During the 1980s and 1990s, the fitness industry sold gym memberships, personal training services, and some miscellaneous items such as drinks and apparel. During this time digital commerce did not exist and consumers did not have smartphones – with their experiences and expectations much aligned with most other industries. In days past you had to call people on the phone or go to their physical locations to buy almost anything. As exercise professionals our job involved keeping the place clean, functioning, and give great customer service. Our members had to travel to the gym, when we were open, look for an available exercise machine, and then travel to work or home afterwards.
In the 2010s, customer expectations have significantly diverged from the 1990s. Banks now allow customers to deposit their checks via an app, look up their balances at any time, apply for loans on their mobile devices twenty-four hours a day, and even apply for a mortgage entirely online. Businesses that do not adapt will suffer – think Blockbuster versus Netflix (in April 2017 there were just 10 Blockbuster stores across the US down from a high of 9,000+ in 2004). How does this relate to the fitness industry? Frictionless experiences are about three things: 1) what customers want; 2) when they want it; and 3) how they want it. This trend will have a significant impact on and change the fitness industry.
In order to understand what our customers’ value, love, desire and how they behave we need to initiate a conversation about online, offline, and the transcendent experience between the two. Once we do, we can find opportunities to design new, better, unified experiences online and in the real world.
What is a Frictionless Customer Experience?
A frictionless customer experience (FCX) is:
- A mindset and approach to business that continuously pursues the best combination of a product or service to a customer at the right moment and in the right channel.
by three concepts:
- The product or service;
- The moment; and
- The channel.
An understanding of the implications and opportunities FX creates can be found in this article on the magic that thoughtful FCX has created at Disney.
When defining the boundaries of FCX it is important to note:
- A product or service is not only your gym/training area, it can be content of any kind – an important distinction as anyone can experience (digital) fitness in many ways. Further, certain products/services have more appeal for some members than others. What does this mean in practice? For an example look at what Equinox is doing with PlatformX to deliver workouts and fitness coaching for travellers without having to go into their gyms. Convenient hyper-personalised offerings create more value.
- The moment has to do with when the member wants or needs what they want. Chatbots are delivering automated support and coaching as an example. Understanding where a member is in their lifecycle and use patterns informing a brand that relies on data help anticipate moments as opportunities to add value. The moment is about context.
- Members are experiencing and engaging with the world on many channels: Youtube; your App; in your club; via Instagram; via Google; and so on. Co-ordinating those channels in a way to be more valuable in your engagement with the member enhances their experience. It is important for businesses to offer an omni-channel experience.
In practical terms, FCX is the artful integration of these concepts that will separate certain fitness brands from the rest by doing things for their customers others cannot by creating a frictionless user experience. Consequently, becoming a FCX business will provide a strategic and competitive advantage – but it may not be easy to achieve, it could be quite difficult.
‘Walking in the shoes’ of the customer, for example, can be quite difficult for some businesses. Experiencing things from the eyes of your first-time buyers and repeat members requires a truly objective view. You must literally inspect every pixel, word and emotion being expressed in every touch point.
Developing choreographed experiences requires tweaking messages and processes, both digitally and physically, even subtly. Different members are seeking different things and, therefore, messaging should be personalised. Yet most fitness businesses do not tweak their messaging for clearly distinct scenarios, given the moment, member, or the channel, even though it has been proven to make a big difference on purchase intent.
Ultimately, members want simplicity when interacting with a fitness brand. Frictionless designs are synonymous with simplicity because it makes things easier. When we think about frictionless experience, we usually imagine what we can use without learning anything. Interactions are intuitive, and every operation should be (and feel) smooth and natural.
Crafting a frictionless experience requires deeply understanding how a user interacts with a user interface. To reduce UX Friction designers need to start with the user or member journey. They must decide when friction can be helpful, where harmful, and design the product accordingly.
The bottom line is that these efforts are not just about making the experience so much better. FCX is really about the sustainability of a fitness business. Increasing conversion rate of new members, extending life-time value, and enhancing revenue per member by selling additional products and services are all the intended outcomes of these disciplines when well applied. When consumers are getting their specific needs met in new ways they are happy to stick around and spend more. FCX is about obtaining specific business outcomes.
FCX requires synergy and integration with three other business areas:
- Data (an important tool in being able to execute FCX).
- Software platforms (e.g. Fisikal).
- Deep understanding of business economics.
FCX requires thoughtful co-ordination of technology platforms, business models, automation, employee training, among a list of other dynamics but the effort will be worth it.