Artificial intelligence and chatbots can drive a new level of customer experience and engagement in the fitness industry, writes fitness entrepreneur Owen Bowling.
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) is software that is able to make decisions on its own
- It is not efficient at completing common sense tasks in the real world, but can process and analyse large volumes of data more quickly than humans can
- AI has the potential to help fitness facilities improve advertising and marketing, sales processes, member onboarding and support, data consolidation and analysis
- A key part of your digital strategy should be to integrate your multiple sources of data into one platform, so that AI can ‘holistically’ analyse data relating to every aspect of your business
- By using AI to automate repetitive tasks, admin-related personnel costs can be re-directed to invest in team members that offer greater benefit to members and clients.
Imagine if your facility had only one member (ignore the financial implications for the moment). What level of personalised service and assistance would you be able to provide that person to help them succeed?
Your answer provides a glimpse into the world of scaled personalisation that is now becoming a plausible reality with advancements and accessibility of Artificial Intelligence, machine learning and communication interfaces such as chatbots.
What really is AI?
The Oxford Dictionary defines Artificial Intelligence (AI) as: ‘the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.’
The majority of AI technologies that you deal with today are sophisticated algorithms that analyse data rapidly to carry out specific tasks. Some examples of platforms deploying AI that you will be familiar with using include Netflix, Amazon, Facebook, Spotify and many more. These platforms rely on AI-related solutions that directly interact with you each time you use the service.
Netflix for example uses AI to customise what you see in an attempt to keep you engaged on the platform for longer: the thumbnails and show recommendations you see are specific to your profile and historical usage data. Facebook, Spotify and most other social platforms do this as well.
We are living in a world of AI, and it is helping, or directing our decision making – often without us realising it. Amir Husain, CEO of AI software company SparkCognition has said: ‘Artificial intelligence is kind of the second coming of software, it’s a form of software that makes decisions on its own, that’s able to act even in situations not foreseen by the programmers. Artificial intelligence has a wider latitude of decision-making ability as opposed to traditional software.’
Visible vs concealed AI
In the case of Netflix and other examples given above, AI algorithms are responsible for controlling what you see with the aim of engaging you more and keeping your attention. This is concealed from you because you are not actively interacting with the AI and often do not even know it is there in the background.
Conversely, when you ask Siri or Alexa a question, you know that you are ‘talking’ to an AI system, actively interacting with it to achieve a specific outcome. AI-driven chatbots are a visible, interactive system in which you know that you are communicating with a digital entity – not a human – via either voice or text.
AI for fitness businesses
AI is currently best used as a supporting tool rather than a replacement for human intelligence and ingenuity. It has a difficult time completing common sense tasks in the real world, but is skilled at processing and analysing masses of data far more quickly than a human brain can.
Artificial Intelligence software can process significant data sets and then present its findings or recommendations to a human. In this way, humans can use AI to help play out possible consequences of each action and streamline the decision-making process.
The main ways that businesses are implementing AI right now include:
- customer service via telephone or chatbots
- personalised advertising and marketing messaging
- managing and analysing data
- automating repetitive tasks.
“AI is currently best used as a supporting tool rather than a replacement for human intelligence and ingenuity“
Before implementing AI as part of your digital strategy, you should make sure that the problem you have is able to be solved by the AI.
For fitness facilities, a number of key areas can be improved with effective implementation of AI, including:
- personalised advertising and marketing
- sales processes
- member onboarding
- member support
- data consolidation and analyses to provide clearer insights into:
- marketing and sales
- member behaviour
- equipment usage
- retention and attrition
- member success
The data challenge
One of the big challenges facing fitness businesses in their attempts to implement effective digital strategies, including AI, is the fragmentation of data sources. AI is most effective when it can access more data, but in the fitness industry this data commonly comes from a variety of sources and is not consolidated into an accessible source.
These data sources include:
- access management system
- sales and marketing systems
- equipment manufacturers
- financial/debiting companies
- personal health trackers used by members
- personal trainers’ programs and client data
- fitness or nutrition apps used by members.
Part of your digital strategy should focus on finding ways to integrate data sources, as this will result in significant growth in AI capabilities for your fitness business.
This could be as simple as exploring existing integrations between the software systems you currently use, or as complex as creating a custom database designed to consolidate data from your various systems in a structure that can provide meaningful insights. AI can be amazingly useful – but only if humans create systems to provide it with the right information.
The personalised customer journey
One of the most exciting aspects of utilising AI is the opportunity to provide scaled personalisation to your customers. Because many of your business’s repetitive tasks can be automated, you can save on admin-related salaries and instead invest in team members capable of adding tangible value to your members and clients.
Here is an example of the potential customer journey in an AI-enhanced facility:
- Prospect is shown content that speaks to her specific interests related to health and fitness, and she builds a level of trust with your business before ever visiting.
- Upon viewing the content, she is shown sequential, customised content as she makes her way through the marketing funnel that engages her and converts her to a potential customer.
- The sales process is handled by a real human, because we are unmatched at creating a personal relationship and building trust.
- Your customer success coach chatbot takes over the customer journey and interacts with the new member as she gets started, helping her set realistic and meaningful goals and even providing her with a customised training plan.
- Initial fitness, strength and wellness measurements are recorded by the chatbot coach and can be used to track improvements each month.
Member usage and success:
- Most members will be more successful with a little guidance, support and accountability: your chatbot can provide these services, and even coordinate with real human staff members to create the perfect combination of AI and human teamwork to help members be successful.
- Every member receives personalised recommendations, encouragement and support based on their unique needs.
- At-home workouts and wellness-focused activities can be utilised when the member cannot make it to your facility.
The reality is that members that get value, stay longer. The value that a member receives has historically been their ability to access your facility and services. This is no longer enough.
Value can be provided in a number of ways, including:
- amazing facilities
- fantastic classes
- world class staff that build relationships and trust
- coaching and support
- measurement and tracking
- at-home workouts.
We have a huge opportunity to provide immense value to our members above and beyond the number of times they visit our facilities each week – and AI is key to enabling us to achieve this.
Owen is a fitness entrepreneur on a mission to help the fitness industry communicate its true value in order to attract, engage, convert and serve more people. The founder of CrankIt Fitness, The Wellness Program and Cofounder of FourD Media, Owen works with some of the world’s biggest fitness brands to implement technology and media solutions