staff and members. That way, if an unhappy member wants face time with the person in charge, they can hear it directly from you. Not only is the opportunity to have humanizing discussions helpful in de-escalating existing conflicts, but it also reminds other members that your goal is to keep them safe.

 

Watch Your Tone and Body Language

As Waldron points out, rephrasing a statement as a question (a technique Wetherbe suggests in our last post) is only as effective as the body language of the person doing it. That’s extra tough when your face is hidden behind a mask; we rely on facial expressions like smiling to get a point across in a non-combative way.

 

Still, there are ways to tailor your body language to de-escalate a situation. Wetherbe recommends nodding your head and lifting your eyebrows, as well as opening your arms and exposing your palms.

 

It’s also possible to de-escalate conflict when members can’t see you, says Massey (the vast majority of hostage negotiations take place over the phone). Even as the other person on the line starts to escalate, keep your tone even and avoid meeting that level of aggression with your own voice.

 

Empathy Is Key

“Never, ever tell another person how to feel,” says Massey. Instead, he suggests, “listen to what they’re trying to say. Connect that with empathy, and you can move mountains.”

 

One technique Massey recommends is “emotional labeling.” When you’re in the midst of a negative interaction with a customer, that might mean saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of frustrations today. I don’t want to be another source of frustration for you. How can I help?”

 

Even if you’re wrong in your labeling, he says—maybe a customer tells you they’re not frustrated, but nervous—it shows them that you’re paying attention, and that you care about them. That’s when folks start to decompress, Massey explains: “It gets them back to saying, ‘I’m a human, and another human is trying to interact with me.’”

 

Be Ready to Stick to Your Values

“The customer is not always right,” Wetherbe says. “Sure, most of them are. But you have to be willing to ‘fire’ a bad customer to keep good customers.” Waldron agrees, pointing out that this is especially true now, when your other members’ safety is on the line.

 

Empathy remains crucial here, says Massey; this might mean saying something like “I can understand why you don’t want to [wear a mask / make an appointment to climb / follow X policy]. But if we don’t enforce these policies to keep all our members safe, we may not be able to stay open.” If a member simply won’t cooperate with your policies after you’ve followed all the other steps above, Wetherbe and Waldron agree that it’s best to ask that they return when social distancing guidelines are no longer necessary—for the sake of all your customers’ health.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Communicate With Your Customers

Posted By Laura Allured, Friday, May 22, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part I in a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

As the coronavirus outbreak took hold over the last few months, gym owners everywhere have been bombarded with big questions—from navigating payroll assistance and small business loans to keeping customers safe, it’s been a big challenge for our community. Now, as restrictions in North America start to loosen, gym owners are faced with another question: How do we communicate with our members about reopening?

 

It’s an important question. Crisis communication expert Adele Cehrs points out that we’re in the midst of a textbook business crisis: “A crisis is any moment where your business needs to clarify a misperception,” she explains. In this case, that could be “I’m worried the gym won’t be clean enough to keep me safe,” or it could be “I’m a member, so I can do whatever I want.” In crisis communication, Cehrs explains, you walk back on those misperceptions. Here’s how to get started.

 

Communicate Early and Often

According to Cehrs, the amount of communication you’ll need in order to reassure members that it’s safe to return is directly related to how frequently and effectively you’ve communicated over the last few months—if you’ve been posting regularly to your channels and reaching out to members, you’re in good shape. Keep your audience in the loop with an email blast or social post as you move towards reopening, whether you’re doing it in phases or are holding off altogether for a few weeks. Reaching out to members proactively has the added benefit of reminding your customers that they’re part of your community and are among the first to know about important decisions.

 

Set Clear Expectations

As with managing employees and interpersonal relationships, setting clear boundaries and expectations is one of the surest ways to avoid conflict. According to Ted Waldron, an associate professor of management at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business, “keeping patrons well informed of occupancy restrictions, advance registration requirements, facility use agreements, [and] protective measures/behavioral guidelines,” along with remedial actions (for example, one opportunity to comply with facility rules before being asked to leave), “would go a long way in stopping any conflicts before they start.”

 

Reassure Members—and Communicate Your Value

Getting members back to your gym requires trust, says Cehrs. “I have to trust that you can clean this gym better than you ever have before,” she says. “It’s a level of respect that needs to be elevated and communicated.” Her colleague, former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey, agrees. “Gyms will have to reacquire their customers,” he explains, pointing out that folks have been making do with their at-home setups for the last few months. In order to get them back in the door, you’ll need to communicate your gym’s value better than ever, whether that’s your cutting-edge routesetting, access to top-notch training classes, or warm community. This is a great time to step up your efforts to learn individual members' names and preferences, Massey adds.

 

Be as Transparent as Possible

Right now, it’s ok to tell your customers you don’t know the answer. Still, Cehrs strongly recommends having a “holding statement” about your reopening status. This can simply be a range of dates between which you anticipate opening. “That statement has to be genuine, authentic, and feel transparent,” Cehrs says, adding that it’s crucial that gym owners don’t make promises they can’t keep. It’s tempting to be vague or avoid communicating, she says, but that’s a mistake—it provides your members with no reassurance at all. Instead, keep it simple and direct: “We anticipate being able to open between X and Y. Lots of factors might affect the exact date we can open, but we’ll keep you updated as we know more!”

 

Show Customers Where You’re Coming From

This is closely related to transparency. Humanizing your business—an important step in the HEART framework, which Waldron and his co-author Jim Wetherbe outline in the Harvard Business Review—reminds your members that you, like they, are doing the best you can under difficult, unprecedented circumstances. “If people feel like they’re being bullied,” explains Wetherbe, the Richard Schulze Distinguished Professor at Texas Tech’s Rawls College of Business, it’s harder to get buy-in. Instead, he suggests rephrasing statements as questions: “If you’re not wearing a mask, how is that fair to our other members?” Waldron adds it’s important to consider your body language here—more on that in Part II.

 

Anticipate Questions—and Come Prepared With Answers

Your members will likely have questions about everything from physical distancing to whether masks are really “required” to how long until you plan to be back to business as usual. It might help to come up with good answers to some of these common questions and share them among your staff. One question you’re almost guaranteed to get is about cleanliness, so a rundown of everything you’re doing to keep the facility clean, from the parking lot to the bathrooms to the equipment and flooring, is key. “You’ll have to hit on that hard, and do it right away,” says Cehrs, “[Members] are really trusting you, so they need you to reassure them that this is a place they can feel safe.”

 

Even if you’re doing everything right, it’s possible that conflicts with customers will still arise. We’ll cover that in Part II next week.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Member Engagement Series: Inspirational Content

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, May 14, 2020
Inspirational Content

When a member walks into your gym, you have no trouble engaging them—whether it’s chatting about the great weather you’ve been having, asking what they think of the new routes, or, for members you know well, checking in about how that project at the local crag is coming along.

 

At its core, engaging your audience online and on your social channels is the same. It’s easy to overthink it: Am I using the right hashtags? How many likes should my posts be getting? But when you boil it down, the things you’re posting on your gym’s social channels are just a way to break the ice and get your members talking. View your content as a conversation starter, and you’re well on your way to building solid content.

 

Ask Your Audience

The folks who know best what your audience wants are right in front of you. In fact, they might already be telling you what they want—take a look at your most recent survey results. Do your members give your gym’s yoga classes a five-star rating? Content written by or spotlighting a favorite yoga teacher, whether it’s an Instagram takeover or a blog post, will likely be a hit. Are you getting tons of feedback on the new brand of energy bars you’re stocking? Maybe a series of posts on nutrition for climbers will draw engagement. Don’t be afraid to ask your members directly: “What topics would you like to see our staff write about for future posts?”

 

Draw Inspiration From Others

There’s a reason big-name brands have huge social followings. Your gym may not have the resources to do tons of market research on what your audience wants to see—and that’s ok, because climbing brands (gear manufacturers and sponsored athletes, for example) likely have much of the same audience your gym does. Does a particular climber get tons of likes and comments when they ask their followers a question? Do brands get a huge response when they do a giveaway? Those trends might help you identify what your audience is looking for.

 

Turn the Spotlight to Your Members

It’s always fun to see your own name on the marquis, so to speak. One way to deepen member engagement is to invite members into your feed. This can be as easy as creating a simple hashtag (#climbat[your gym’s name]) that members can tag their photos with, then going through those posts and choosing some to repost on your own channel. It could also mean running a contest: Ask your audience to caption a funny photo; the winner gets to do a week-long takeover of your Instagram account. The more members see themselves and their friends in your feed, the more excited they’ll be to engage.

 

Repurpose Content You Love

Sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel. Is there a recent article that’s super relevant to your audience, like a piece in a climbing magazine about your local crag or about climbing gaining popularity? Keep an eye out for news that might interest your audience, whether it’s about the local bouldering scene, a climbing-related podcast with a story that made you laugh or cry, or a review of this year’s hottest climbing shoes. Whenever you repost content, check the creator’s policies—you may need to ask them for permission, and you’ll definitely need to give them credit.

 

Give a Peek Behind the Scenes

Nothing makes an audience feel like part of the in-crowd more than learning what’s going on behind the curtain. Think beyond explaining the reasoning behind a new policy: What inspires you? Maybe it’s a post on the history of your gym, a few tips from a rock-star routesetter, or a Q&A with a coach about how they come up with ideas for classes and training sessions. This category often makes for great evergreen content, meaning it’s relevant just about any time you decide to post it.

 

Ready to Level Up?

If you’re doing the first five items on this list, you’re well on your way to creating a vibrant online community. Keep up the good work!

 

When you’re ready to take your content to the next level, consider the following steps:

  • Find creative ways to engage with your audience. Social media algorithms take engagement—likes, follows, comments, and shares—into account, so actually conversing with your audience makes a difference. (Learn more here.)
  • Develop an email marketing strategy. Showing up in your audience’s inboxes means they don’t have to seek you out to engage. Chances are you collect email addresses from your members anyway, so building a strategy to send marketing emails to your audience is a logical next step.
  • Take a look at your analytics. Your website or blog platform likely has analytics built in, and if you’ve got a business page on Facebook or a business account on Instagram, you can do the same thing for your social channels. Use these tools to understand the best timing and topics for your posts and change up your strategy accordingly.
  • Learn more about search engine optimization (SEO). This is how you’ll ensure that your gym’s posts pop up first when folks search for relevant keywords. These tips will help you get started.

Not sure where to begin with content? Check out our previous post on how to start a blog for your gym.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  marketing  member communications 

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When Can Rock Gyms Reopen?

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, April 24, 2020
Gym Reopening

In the US, the administration announced a plan for “Opening Up America” on April 16th. There is some confusion about this plan since no timeline was provided and it leaves a lot of the specifics up to individual businesses and local authorities. It is also important to note that states that do allow for reopening are doing so only when meeting what has been termed “gating criteria”.

 

In order for a state to reopen, they must have realized a downward trend of both flu like and coronavirus like symptoms within a 14 day period, seen a downward trend in documented COVID-19 cases, maintained or increased current testing volume, had a downward trend of positive test results in a 14 day period, and had hospitals transition to treating all patients without crisis care.

 

Gyms are broadly included in Phase 1 of this program, but there is not clear guidance on what you should be thinking about when making the choice to reopen. The official plan only states that “gyms can open if they adhere to strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols.”

 

Unfortunately, there is not great clarity on what exactly is meant by sanitation protocols or physical distancing. Currently the US advises individuals to avoid socializing in groups greater than 10 people in circumstances that do not readily allow for appropriate physical distancing. Sanitation protocols are also not defined in an appropriately detailed manner. However, you can turn to your local health department for the most relevant guidance for your business. When it comes to following regulations these organizations and your city government will be the most direct authority in the US.

 

Similarly, in many of the countries that have more advanced pandemic timelines than the US, some gyms may be able to make the choice to reopen beginning in early May. Many of these countries may receive stronger guidance from their local authorities, but some decisions will still be up to individual owners. It is important to be aware of what laws you need to follow locally. Any policies that you create should be, at the very least, in alignment with WHO recommendations.

 

The WHO has developed some risk assessment tools for mass gatherings, and these may be one of the most authoritative ways to evaluate what level of risk is present in your gym. The WHO has even updated these guidelines with information specific to sporting events. These guidelines may be more directly applicable to the public areas of climbing gyms than the general workplace guidance, which is more suitable to office environments.

 

At the CWA, we are working to accelerate the publishing of our guidance for you in these areas. We have started two committees to help advise on the resources we’ve been gathering and developing. One committee is focused on the hygiene and cleanliness guidelines which are most applicable and appropriate for an indoor climbing gym. The other committee is focused on reopening policies and procedures. As quickly as possible, the CWA will publish a digital white paper similar to our Coronavirus Resource Hub which will be updated real-time as new science emerges over the coming months.

 

It is important to remember that all of this does not mean that you must reopen. When making that decision keep in mind your brand, your customer’s attitudes, and your needs as a business. A hasty decision now could have unintended consequences for your business for years. Whether that is the way that your community perceives your attitude or the way that your policies may lead to new expectations from your members. But, no matter what you decide, make sure that you communicate openly and often with your members to make sure that they know what you are planning and why.

 

Your customers cannot wait to get back to the gym, and when you feel it is the right time to reopen your core customers will be there for you. Even though we are all faced with a mountain of uncertainty at the moment, the future still looks bright for climbing.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  management  member communications  operations  risk management 

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Member Engagement Series: How to Start a Blog for Your Climbing Gym

Posted By Emma Walker, Thursday, April 23, 2020
How to Start a Blog

Gyms across the country are missing their members, and the folks who usually climb at your facility are missing you, too. One way to keep your membership engaged in the virtual realm is a blog your audience can access through your gym’s website.

 

If you’re producing engaging, high-quality content—and, when you’re ready for some varsity-level blogging, using SEO (more on that later)—you’ll not only keep your own members coming back, but also draw in other readers searching for relevant content. Here’s how to get started.

 

Build a Strategy

What’s the purpose of your blog? (It’s ok if the initial answer is “Find a way to keep my members’ attention during the coronavirus outbreak.”)

 

In order to publish content that will keep your members coming back for more, you’ll need to identify just what it is your blog does. One way to do this is to do a brief analysis of your closest competitors or take a peek at the results of any recent member surveys. You’re looking for what sets your facility apart—why do members choose to climb there?

 

Your content strategy is an answer to that question. If members say they love the fitness equipment and classes, maybe at-home workouts and nutrition for climbers are frequent topics. Are your members in love with the routesetting at your gym? Perhaps a Q&A with your star setter to learn what inspires them.

 

The content strategy also addresses logistical details. When and how often do you post? Is your gym’s tone warm and casual or authoritative? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answers to these questions right away—take a guess, and then refine your content strategy as you learn more after publishing a few posts.

 

Stock Up on Content

Consistency is key—the best way to keep your audience engaged is to post content frequently, and on a regular schedule. To that end, you’ll want to build up a bank of content before you launch your blog. That way, you won’t end up with an unexpected gap in coverage if you have a busy week (or worse, launch a blog, post once, and lose your audience’s interest by neglecting to post again).

 

Start by mapping out the next few months’ worth of posts on the calendar. Add timely posts when they make sense for your specific community—a couple of weeks before your annual bouldering comp, a post by your trainer on getting comp-ready, or when the weather gets warmer, a post on cross-training for climbing.

 

In general, you’ll want a fair amount of “evergreen” content—posts that make sense no matter when you publish them, like a history of your gym or spotlights on staff and members. You can use this to fill in the gaps between your timely content pieces. Watch for a future post on ways to create the content your audience wants to see.

 

Pick Your Platforms

It’s possible that your website is already integrated with a blogging platform, in which case that’s probably the easiest way to start your blog. Regardless of whether you’re using that or a popular free platform like WordPress, take some time to familiarize yourself with the analytic tools your platform offers. This is how you’ll learn which days of the week and times of day to post, and how you’ll find out which topics and types of posts are the most popular.

 

Remember that hitting “Publish” isn’t the last step in the process—once those posts are up, you can use your other marketing channels to bring members to your blog. Posting an eye-catching photo related to your new post on Instagram or Facebook, along with a link to your blog and any relevant hashtags, will help draw traffic to your blog, as well.

 

Engage Your Readers

If possible, enable the commenting capability on your blogging platform so readers can ask questions, make suggestions, and swap relevant stories on your posts. (You can even end posts with an invitation to do so: “Do you have other questions you’d like our nutrition expert to answer? Drop them in the comments!”)

 

Whether you have comments enabled on your blog or just on your social channels, checking on those comments regularly (and responding to them) will help you stay engaged with your audience in a positive, collaborative way. It’s also another tool to find out what people like reading—and what they want to see more of.

 

Keep the Cycle Going

Remember: You’re not going to permanently mess up your analytics by posting on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday. If something’s a flop—whether you get fewer views or the comments section isn’t what you expect—make a note of it and keep trying.

 

There are lots of how-to, step-by-step guides out there on starting a blog and developing a content strategy, so additional support is only a Google search away. One place to start is the free guide from HubSpot.

 

As you go through the process of developing your strategy and starting your blog, be aware that some amount of trial-and-error is normal. Your content strategy is a living document, so don’t be afraid to update it as you gather more information about what your audience wants.

 

Stay tuned for a future post in the Member Engagement Series on how to curate content your audience will love!

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  community development  marketing  member communications  tech strategy 

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Tech Tools to Run Your Climbing Gym Virtually During and After COVID-19

Posted By Caleb Fitzgerald, Friday, April 17, 2020
Climbing Tech Strategy

As COVID-19 has shuttered climbing gyms across the globe, gym owners and managers are stuck determining how to run their business virtually. Climbing gyms by nature are an in-person service. Identifying ways to continue engaging your community is crucial to weathering a long-term closure.

 

After identifying strategies and ideas on how to engage your community, you’ll likely need to find software to assist in collecting information remotely, creating content, and organizing information. I’ve compiled a list of recommended software and broken out the benefits of each as it relates to climbing gym operations. When installed correctly, each of these recommendations will continue to be helpful after reopening. I have included a few specific examples where a recommendation might fit into climbing gym operations.

 

Regardless of which tools are used, all technology should complete two goals for your company. First, the customer needs to find the new process easier. Second, the new technology must beat having a human do the task or process.

 

All these software products are recommendations of my own based on how either I have used or seen them used in climbing gym operations. I encourage you to read through each company feature list and determine what will work best for your specific needs. Lastly, I am not affiliated with any of the companies who offer these software products.

 

Collect Information

Climbing gyms, and frankly all businesses, need to collect information almost every time there is an interaction with a customer. Climbing gyms often collect information to schedule a class, edit a membership, survey customers, or sell products.

 

When looking into software to collect information, it is important to use software that integrates well into your existing workflows. For example, when a customer enters their email it is automatically put into your email marketing software.

 

Typeform Google Forms Formstack Comparison

 

Recommendation – Typeform

 

I personally use and highly recommend the software Typeform. It is well-designed and acts more as a conversation than a typical form. I find its simplicity both helpful for customers and for speed in getting a form up and running. Typeform has 100+ integrations to other applications, a crucial feature to trigger downstream operations.

 

Example use case: Use Typeform to register a participant in a climbing competition. Then, based on the participants responses on competition category, Typeform tags them for an automated email campaign. Emails then go out with segmented content. Those in harder divisions receive content about workout classes and retail purchases while those in easier divisions receive content about introduction to movement classes and community groups. These tags can also be used in the future for updates about the climbing competition in case there is a need to contact one division but not the others.

 

Create Content

Transitioning to a virtual business means focusing many more resources on media for social posts and emails. As this is the main interaction your gym will have with your customers during closure, focus on well-designed content. Luckily, drag and drop design software has made this very easy for those of us who are design-challenged.

 

Canva Spark Snappa Comparison

 

Recommendation – Canva

 

Canva encompasses all the best features of a drag and drop design software. Starting out, the tutorial helps show the workflow that you will want to follow. Templates are titled with terms that make sense to search. In fact, the comparison graphics in this article are made using Canva and took less than an hour to make. At $12.95 a month, it is a great investment to improve your brand’s design.

 

Example use case: Build a cross-channel promotion that has unified design elements. Using a Facebook and Instagram post/story template, create your sale content for social media. Then, take those same design elements and use a banner template for your email campaign. Finally, use a postcard or poster size template with the same style and colors and print a handful for your front desk.

 

Stream Content Publicly

Many gyms are offering online, live-streamed fitness classes and yoga. Most gyms have elected to make these free for anyone to participate in. These classes are often streamed using Facebook Live, Instagram Live, or YouTube Live. All these options are free and easy to use. One is not necessarily better than the other.

 

When determining how to livestream, consider the channels that you typically reach your customer base through first. For instance, if you tend to interact with your customers via Facebook – use Facebook Live.

 

There is one exception to following your customers. If you are intending to co-stream with another person, Instagram Live will likely be your only simple option. Co-streams are great for interviews, Q&As with two people, or highlighting an athlete or business. There is an added bonus that in a co-stream, notifications go out to both users’ followers, effectively amplifying the reach of both accounts. There are ways to co-stream on other channels, but they often require more advanced software and occasionally hardware that is out of the scope of this article.

 

Stream Content Privately or Behind a Paywall

If you are interested in offering classes or other live-stream offerings as a paid service, Zoom and Crowdcast will likely be your best options.

 

Zoom starts at $14.99/mo. I use Zoom and find it very helpful for business-related events. It was really designed for business meetings and sales calls. Only now, mostly by necessity, are they beginning to adapt to other groups. Zoom is the best option currently for any livestream where you want your participants to talk with each other. If you are hosting a webinar and have the budget, I find Crowdcast far more user-friendly and chock-full of features that help promote livestreams.

 

Crowdcast starts at $29/mo. Designed as a platform for creatives to livestream music, art, and other related content, Crowdcast has tons of features to run paid livestreams. Users do not have to download any software and can login via any browser, Android, or iOS-based system. Payments can be charged at fixed prices, sliding scales, or via a pay-what-you-can system. If you decide to use Crowdcast for free events it also allows for multi-streaming. This is where you run your livestream through Crowdcast and the software streams it directly to your other channels simultaneously.

 

Regarding youth programming, both software options can lock the event via password.

 

Run Social Media Efficiently

Social media is an integral part of most climbing gyms. Running multiple accounts across platforms can become tedious and difficult. By using a social media scheduling software, you can log into one account, one dashboard, and cross-post easily.

 

Even more, scheduling software provides crucial insights into the best times to post for maximum engagement. Most climbing gyms do not need to overhaul their entire social media plan to reach more people. Instead, they just need to post when their followers are online.

 

Later Sprout Social Buffer Comparison

 

Recommendation – Later

 

Later’s most compelling feature is the linkin.bio option that gives businesses the ability to link posts to outside websites without having to change the actual link in bio. This works by pulling all your posts from your feed then mirroring them through the linkin.bio link. From here, users can click the post they are interested in and they will be redirected to the link that you choose. Other great features include optimum scheduling times, a media library that links to Google Drive and Dropbox, and a dedicated email for staff to upload content for posting.

 

Example use case: Staff can email media directly into Later for the social media manager to post. Each week, the social media manager can spend an hour or two scheduling out the next week. Any sales or announcements can be coordinated to go out on the same day at the optimum time for followers per channel. Information about what content is performing best can guide what you spend your time and energy on creating later. For example, if posts with cool overhanging moves do better than retail store hero shots ask your staff to get more photos of overhanging moves.

 

Summary

Overall, taking the time to determine what software could make you and your staff’s lives easier will pay dividends through the COVID-19 closure and beyond. Simple changes like reducing the number of steps to register for a competition or timing your posts to go out when customers are scrolling through their social media feeds are easy to do with the right tools.

 

Particularly now when we cannot see each other in-person, it is critical to improve your tech strategy and engage customers digitally.

 

Links to all software mentioned in article: Typeform, Google Forms, Formstack, Canva, Spark, Snappa, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Zoom, Crowdcast, Later, Sprout Social, Buffer

 

For more information on how to define and execute your tech strategy, watch the recording of my Community Call! You'll learn how to identify strategies and tech tools that will put your gym in a better position to get back on your feet. (By the way, you'll need to be signed into your member account to watch. Don't have one? Sign up!)

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Caleb Fitzgerald Head ShotAbout the Author

Caleb Fitzgerald is the founder of Black Gallina Consulting. Trained as an engineer, he now uses those engineering concepts to help business leaders navigate complex problems. He spent five years as a climbing guide in the Midwest. Nowadays, you’ll find him on his favorite kinds of climbs in the Pacific Northwest – tall multi-pitch climbs.

 

Tags:  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy 

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Billing Challenges in the Fitness Industry

Posted By Garnet Moore, Thursday, April 16, 2020
Fitness Gyms Billing Challenges

As the majority of gym closures enter into their fifth week and some customers will soon be making the choice to stay committed to your gym for the second month, you should make sure that your options are in line with any local laws and with the expectations of your community. The indoor climbing industry can learn from some of the challenges faced by health clubs and work to avoid any unnecessary regulation.

 

Some states, such as Maryland, have laws enacted that limit fitness center options based on the length of closure. As always there are subtleties to these laws and often laws pertaining to health clubs do not apply to climbing gyms. However, news articles, social media, and public sentiment may affect your member’s thinking and your messaging should be clear, consistent, and constant.

 

A prominent example of the risks involved is the New York Sports Clubs. Their lack of messaging has frustrated their members to the point that a class action lawsuit has been filed against their parent company. They have received massive backlash on social media, and a petition protesting their response has over 1,500 signatures.

 

Another example, from a sibling company to the NYSC, the Boston Sports Clubs in Massachusetts has seen intervention by the state’s Attorney General after receiving hundreds of complaints.

 

By staying informed of the public sentiment and any developments in your area, you can potentially avoid any similar legal challenges.

 

The one-month timeline has surfaced in a number of health clubs as a turning point in policy and communication style. After receiving negative criticism from the public and a lawsuit in California, 24 Hour Fitness has announced that they will automatically suspend billing if they are not able to reopen one month after closing. As many climbing gyms enter the second month of closure now, is the time to keep customers informed.

 

Climbing gyms tend to have more consumer-friendly policies than the fitness industry, where in-person cancellations and notice-periods are not uncommon. But as closures wear on, you need to pay attention to the needs and moods of your customers. It has been heartening to see the number of climbers who are willing to stay committed to their gyms, and hopefully some amount of reopening is not too distant, but small missteps now could potentially harm your ability to re-engage with those customers. At the moment, there is no substitute for constant and considerate communication.

 

It is also important at times like these to be as consistent as possible as an industry, have similar policies to gyms in your state and region, and (again) follow any applicable local regulations. It is, of course, necessary to seek out any revenue you can while having to stay closed, and it is hard to consider these additional challenges. But, by being proactive and staying in touch with your members about your decisions and their options, you can stay ahead of any potential risks.

 

If you do experience any regulatory or legal challenges get in touch with the CWA to let us know what we can do to help. Our volunteers are keeping an eye on regional legal developments and we will add any new laws or potential risks to our records.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  billing  coronavirus  COVID-19  member communications  regulations  risk management 

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Member Engagement Series: Educational Content

Posted By Hilary Harris, Thursday, April 16, 2020
Educational Content

It’s been five weeks since the first climbing gyms closed their doors to their communities. Since that time we have seen gyms around the world - in classic climber style - dive into the problem solving strategy that is at the core of what climbing is about. We have a giant route in front of us that has never been climbed and are not even sure where it goes. This is a true adventure, so we need to dig deep into our toolkits to optimize our chances of making it to the top.

 

As with all challenges, opportunities arise for those that are resourceful and innovative. Consider this time as an opportunity to strengthen your relationships with your customers by engaging them in new and meaningful ways.

 

Last week I wrote about how to keep your climbing gym community engaged during closure due to COVID-19. Let's take a closer look at creating educational content.

 

Content Curation

Most climbing gyms offer a variety of programs and classes. They range from kids programs and teams to yoga and fitness classes to technical clinics.

 

In thinking about creating online content, consider the enormous amount of resources available that you can share. Rather than always attempting to reinvent the wheel, think about how you could instead curate content - using your gym platform as a means to share other people’s content.

 

It may seem counterintuitive that this would increase interest in your gym. Wouldn’t that just direct people away from my channels? The answer is no! Sharing content shows that you are plugged into the industry and are providing additional value to your members.

 

If you do this enough then people will know that your gym provides them with valuable information, and that’s what this game is all about: creating value.

 

Original Content

The advantage of producing original content is that it continues to connect people with your staff and your local community. If the content is done professionally with the right equipment (i.e. lighting, microphone, staging, etc.) then it could bring long term value to your gym in ways that curating content cannot.

 

The downside of it is that if whoever is recording the content does not have the equipment to make a video repurposable, their time may be better utilized by researching content they can add their own comments to and then reshare.

 

Every gym is different and has different resources, so I recommend that you assess your situation carefully before paying people to produce content. Make sure that your investment brings you value both in the short and the long run. It looks like it is going to be a while until things return to business as usual.

 

Live vs. Recorded

There are a variety of platforms available to share video content. Some are better suited for live streaming classes while others are best for uploading recorded content.

 

User experience is considerably different when participating in a live stream vs. a recorded video. Live stream gives people a sense of belonging together more so than watching a recorded video. It also allows for two-way communication.

 

One downside is that if someone cannot join, they miss the class - although it is possible to record the class and upload it as a video later.

 

Pre-recordings allow for editing and producing a more professional product that can bring you enhanced long-term value.

 

Below are some additional resources to look at when considering what platforms to use for what.

Kids Programs & Teams

Programming for youth offers a lot of opportunities, but I don’t recommend attempting to keep kids engaged for multiple hours, multiple days per week online. It is probably a good idea to reduce the online time during practice and assign more homework that can be done on their own time in between official meeting time.

 

Use Zoom or Google Hangouts to run an online practice focused on body weight conditioning and presenting scholastic information such as analyzing videos. Both platforms allow for screen sharing and seeing multiple people at once.

 

Be sure to save time at the end of practice for the kids to just hang out together online. The social time is incredibly valuable for them.

 

Yoga

There are literally thousands of online yoga classes and apps available for people to choose from, so you may be thinking that there is no point in providing these through your gym. It may be a good idea to recommend some of these if you do not offer yoga, but if you do then your instructors likely have a following and this is a great time for them to build it.

 

I have heard stories of some instructors bringing in hundreds of folx into an online class and increasing their following across state lines. Not only does this bring value to your local gym, it also helps your instructors increase their supporters.

 

I recommend using Zoom or Google Hangouts to run your classes if you want to see your participants and be able to cue off of them. If not, Facebook Live is also a good option.

 

Fitness & Training Tips

Fitness is similar to yoga in that there are thousands of videos available. Again, if you have instructors at your gym that can create original content from home, great! Even if they can utilize the content curation strategy and post it through your social channels with a short commentary from a familiar face, your members will be grateful.

 

If they do create original content, have them upload a video and edit it if needed. It can then be uploaded to either IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo to name a few.

 

Technical Classes

This is a perfect opportunity to share your technical expertise with your community. Use your platform (IGTV, YouTube, or Vimeo) to share valuable tech videos or have your instructors record videos from home.

 

While technical skill sets may be hard to teach without the gym as a resource, there are many basic things you could teach and/or reshare. Some examples include:

  • Knot tying
  • Terminology
  • Rope handling and coiling
  • Traditional gear - types, ways to use it
  • Gear reviews (shoes, harnesses, belay devices, etc.)

Stay tuned for more in-depth articles on member engagement strategies in the upcoming weeks!

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer service  marketing  member communications  programming  tech strategy  youth team 

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8 Ways to Keep Your Climbing Gym Community Engaged During COVID-19

Posted By Hilary Harris, Friday, April 3, 2020
Member Engagement Strategies

What is value and how do we maximize it? In the world of climbing gyms, value is created fundamentally by building a community that continues to evolve over time. It is about creating your own company culture and vibe - creating a place that people want to come back to time and time again.

 

So what happens when a global pandemic forces your community to scatter literally overnight? Does the community vanish into thin air?

 

Predominately a bricks and mortar business, climbing gyms are scrambling to figure out how they can keep their membership engaged and hopefully, as a result, continue a stream of membership revenue (albeit not as much as before) to get them through this period of closure.

 

In fact, keeping your community engaged during this time could be the difference between riding this crisis out and being forced to close your doors forever. The challenge in front us: How do we keep our communities engaged, provide valuable content, and create not just a short-term fix, but long-term value for our organizations?

 

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to engage folx during this time. Consider it a chance to think outside of the box.

 

After spending a lot of time talking to gym owners, managers, and marketers, I’ve developed a brief overview of eight ways to keep your community engaged while stuck at home. Over the coming weeks we’ll add in-depth articles on the advantages, implementation considerations, and challenges in each of these categories.

 

1. Educational Content

Most gyms offer an array of educational programs for kids and adults. While it is virtually impossible to practice climbing physically without a climbing wall, there are plenty of online activities that can help you expand your curriculum. Opportunities include:

  • Yoga and fitness classes
  • Kids programs (e.g. Abbreviated online team practices)
  • Adult programs (e.g. Gym-to-Crag classes)

Suggested Platforms for Streaming Content: IGTV, Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo

 

Read More →

 

2. Selling Product

Online retail is not a new concept. In fact, according to the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, when asked where people shop for climbing gear and clothing, respondents most frequently answered online. While setting up a full-blown online retail presence may be too large of a task to take on, there are low hanging fruit options available.

3. Blog

Blogs are an excellent way to drive community involvement and traffic to your website if the content is high quality and relevant. If you don’t have a blog on your website, now is a great time to start one. Here’s a guide from HubSpot to get you started.

Read More →

 

4. Online Events

People love going to events, and gyms provide the perfect venue for bringing groups of people together. It may seem unlikely that an online event would be received as well as your in-person events, but Zoom Happy Hours with friends and family have taken on a new meaning. Here are some suggestions of how you can modify this concept for your gym community to get together socially while keeping physical distance.

  • Fireside chats/meetups/happy hours - including members as experts
  • DJ silent discos
  • Auctions

5. Competitions

OK. So we can’t have traditional climbing competitions at our facilities right now, but there are plenty of opportunities to tap into people’s competitive and creative instincts. In fact, when asked about their motivations to climb in the 2019 Indoor Climber Survey, “having fun” was ranked the highest, followed by improving or maintaining physical and mental health. Online competitions can serve both of these needs and can act as a catalyst to increase community involvement.

  • Post photos and tag your gym
  • Exercise contests (e.g. Pull-ups, push-ups, daily challenge, etc.)
  • Trivia

6. Community Partnerships

We are all in this together and climbing gyms have the advantage of being as much community centers as fitness centers. Surely there are other businesses in your area that have been affected by COVID-19, so why not come up with creative ways to mobilize your community channels to support them?

  • Meal of the day - support local restaurants
  • Collaborate with local CSA’s/farmers
  • Partner with local businesses on promotions

7. Inspirational Content

There are an infinite number of possibilities here. Lots of brands, organizations, and individuals are creating awesome content, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Think of a theme you want to focus on, do some research, and share the content that resonates with you. You can even put a call out to your social following to ask what content is keeping them psyched while they’re at home. Remember, the idea is to keep people engaged, and sharing this type of content helps with that.

 

NOTE: If you decide to quote someone from an article or another blog, make sure you credit them. If you are unsure about it, reach out to them and let them know that you would like to share it. Chances are they will be happy to have their work shared.

  • Films
  • Photos
  • Podcasts
  • Interviews
  • Articles

8. Survey

Tried all of the above but still need more ideas? Now is a great time to hear from your members about what they would like. Surveys send a positive message that you genuinely care about them and give them the opportunity to engage in a more meaningful way. Who knows? You may get a higher response rate than normal because people are spending more time online.

 

What some tips on writing good survey questions? SurveyMonkey has an excellent article on that!

 

More to Come!

There’s a lot to dig into in each of these categories, so keep an eye out for follow-up articles over the next several weeks. In the meantime, check out our Community Call on member engagement strategies from Tuesday, April 7. We had an awesome panel discussion with gyms who have quickly implemented creative strategies to keep their members engaged.

 

WATCH WEBINAR

 

Hilary HarrisAbout the Author

Hilary Harris is the Founder of EVO Rock + Fitness. A licensed architect, retired professional climber and coach, and experienced gym owner, Hilary has been involved with all stages of business planning, design, construction, operations and expansion of climbing gyms in various markets across the US. Hilary has overseen strategic brand and business development in varying capacities for EVO since 2010. She also holds a Leading in Finance Certificate from Harvard Business School.

 

Tags:  branding  climbing culture  community development  company culture  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer experience  customer satisfaction  customer service  marketing  member acquisition  member communications  member retention  programming 

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Membership Communications During Gym Closures

Posted By Laura Allured, Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Updated: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Closure Messaging

As climbing gyms across the country and the world shut their doors to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, questions have emerged about how to communicate with members and customers. Here are a few tips and considerations…

 

Be Transparent

Develop a plan for your closure and clearly communicate it to your members. Things are changing rapidly, but you can avoid confusion by letting them know why you’re closing, how you made the decision, and how you’ll continue to evaluate the situation. Your plans will likely have to change as this situation unfolds, but people like to know that you have their best interests at heart.

 

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Everyone’s financial situation is different, but many of your members will be happy to have an opportunity to support you. They want you to continue to exist after this crisis is over and many of them will be willing to put their money where their mouth is.

 

Opt-In vs. Opt-Out

The opt-in vs. out-out debate is tricky. Do you put your revenue on the line by asking members to opt-in if they’d like to continue their membership during the closure, or do you put your gym first and opt members into paying by default?

 

“One thing I considered in making our decision is our membership demographic as a whole and how our decision plays into a broader picture of income inequality. For example, by utilizing opt-out are we shifting the burden to those who most need the money? Those who may be more stressed during this time and aren't paying attention to Facebook or the hundreds of emails we're all getting everyday about the virus,” explains Dana Caracciolo, General Manager of Doylestown Rock Gym & Adventure Center.

 

Though income inequality is an important consideration, a downside to the opt-in approach is that you're relying on your member's bandwidth to respond to your request. This will inevitably have a negative impact on the proportion of members who keep their membership in place.

 

One way to address these competing priorities is to use your staff’s time - those that you’re able to keep on payroll - to call every member and ask for their support directly. You’ll get the opportunity to connect with your membership in a new way, as well as the peace of mind knowing that the members who are still contributing are in a financial position to do so.

 

Stay Positive

This may be a tall order in such an uncertain time, but try to keep a positive tone in all of your communications right now. Use an active voice instead of a passive voice, avoid overly negative phraseology, and don’t dwell on the circumstances for your closure.

 

“Nobody needs to hear the world is falling right now,” says Kristin Horowitz of Ascent Ventures/The Pad Climbing. “Give them a reason to believe and they’ll keep supporting you because you’re giving them that.”

 

Be Authentic

“Communications need to match/mirror the relationship the owner actually has with their members, and the owner themselves,” advises Wes Shih of Sender One. Authenticity is key with all communications, so keep that in mind to avoid a scenario where your messaging comes across as disingenuous and backfires.

 

Communication Examples

Here are just a few examples of membership communications put out by climbing gyms from across the country:

5.Life Closure Messaging Example
Doylestown Rock Gym Closure Messaging Example
Sender One Closure Messaging Example
The Pad Closure Messaging Example

 

Laura Allured Head ShotAbout the Author

Laura Allured is the Marketing & Communications Manager at the Climbing Wall Association. Laura is the editor of the CWA's blog, Thrive, and also manages the CWA’s Industry Research Program, including the annual indoor climbing industry study. Originally from the Chicagoland area, she got her start climbing in 2012 at Vertical Endeavors and has been hooked ever since.

 

Tags:  branding  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer service  marketing  member communications  member retention 

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