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Bathroom scale

oonal/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It's the same every January. More than half of all Canadians make New Year's resolutions to lose weight, find a new job or get fit – and many companies enjoy a healthy uptick as a result.

Unfortunately by the end of the month, resolutions have been all but forgotten. In fact, 52 per cent of Canadians break them in the first month, says a study from 2012. So what does this mean for companies – especially in the health or career industries – whose customers have fallen off the wagon? What strategies do they implement to turn their fair-weather clientele into loyal customers once February rolls around?

THE GYM

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Matt Benvie, owner and personal head trainer at Evolve Fitness Ltd. in Halifax, uses goal-setting to keep his January clients engaged, but includes incentives to keep them coming back.

"If they have a big long-term goal to lose 50 pounds in six months, I get them to set a reward for themselves – something as small as buying themselves a dress or something big like a trip," says Mr. Benvie.

Education is also a big part of his role in helping clients succeed, he says, and a little personal success can go a long way. To motivate clients and hold them accountable, he encourages them to track their progress using food and exercise journals.

But while these strategies work on regular clients, Mr. Benvie acknowledges he hasn't had much success with those who come in after New Year's, feeling guilty about their lack of exercising and poor eating habits over the holidays.

"To be honest, they're not the kind of clients you want," he says. "They don't stay long – one in three, maybe. There's a difference between a regular client and clients who come after making a New Year's resolution. People need to realize that results take time. If someone just goes to the gym for three or four weeks, they're not seeing the best results."

Mr. Benzie has considered having his clients sign contracts – a fairly common fixture of the fitness industry – but has decided against it, in an effort to distinguish his company from bigger gyms.

"All the marketing that I read is about the long-term contract," says Mr. Benvie. "But it's really less about results for clients than about predictable income."

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THE CAREER COACH

When Cam McRae, founder of Calgary-based Cam McRae Consulting Inc. starts work after the holidays, his career placement firm is slammed. He sees as much as a 40 per cent increase in clients in January, and says few people drop out by February. He believes his approach of personal coaching combined with making people accountable helps keep his clients committed.

"It's important to challenge them," says Mr. McRae. "If we want people to do something different, we have to find out what they've always done in the past and get them to do something different."

When working with a career coach, accountability on the part of the client is key, Mr. McRae explains.

"People don't drop out because they've invested in themselves," says Mr. McRae. "They've put dollars into it and know that they have to keep going to see the results. They also know they're meeting with a coach who's going to hold them accountable."

THE HEALTH FOOD BUSINESS

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In January and February, Deanna Embury, founder and president of Licious Living Inc. in Vancouver, sees a jump of as much as 30 per cent in the personal home meal delivery part of her business. Her clients' goals are usually to lose weight, increase their energy and "get back to a routine after the party hangover," she says.

To prevent clients from opting out of the program, she tailors her work to their changing needs.

"You're always going to lose a few [clients]. Sometimes it comes down to budget – so that's where it's good to have different programs," says Ms. Embury.

That involves educating clients on how to eat and giving them recipes to fix themselves while gradually tapering down on home delivery meals.

"Rather than them going fully with us for three months without them doing any of it, it's become that we phase it out." says Ms. Embury. "It's not that we want to lose their business. We find it actually increases our retention rate with clients because we work with them one on one to keep them on track."

Regular follow-up with clients is also critical for keeping customers happy. "Check in with them. If they're not seeing the results they want, say for a 20-pound weight loss, ask them what else they're doing outside of the program so you can help them pinpoint the problem."

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Advice onto keeping clients engaged after resolutions are broken

  • Create personal relationships
  • Set short and long-term goals to challenge them
  • Have frequent rewards
  • Build incentive programs
  • Offer a variety of programs so clients can taper down rather than drop out
  • Have them sign a contract
  • Make clients accountable to someone for their progress
  • Encourage big success with small successes along the way
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