If Gyms Could Talk, What Would They Say?

The question…

In the earliest days of LegDay, we started by asking ourselves the question, “If gyms could talk, what would their interactions with customers look like?” The experience-consistency problem is real and we wondered how the public perception and use of gyms would change if the gyms themselves had a voice and were personified.

To learn more, we posed our driving question to as many gym members and people in the industry as we knew. It was the quickest, easiest way to start collecting feedback to understand what both club operators and consumers valued most, and to find areas of overlap. Our question triggered ideas that threatened some but excited most. We felt like we were onto something when we heard imaginations run wild.

Key insights

From these early conversations, we also gleaned two tangential insights. The first was that club mobile apps weren’t getting the adoption they once were among members. It turns out that most apps, not just club mobile apps, are on the decline.

The second was the impossibility for gyms to be everywhere all at once for their members. As a result, most members don’t get the interactions they need to stay engaged.

Minimum Viable Product

With more information and a clearer hypothesis, we wanted to test something more tangible. It was important to put a product in people’s hands so that we could observe their interactions and learn even more. The challenge was figuring out what to build, who to sell it to and how to get started — in other words, figuring out our minimum viable product (MVP).

A minimum viable product (MVP) is a core feature of the lean startup, a system used by entrepreneurs to build businesses. Instead of potentially wasting time and money, startups can build MVPs fast and cheap with the goal of learning as much as possible about what customers will pay for (i.e. making progress on your business idea).

Like scientific experiments, there are different types of MVPs, each with their own unique advantages and limitations. For example, MVPs can be as simple as an explainer video used to generate pre-signups for your product. (Here are the 10 greatest of all-time MVPs)

Wizard of Oz MVP

Remember when the Wizard of Oz meets Dorothy and her friends? He appears in different forms, once as a giant head, once as a beautiful fairy, once as a ball of fire, and once as a horrible monster. But then we find out that he’s really none of those things and instead just an ordinary human. The same concept applies for Wizard of Oz MVPs. The user thinks they’re interacting with technology, but in reality, there’s a human on the other end.

After considering all types of MVPs, we elected to get started with a Wizard of Oz MVP using a free Google Voice phone number and text messaging. Members would think they’re texting an artificially intelligent gym, but instead it was just our team on the other end responding to their messages like a robot would.

Build it. Test it.

Now we needed to find an interested gym (potential customer), which we found fairly quickly. We gave the Google Voice phone number to a small test group of users and told them to text their gym anything that would make their experience even better.

Right away, the text messages started flooding in and we realized the “small” group was too big. Members asked all sorts of questions related to services, amenities, workouts and nutrition, social and more. Even the gym’s employees were using the service.

We logged everything and came up with templated answers that we could then copy and paste for speed. It’s no surprise that people expect instant responses when texting a chatbot. Yet prior to launching, it didn’t occur to us that we’d be completely glued to our phones in order to meet expectations for the foreseeable future. It was exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.

The learnings were well worth the time and energy though. Wizard of Oz MVPs are a high-touch approach to seeing exactly how people are interacting with your product. It was as if the customers laid out our product roadmap right before our eyes by showing us what was valuable and what wasn’t.

Obviously Wizard of Oz MVPs have downsides. They’re incredibly time-consuming and require 24/7 commitment to keep the test believable. Users don’t know, or care, if you’re grocery shopping when they send a text. Instant responses are the expectation. If you talk to our co-founder, Dan, just ask him about that time at the grocery store. This approach could never scale, even for a boutique studio, let alone a traditional health club.

Learn. Iterate. Learn. Iterate.

After a short while, we hacked together a chatbot prototype using the copy/paste templates we created from our pilot. Again, we used a free program and didn’t spend any money to continue to improve our MVP. Day by day, we automated more and more, taking the burden off of ourselves to respond immediately.

Once we felt good about the direction we were headed, we started selling our chatbot to more gyms while continuing to build the complex stuff on the backend. Don’t worry — we’re not still manually responding to any incoming text messages (woo!) and everything is fully automated now. That said, our approach to improving our product and service remains the same. It’s the lean startup methodology we mentioned earlier — testing ideas quickly, measuring progress, learning from the data. Repeat.

Want to chat about MVPs, chatbots, or how LegDay can help your gym specifically? Email us at hello@legday.co. Seriously, we’d love to hear from you!