4 Keys to an Unforgettable Experience


The biggest challenge fitness professionals face is how do you stand out in an industry where there is no shortage of challenging workouts and ways to get in shape. The answer is to deliver an unforgettable experience that clients won’t get with anyone else, and one that will keep them coming back long after their initial sign-up.

This is what many of the current popular franchises are doing right. Despite some of them having a lack of seasoned fitness professionals or structured training methods, they are delivering big on creating memorable experiences inside their walls. Clients are leaving feeling like they not only got a great workout, but are a part of something special that they want to continue to come back to and tell their friends about.

The following 4 Keys are a great way for gym owners and personal trainers to align their environment, training style, and processes to create a cohesive experience that clients are excited about. And, to better understand what goes into crafting your own unique experience and where there’s room to stand out amongst the competition.

(1) Customize the Experience

Customizing the experience at every level takes a deep understanding of people. From a macro perspective this means truly spending time identifying your avatar(s) and getting into their psychology. Think of your avatar as a character that you have created to represent your ideal customer. This means going beyond basic demographics and truly getting in their head.

What are they scared of? What are their biggest hopes and dreams? Where does working out fit into their hierarchy of priorities in life?

Only then can you begin to craft the kind of experience that speaks to them. Customizing the experience goes deeper than just what exercises they like and means having an understanding of how the program structure and coaching language are going to impact their output and overall feelings towards training.

More traditional clients might work the hardest and look forward to training sessions that are structured with reps and sets and include exercises like bench presses and squats (Figure 1) Adventurous clients may be the most excited about challenging themselves with tools like tires, kettle bells, and sledge hammers. Physiologically we can achieve great results for both but the structure of our programs and way in which they are delivered may seem drastically different.

Figure 1. Client Preferred Training Styles (PTA Global)

The foundation of this is built off of understanding the client types you’d like to serve most and knowing where that fits into your personal coaching style. Fitness pros who have one way of training and speaking to every client may fall short on their ability to customize the experience. This trainer centered focus takes a my way or the highway approach and places the focus on what the trainer wants (Figure 2). This may drive initial results but is far less likely to promote longevity with every client.

A client centered approach takes into account personality style and motivational hot buttons. This doesn’t mean shape-shifting your training philosophies for every person that walks through the door but understanding how programming variables (like doing reps versus time) and training explanations can create drastically different experiences for clients.

Some clients may love knowing exactly what muscles are firing and others just need for you to tell them where to put their hands. Neither one is right or wrong but each approach will speak more to certain people.

Figure 2. Trainer – Client Continuum

(2) Connection

Humans need to connect. Delivering memorable experiences means that clients leave feeling like they are a part of something special. This is the key that leads five star reviews and bragging on social media.

Few clients stay long term with a trainer only because they have great workouts. They love and value the workouts, but they stay because of the personal connection. Over-delivering for these clients means genuine and constant communication showing interest in who they are as people. This means sending them more than just training reminders and messages about being out of sessions.

Others crave to be a part of something larger. These are the clients you want to get involved in group training and special events. Facilitate interaction amongst these type of connectors in workouts with partner challenges and trade-offs that get them working out with others. This sense of comradery and group sacrifice speaks not only to former athletes craving a team environment but also those who may not have strong social connections outside of family and work. Feeling like they are a part of a special group will lead to higher output and superior accountability, as it becomes about more than just them.

Finally, for some clients they want to be a part of something that has a bigger purpose. As a consumer in any industry we like to feel good about the companies we do business with and having that purpose in mind when coming to work out every week can drastically enhance the experience and feelings about the business.

Getting involved in charities can be a part of creating this but the businesses that deliver here the most have it built into the fabric of who they are. It has to be genuine for people to really connect with it, so find something you truly believe in and get behind it.

In the end personal trainers and facilities can serve as a reflection of who clients are and how they want to identify themselves. Becoming a part of someone’s self-image is powerful in retaining great clients but relies upon creating layers of connection for them within your business.

(3) Context

Context in the fitness environment combines all of the circumstances that form the setting for an event (workout or training experience) as well as the terms in which to understand it. This is where the kind of environment created can have an enormous impact on the client experience. Take SoulCycle for example who purposefully packs bikes in close together and rides by candlelight.

This all feeds in to their focus on mind-body breakthroughs that give riders context to their life beyond the physical spin class they are taking. For those who love SoulCycle the context of the training session catapults the experience. Reverse engineering this level of experience for clients doesn’t mean you have to use candle-light and club hits, but it does highlight the importance of environmental cues in creating context.

In facility design this could mean unique paint, flooring, and lighting in different areas of the facility to delineate the mindset clients should approach each area with. Perhaps strength, cardio, and sports performance training all have their own regions and clients learn to focus more intently in each space as they focus on the goals of each.

Having a strategic plan of how people move throughout a space during any given workout can enhance or detract from the experience and impact what they focus on throughout. Controlling the flow like this, and even changing it up can make the workout feel drastically different even if all other variables were kept the same. Facility and training session layouts have the ability to combine training physiology with the right mental state to get the most output and best experience possible.

On a smaller scale, constant contextual connection to client goals can also consistently create a more impactful experience. Lunges are just lunges until you create the mental connection to a client’s hiking trip they want to finish without resting in three months. It’s a simple tactic that we often forget, but we will get far greater output from clients if we can make what they are doing about more than just an exercise.

(4) Create Surprise

On a service level this means truly going the extra mile and delivering something unexpected to clients. On a grandiose scale this can be done in instances of true surprise, but also has an element of simple consistency to it.

One of the least sexy, but effective strategies is maniacal follow-up. If you say you’ll email someone the schedule, then you better make sure it gets sent out. If you collect leads at an event, then follow-up the very next day. Someone comes to visit your facility and doesn’t signup that day? Keep rotating between phone calls, emails, and texts for the next three months and you’d be surprised by how many will come back! Many businesses don’t follow-up within 24 hours and rarely do again after that initial attempt.

People need follow-up and will appreciate you helping them take action. They want it.

Create some simple systems to do so consistently and you’ll already be ahead of the game. In the digital age another simple surprise touch point is hand written notes. This could be thank you cards for potential new clients who inquired or birthday cards for regulars. Even just never ending quality communication and education that arrives in their inbox from you every week. It all adds up and many fail to stay on top of it.

Over deliver on the small things. Not just follow-up and handwritten notes, but with cleanliness, timeliness, and professional communication. Clients are pleasantly surprised when they encounter fitness businesses and personal trainers that live up to these consistently, because they don’t experience it elsewhere.

From a coaching perspective creating surprise and creating unforgettable experiences with clients comes from understanding our role. Our role as coaches is to help clients push the lines of (im)possibility and help them achieve more than they thought they were capable of.

This means edging the line without throwing them over the cliff. This will look different for every client, but think about how a female client who never thought she could do it feels after getting her first pull-up? Or an older client one day popping up off of a box squat without any pain. Those are the kinds of experiences that create clients for life and they happen from us helping clients get out of their own way and find success in their programs.

Tying it Together

Creating life changing experiences takes time and doesn’t often happen overnight. Sometimes it can be one mind-blowing experience but more often than not it’s a series of great experiences delivered over a period of time that leads clients to settle on a fitness home and become raving fans.

It stems from a commitment to understanding people and valuing the cohesive potential that lives between human psychology and physiology. The best experiences make great use of both and do so in unique way that is tied into the values and vision of the business.

Those who figure out how to have fun with it and focus on the 4 keys above consistently will be the winners in the end and have clients lining up to do business with them for a long time to come.


Joe is Co-founder of the Axiom Fitness Academy where he works closely with new fitness professionals to go from getting certified to finding success in a competitive fitness market. You can connect with him more at www.JoeDrake.com (or) joe@axiomfitnessacademy.com

Want to know more about our 8 Week Hands-On Course that will help you go from Certified to delivering client results? Click here for info or to reserve one of the last 5 spots for our upcoming January course!

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