What makes good clubs good and bad clubs bad?

What makes good clubs good and bad clubs bad?

5 min read

The Retention People (TRP) and Leisure-Net recently released the results of the industry’s largest ever customer loyalty survey, which used the powerful Net Promoter Score® (NPS) and generated more than 40,000 responses across hundreds of clubs.

These results focused on the formation of a benchmark for the industry, detailing performances of the participating clubs by sector and region and highlighting the best and worst performers within these groups. In this latest research study, TRP were keen to take this a stage further, and to look at the differences in the feedback provided by members of each of the participating clubs, in order to identify any trends between what makes the best clubs perform so well, and the worst clubs so badly.

As a reminder for those new to NPS, a company’s Net Promoter Score is obtained by asking customers a single question on a 0 to 10 rating scale: “How likely is it that you would recommend our company to a friend or colleague?” Based on their responses, customers can be categorised into one of three groups: Promoters (9-10 rating), Passives (7-8 rating), and Detractors (0-6 rating). The percentage of Detractors is subtracted from the percentage of Promoters to obtain a Net Promoter Score.

The great thing about NPS for the customer is that it is so simple to feedback; just one simple question and a free form ‘why’ box. This also provides the operator with all they need; i) a powerful metric to benchmark themselves against and ii) the comments from the customers explaining their scores, providing the club with meaningful information to deal effectively with complaints and to acknowledge and build on strengths. It is a powerful way to survey and also prevents customer feedback from the bias of having to tick boxes of predetermined categories (e.g. service, cleanliness etc), as they are simply able to write what is really concerning or exciting them. The challenge for us as researchers is that this valuable feedback is not categorised and so finding trends across the hundreds of participating sites is a daunting task. At TRP we are dedicated to learning more about how to improve service in this industry, and so took on the challenge to identify any common trends in the feedback given to top NPS scoring clubs compared to the bottom NPS scoring clubs in our 2012 survey.

All in all our researchers went through 1000s of responses, tagging them with a number of keywords which enabled our team to categorise the feedback from the clubs. Seeing the value of this exercise has led to a new feature development which will be released in the next version of our NPS reporting software, allowing comments to be categorised easily by clubs. Once all of the explanatory comments were manually categorised, we produced a series of Word Clouds, (see below for more information on word clouds), to enable us to generate a visual representation of the feedback for each group of respondents that we were studying, and to compare those to other groups of feedback. The clouds give greater prominence to tags or categories that appear more frequently, therefore highlighting the issues that were of greatest importance to your members. We hope you’ll agree that this led to some fascinating results!

What did TRP’s researchers find?

TRP first identified the groups of top scoring clubs and bottom scoring clubs from our 2012 UK NPS Research Study. The top scoring clubs ranged in terms of NPS scores from 67 to 76, (fantastic scores putting them on a par with world leading companies such as Apple and Amazon), whilst the bottom scoring clubs managed a range of just -18 to -67 (the worst score ever seen in our industry!)

We wanted to find out if the top NPS clubs have things in common that made their business so successful in generating loyal members, and equally we wanted to see if the bottom scoring clubs had common complaints that resulted in their low scores. To do this our researchers pooled all of the ‘Promoter’ comments from both sets of clubs into one group, and all of the ‘Detractor’ comments in another group, and ‘tagged’ or categorised the feedback. We then used word clouds to highlight some of the key findings, so will begin with a brief introduction on using word clouds.

How to use word clouds

Word clouds analyse the frequency of a particular word or category within a series of text, and build an image of the words depending on how often they appear. When grouping a number of different clubs together, if you find that all the words/categories are roughly the same size then it means there is not really running theme across them all i.e. no word or category is standing out or being cited by members more than any other. However, if when generated in a word cloud a particular word or category is displayed as much bigger than others, then it highlights that across all of the clubs this factor was common and influential in determining the score. If when separating out the group further, the word becomes even bigger in one group and smaller in the other, then it means that the first group was dominating and this factor is an even greater influence for this group.

So were there any trends across promoters of the top performing clubs?

Figure 1. Top Performing clubs, Promoters




Yes! Figure 1 considers the categorised feedback from the promoters at the top performing clubs. You can easily see that the most dominant ‘tag’ or the most frequent positive comment used by members to explain their high score was relating to staff. This was by quite a margin, with almost 1 in 4 of the comments from the top scoring NPS clubs relating to ‘fantastic staff’, ‘great service’, ‘friendly team’ etc. What is even more interesting about this is that some of the top performing NPS clubs were ‘low cost’ operators, with very lean staffing models. Yet despite this, the positive feedback received by these facilities was also heavily influenced by positive experiences with the staff. ‘Facilities’ was the second most common reason for members giving a promoter score of 9 or 10, with around 1 in 7 members citing this, followed by equipment, value for money, classes and convenience.

Are there any common themes within the promoters of the bottom scoring clubs?

Again, yes! The first thing to bear in mind when considering this group of clubs, is that they were scoring well into the minus figures in terms of their overall NPS score and so the total number of promoters is much smaller (as they didn’t receive too many scores of 9 or 10!). However each club still had their ‘raving fans’, and there were clearly identifiable common themes as to what these fans liked about this group of poorly rated clubs. See the word cloud in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2. Bottom performing clubs, Promoters




As we can clearly see from the above, the most commonly cited reason for scoring a 9 or 10 from members of these clubs was their facilities, with almost 1 in 4 people giving this as the reason for their score. Staff was a close second, with 1 in 5 comments from high scoring members citing service and members of the team.

Before analysing what these results could mean, TRP researchers first looked at the detractors across both groups of clubs. These are the members who only gave 0 – 6 when asked how likely it was that they would recommend the club to a friend or colleague, and who are therefore likely to be actively bad mouthing their club in the marketplace. TRP considered if there were any common themes in the feedback provided by this group of dissatisfied members.


First TRP looked at the detractors from the worst performing NPS clubs.

The corresponding word cloud can be seen in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3. Bottom performing clubs, Detractors




You can see that the most commonly given negative comments were centred around poor service and staff, with 1 in 5 comments feeding back on a negative experience with the clubs’ staff. This was followed by members listing a vast array of maintenance issues as the reason for their low score, with 1 in 6 people complaining about equipment or showers not working, often for long periods of time.

Next TRP looked at the detractors from the top performing clubs.

As with the relatively small sample of promoters for the group of bottom performing clubs, it has to be said at this point that the data in this pool was again limited, as quite simply the top performing clubs had very few detractors. So what did the few people who weren’t prepared to promote these generally in high performing clubs have to feedback as their reasons why not? And again, were there any common themes? We again analysed these results in the form of a word cloud as per Figure 4 below.

Figure 4. Top performing clubs, Detractors




This is where it gets really interesting, as there were no complaints at all about the staff or service! In fact, there was only one common theme of reasons cited for not recommending these clubs; that they were too busy at peak times (or maybe put another way – too successful!). Changing rooms and facilities were also referred to by limited numbers of people, with the remaining reasons cited by such small groups of people across our sample that it would be difficult to see them as being significant.

Given the extent of the difference between the reasons given for members not recommending their clubs by members at the top performing and bottom performing NPS clubs, the word clouds have been placed next to each other in Figure 5 below in order to take a closer look at the differences.

Figure 5. Top and bottom performing clubs, Detractors




The main observation to be made is that the detractors in the top performing clubs (the image on the left) have very little in common with each other, other than that the clubs can get too crowded. This would indicate that although these businesses may individually have areas that they can focus on in order to improve and to reduce their number of detractors even further, there is no common theme across this group of clubs that stands out as being a common industry issue for high performing NPS clubs.

The detractors in the bottom performing clubs in the other hand, have strong common themes of poor service and a low standard of maintenance. It could even be argued that the problems of poor maintenance could also be put down to a poor service culture. No club should have the excuse of not having good service contracts in place with their suppliers to fix problems promptly. No club should be letting such basics as cleanliness and maintenance cost them. Companies should foster a service culture where staff respond positively and promptly when informed about a broken machine or shower and ensure it is fixed in a reasonable time. The main problem in clubs where this does not happen may not be the maintenance issues themselves but rather a lack of staff motivation or autonomy to report and fix problems.

So what can we conclude from this study?

People, People, People! The top performing NPS clubs are scoring highly because of their staff. Even clubs on low service models are able to generate positive comments relating to service by ensuring that the limited numbers of people that they have available are the right people with the right attitudes. The worst performing clubs on the other hand would appear to register such low scores because of their staff and poor service ethics.

The results of this survey would indicate that if you have a great culture, a great recruitment process and therefore a great team, then the main problem you will find is your business may well be too busy and you will have to address a problem of a crowded gym! This in very much in line with the principles of NPS, as the more promoters of your brand you are able to create in the market place, the more your sales force will also grow exponentially! However if you have a poor service culture (or no culture!), your recruitment process is lacking and therefore ultimately you are left with an underperforming, poorly motivated team, then you will create many detractors and complaints over poor service and maintenance issues.

The overriding conclusion from this study is yet another reinforcement that we are operating in a people industry, and we must not forget how important staff are in defining members’ experiences within our facilities.