All businesses, even those providing something as wonderful as yoga, lose customers. In this article I’ll discuss why that is, and what you can do about it.
Attrition rates vary in different parts of the world, but in general, most businesses lose between 15% and 20% of their customers each year. So, if your intention is to grow your yoga business
by just 10% annually, you would need to add up to 30% new students
each year to make up for the attrition! Considering that you spend much more money attracting new students than keeping current ones, losing students gets pretty expensive.
If a person has done business with you in any way, they have already indicated that something about what you’re offering has reached them. Your mission is to cultivate that initial connection and create years of mutually beneficial involvement with them. Obviously, this is not where the marketing
relationship ends, but where it must truly begin. It’s a dance, and you must keep dancing.
Most attrition occurs with beginners. For many new to yoga, almost any excuse is enough to discourage them from practicing: they hurt, they’re self-conscious, they think they’re not good enough or flexible enough, they feel intimidated by other students, they’re confused…etc. You’ve heard the reasons, and they are all valid – regardless of how you feel about them. Remember, it’s not about you – it’s about them. Beginners don’t always complain. Many just leave, avoiding confrontation or embarrassment.
Obviously, not knowing what is going on in the minds and hearts of your students will distance you from why you are offering yoga in the first place, as well as hurt your business. Preventing attrition is all about the communication of meaningful benefits to each student and creating an enthusiastic and loyal following through a feeling of belonging, being cared for, and sense of family centered in your studio.
The biggest mistake made by studios is not paying enough attention to new students after they buy their first class series. There is an assumption (maybe even a sense of relief or accomplishment) that they are now “in” and need less attention from that point on; that they will just get yoga, and that the freed up attention and effort can be used to get more new students. To a degree that is true, but usually not to the degree I see it operating when attrition rates are high.
People already feel like a number in this overwhelming advertising-driven society of ours. Never forget that embarking on a yoga practice can be emotional for some people. So, the real communication truly needs to begin when someone makes a commitment, takes a leap, starts a beginners series, buys an unlimited membership, or chooses their first mat. Get to know your students starting from their first visit, and never stop! Be proactive; don’t wait for them to come forward. Talk to them, get everyone on your staff to talk to them, encourage their feedback. Make sure they know you and your entire staff are totally available to make their experience of yoga wonderful.
“Welcome” postcards and satisfaction surveys are important, but not enough. No system will replace human interaction. Teach your entire staff to ask students about their experiences: “How are you liking it so far?” What has been challenging?” “How do you feel?” Caring goes a long way in creating a warm, fuzzy feeling in students that will help them get through the challenges of a beginning yoga practice and start reaping the benefits that will get them hooked.
Train your teachers in how to talk to students. Often, beginning teachers wind up teaching beginning students – this can be a mistake. Don’t let anyone lead a class without specific training on how to talk to new students. Instruct them to be realistic with students (i.e. yoga is not a quick fix, but a lifelong process of transformation); tell stories; give examples; explain why we do this particular asana; stress the benefits for their lives over and over again in different ways, from different vantage points.
Consider creating a Beginner’s Welcome Brochure for every new student. Fill it with testimonials from a wide range of people on how unsure they were about starting a yoga practice at first, and how great they feel now. Add in useful information about yoga etiquette, frequently asked questions, as well as a clear invitation to talk with any of your staff at any time if they need support.
Beginners, as well as more advanced students, need to be consistently exposed to ideas that will reinforce why they are doing yoga (especially when it is uncomfortable). Manage their expectations, but reinforce the benefits of sticking with it. Focus on the meaning it will have for them, and encourage their commitment to the unfolding of this beautiful process in their lives. This is a delicate time for many of them – treat it so. When someone stops coming, send an email, a postcard, or better yet, make a phone call and ask why. Is there something you should know? Be gentle, but find out what you can. Your business is about them, and they will likely appreciate the inquiry.
If the front desk is not too busy when classes are in session, get your staff to call those who haven’t come in for a while with invitations to something interesting that is coming up, maybe a special offer or promotion…but mostly with the message that your studio cares. After an enjoyable class, one of my favorite teachers endeared everyone to her and the studio by passing out sweet confections that she made herself. Everyone was glowing; there was a palpable sense of family and everyone knew it. That’s how to create loyalty – by being who you really are, and expressing your love of yoga and people without attachment to the results.
Like any relationship, communication is everything. Communicate with your students in every way you can. Make sure they know you and your entire staff are always available, always approachable, and always willing to listen. The more students we can encourage to keep practicing, the more peaceful this world will become. That’s an important responsibility we’ve chosen, and I, for one, feel blessed to be a part of bringing more yoga to a planet so deeply in need of peace.
Thank you for what you do – it’s more important now than ever.