A few weeks ago I got this question from Christy. I know that especially for those who are starting, giving refunds can be a business and motivation killer.
I have a question….I own a bootcamp in a small town and I have the problem of every once in a while I get people that want a refund or to make up sessions. My sessions are 6 weeks long. [The reason they can’t make the session is] Not for medical reasons but because they only were able to come once or twice because their schedule conflicted. What is your thought on that. This is my only source of income and can’t afford this.
Here is what I wrote her in response to her email, modified for you into 6 ‘rules’ to follow in making your business refund-free.
Refunds are a bit of a sore issue in any service industry because it’s not a product that we are selling, but ourselves and our time.
There are a few things you can do to minimise the amount of money that you have to refund. I’ll go through below what has worked for me.
Rule 1: Follow up your clients without fail.
When I was first running bootcamps, I had a big issue with calling people on the phone. It could be because my generation has grown up with alternative communication methods like instant messaging and Facebook so we haven’t had to use phones much.
Because of this I would always put off calling clients after their first session or when they missed a workout. I would keep putting it off again and again until it was now a week later and then I would feel extremely awkward if I tried calling them up. As a result I had angry and disappointed clients who wanted refunds and others who just never came back again.
I recommend you make sure that you call every single new client the day after their first bootcamp. On top of that make sure you call, text or email (you will find out in time what they prefer) a client within 24 hours if they miss a session without telling you beforehand.
Rule 2: Regular, long term clients don’t ask for refunds.
This sounds frustrating to a new trainer I know, but regular, repeat clients who do bootcamp after bootcamp pretty much never ask for refunds.
These people understand the value in what you do, so hold on to them because they will not only be a good source of income for you, they will also be the kind of person who makes your bootcamp fun and enjoyable for other campers.
Build relationships with your clients and keep them coming back.
Rule 3: Get them to sign something.
We have a clause on our Pre-Activity Questionnaire about refunds. Our’s states that under no circumstances are refunds given. As you will read below, in reality we work differently but this clause gives you the leverage and the justification to just say No.
Rule 4. Try to transfer the sessions onto the next one.
If you have someone who has had a conflict come up prior to your bootcamp starting or during it, try to negotiate with them to transfer their remaining sessions on to the next bootcamp that you run.
Act like you are interested in their health and wellbeing (which you are so it should be easy ) so you want to see them continue training.
This rule also links back to rule 1. You shouldn’t wait for the client to come tell you this. Instead you should be gathering this information during your follow up calls.
Be proactive and offer to transfer the sessions or put their sessions on hold for a week.
Rule 5: If you do have to refund, only refund pro rata.
If you are on the phone to one of your clients 2 weeks into your bootcamp and they say ‘I just can’t do this anymore’ only offer to refund the remaining 4 weeks (using your 6 week bootcamp example). Of course, also offer to transfer it over to the next bootcamp first (see rule 4).
Rule 6: Keep your BS meter on.
Schedule conflict sounds like they are trying to BS you. Why would you sign up for something when you know you have something else on?
You need to try and build those relationships as quickly as possible so that you can get to the real heart of the matter. This is where point one comes in handy, calling shows you care, and caring will cause them to open up to you.
Another way to build relationships is to try and talk to your clients before or after bootcamp about non-bootcamp related topics like work or family.
A new thing I am implementing is a casual class on the weekend that is free. I participate in this class so I try to chat with my campers as much as possible about personal things, perhaps you could try this? It’s only an hour a week of your time.
Now to you readers; what is your policy on make up sessions and refunds? Do you even have a policy?
Kyle Wood created Bootcamp Ideas in 2010 when he was hunting around on the internet for workout ideas. He ran a successful bootcamp in Victoria, Australia and spends his spare time managing this site, adventuring (or lazying) with his wife and find new ways to make bootcamps even better.
I’ve been a follower of this site for a while now, and am inspired by the bootcamp ideas. This however is one of the best posts I’ve read, some great strategires in client retention.
Good question and good answer.
A few years ago, I decided to make the switch to “auto-draft” for my bootcamp. I was tired of asking the same few for payment (bill collector) and was just ready to automate the entire process. I gave my members a few weeks notice and then used paypal’s recurring billing feature.
This cut out any occasional refund requests completely. I didn’t lose one member either.
Looking back, this was one of the best things that I ever did for my boot camp.
Absolutely no refunds are given at my boot camp!
I do, however, face the problem of people missing a day or two, which they’d like to make it up. I have initially said no makeup days, but I’m kind of a softy, and as I have built a relationship with some of my clients, I tend to give in. I think I’d like to not be such a pushover next time around.
I instead agree not to let paid classes expire. The only time I will give refunds is if I move or leave a particular gym. Of course, there are very rare exceptions, but this is how we make our living, and I agree- if they don’t think they can commit, then they shouldn’t benefit from a package rate.
Awesome responses guys. Here are some others I got in email:
“Thanks, Kyle. These are good points. I even have my campers sign a pledge that includes the non-refundable clause. It goes over what they are agreeing to–like setting multiple alarms, showing up every day, showing up on time, etc. and talks about possible punishments like push-ups. We added the non-refundable clause because everyone signs this document at orientation and it saves us headaches. We have no problems with people signing…”
– Pat – heartinsol.com
“Mine is simple…my sessions are 30 minutes long (in a tabata format). Miss a session and you have 1 week In which to redeem that session in the form of a double… (if you are a no call/no show you eat it, I provide the sea salt LoL). I simply train them for 40 minutes…10 min Warmup 10 minute cool down…there is no way around keeping clients happy when they feel they are pissing away money when they cancel, whether they are bs you or not….most clients procrastinate and the week goes by voiding the makeup…….either way client is happy and won’t walk….In the case of my having to cxl, I usually just make arrangements to do it pronto and get it out of the way asap….
Train On People !”
– Ray – ubwfitness.com