Kate Milewska, Group Central Operations and Customer Service Manager at Fitness First Middle East – one of the largest privately owned health club groups and a part of the Landmark Group, speaks to CustomerService.ae about their winning approach to building strong customer relationships and the crucial role their staff plays in ensuring customer contentment.
Q: How do you differentiate your brand from other leading gyms and fitness clubs in the region?
Kate: The biggest difference is that we are no longer just competing in the fitness industry, we are competing in the much bigger customer experience field. Customer expectations are ever growing and ever changing, what keeps us ahead of the game are our key USPs: people, innovation and technology. Firstly, our team. Highly educated, passionate about the brand and best qualified in the region. They get involved in the fitness movement inside and outside of our clubs being strong ambassadors for us and inspiring others. Innovation is driven by being flexible, a constant injection of new ideas, engaging programming, creative designs and focusing on the needs of the customer. Technology is a game changer in our strategy, it helps us connect with our customer and plays an integral role in providing speed and convenience to our audience. It also provides us with invaluable data that drives initiatives and better customer understanding.
Q: What new training and fitness methodologies have you recently incorporated to provide customers with a better fitness regime?
Kate: It’s important to keep it diverse, innovative and results orientated. We have introduced a bespoke Learning Management System for Continuing Professional Development for all our Personal Trainers to access education free of charge. We understand the correlation between highly educated trainers and customer retention hence the investment from our side. Apart from executing internationally recognized Group Exercise programs, we proudly release our in-house programming to add diversity. We run 6D functional gym floor classes across our clubs and opened a new athletic concept club in Mudon, Dubai.
Last year, we also introduced Masters Swim adding another angle to our already successful Aquatics portfolio. In all the above, MYZONE, a heart rate tool with a system that rewards effort, is playing a key role in our members training and motivation and has proved to be a great tool for our customer engagement, even after they leave. For sure, whatever your goal, there is a wide variety of training options in our clubs to best suit your needs.
Q: What are the various membership programs customers can enroll in?
Kate: The key to our success is understanding the market needs and our target audience then applying flexibility with the best in the market offer “join one, join them all”, inclusive of over 62 clubs in the region and growing. We offer 2 Flexible membership options for our members: Monthly Flexi, which allows for a continuous membership & One Time Flexi which allows you to choose multiples of one month to suit our customer’s needs, incorporating options for guests and short-term visitors also. Most importantly however, our proposition is the main USP attracting customers to our brand, which includes the best in class Personal Training, programming and Group Exercise classes.
Q: Having a strong global presence, what are the challenges you face in offering consistent customer support around the globe?
Kate: Every day is an opportunity for us to build stronger relationships with our members, therefore, we need to ensure we listen and make smart decisions around how we build loyalty and win with our customers. As we constantly expand, it’s important that basic SOPs are in place for everyone to start from the same page and to empower our team to make immediate decisions. We have additionally developed a very advanced and flexible approach in our processes to ensure our team is clear not only on how to follow those but also how to apply the individualization in everything we do. It’s easy to build up large volumes of data, taking time to interpret it and act on what you know is key.
Q: Since you offer a special program for kids, do you face any unique challenges in that direction?
Kate: Kids are bringing another dimension to our brand. They are excited, high energy, engaged and very interested in learning. We keep it fun, diverse and educational. It’s also important to stay close to the parent’s feedback and we are proud to be offering multiple programs for various ages such as Zumba, Xfit and Bootcamps. It’s key that as the leading fitness brand in the region, we empower the young generation and show them how fitness links to their future life successes. We have also added a very exciting proposition this year offering family triathlon events which proved to be a real hit engaging the young athletes in indoor as well as outdoor activities giving them a great feel of comradery and competition.
Q: How much of flexibility is given to your employees in terms of instantaneous decision making to satisfy a disgruntled customer?
Kate: It’s important that our customers receive immediate support and resolutions hence we created an environment where our team’s decision making reflects that. We have various structures of support for our staff and customers and we understand that the speed of action counts the most. Taking on approach of empowering our Club Managers to make decisions on customers’ needs and queries has been a big win for everyone. Playing a big part in this myself, I am confident to say we not only take the individual approach to all queries but also have the most flexible approach.
Q: What sort of training programs do you have in place for your employees, and how much of these trainings are focused on offering premium customer service?
Kate:We have created a pathway of development opportunities that enables our staff to constantly upskill and we continue to grow the best talent in the region. The fact that we launched our own Training Academy speaks volumes. The Fitness First Education Academy develops all Fitness staff through Continual Professional Development courses, workshops and seminars that are internationally recognized. All our teams (not only fitness) are going through Fitness Level 1 certification giving our customer service teams additional member support tools. Our NPS score keeps improving reflecting in the best member engagement we’ve had to date.We have a designated L&D department working closely with our Heads of Operations focusing on key trainings that will give us best wins with our members. Middle East is really pushing the expectations boundaries with focus on VVIP + approach which reflects in many aspects of our business. We run inspiring induction programs, on-the job training, have world class e-learning platform and a comprehensive training planner for all departments. In addition, we conduct many in-club individual and team training as we understand the importance of progression and development.
Q: Personal trainers are an essential element of customer experience at any fitness arena. Apart from being good at fitness training, are they trained on communication and people skills?
Kate: Absolutely. Being a successful Personal Trainer requires diverse set of skills therefore, there are options for our trainers as well as the Managers to take advantage of on-going development. Customer Service and Fitness departments work very closely to execute our bespoke Member Journey that focuses on developing loyalty and driving customer retention. Our Fitness Managers and General Managers play a crucial role here to support, teach and guide the trainers in the right direction and focus on member experience. We also conduct surveys for members to see where we can add more support and development for best results. We coach our trainers in communication skills during in-club training and through various platforms which we provide.
Q: How customer-centric do you believe Fitness First is and how important is that for your brand image?
Kate: Customers are crucial to our success and the customer experience is already the new competitive battleground therefore, in everything we do, customer plays the centric role of our strategic decisions. Our customers’ loyalty is mainly derived from how they feel about their experience with us taking multiple factors into consideration. Predicting your customers’ needs can be tricky so it’s how you listen and adapt and how you use available data for best outcome. Creating a surprise and excitement factor is important as well as being clear and consistent in how you engage with your customers. With so many available ways and platforms, this really differentiates you from everyone else. We are very proud of our members and how they connect with us by participating in our programs, engaging with us on social media and taking part in our brand campaign videos and testimonials. They continue to push themselves for results whilst being amazing ambassadors for our brand and we are loving being part of their journey through the many success stories we share!
Q: What platforms do you offer your customers to get in touch with your staff? Which of those have proven to be most efficient or liked by customers?
Kate: Our team’s priority is to act as the point of contact for any customer queries and this has been the best approach since it is immediate and personal. With that in mind, we ensure our staff training is designed in the same way and promotes the confidence and constant learning for fast resolutions. You can reach us via multiple channels such as 800Fitness support line, email, social media and live chat communication managed by our two designated Contact Centers, one in Dubai and one in KSA. We also operate multiple channels for member feedback used as invaluable information for our future strategies and support.
Q: What plans do you have to enhance customer experience this year?
Kate: Holding an active Fitness First MENA membership card you get so much more than just a membership, it’s more of a lifestyle package you are signing up for and we want to continue growing that experience to the next level. We annually sponsor The Spartan events regionally and had huge success partnering up with local event organizers for Tri First and Palm Run events whilst running our own Tri Club to promote such disciplines. Apart from constantly energizing our customers with best in class programing, we have digitalized key components of member journey introducing MyFitnessFirst booking app and have exciting plans for taking MYZONE engagement to the next level. By constantly enhancing our current Privilege Program across all territories we provide additional benefits within and outside of our facilities choosing ‘A type’ player businesses to collaborate with. We have launched a very popular VIP and VVIP loyalty program and one of our biggest successes is adding new clubs to the portfolio including Ladies Only Clubs in Saudi Arabia. Recently, we launched the flexible “join one, join them all” membership proposition that is incomparable with any lifestyle membership in the region. We are very excited to continue leading the industry through innovation, technology and people!
About Kate Milewska
Kate Milewska is the Head of Central Operations and Customer Service for Fitness First Middle East, with over 10 years’ experience in the industry. Her current portfolio also covers maximizing Business Development revenue, strategic Business Planning, people and process Management. Solutions driven and hugely passionate about The Experience, she constantly seeks ways to join customers on their journeys.