Being able to empathise with someone's experience is about being able to imagine what they might be feeling. It's a little different from compassion, which is about wanting to help someone with their problems.
As personal trainers, we have both of these qualities. However, we could sometimes do a better job of demonstrating empathy and compassion when it comes time to market our services.
It's of particular importance at the moment, with so many in-person fitness professionals taking their businesses online during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The gym is a haven for many of us, a sanctuary against the stresses of work and personal lives. So understanding that while gyms are closed, many of us are left without an outlet for our anxieties.
It may be that for some of our clients and prospects, the thought of being unable to train causes additional anxieties about losing their gains or backsliding with the progress they've been making. For lots of people, this could be the start of returning to old habits that we've worked hard together to try to break.
Now, in particular, with many countries on lockdown, being restricted to our homes, there are considerable extra stresses in place. It's an exceptional time, and our clients have, for the time being, lost a crucial pillar in their coping strategy.
Recognising What Drives PeopleDespite these exceptional circumstances, people are still driven by the same needs and desires as they always have been, and this is what we can focus on when we're marketing our fitness business.
In Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, people pass from the bottom, most pressing needs of their physiology, their safety, through to the middle tiers of belonging, love and esteem, with self-actualisation at the very top.
That means that even during the most ordinary circumstances, marketing to that very top tier will appeal to only a fraction of society. Maslow himself thought perhaps only 1%. During times of crisis, people are only focused on those lower-tier fundamentals: food, shelter, safety.
Your fitness marketing must speak to the needs and drivers of your market; a sense of community through belonging to a tribe and returning to the temporarily lost comfort of a routine. Social connection can easily be made through Zoom meetings, messenger chats, or social media groups to relieve the boredom of isolation. People are far more likely to be feeling lonely and worried than they are worried about missing international chest day!
Taking Opportunities to Show CompassionFitness professionals who aren't in contact with their clients at the moment will be perceived as uncaring and unconnected once we're out of lockdown and their businesses are likely to disappear.
No one is expecting you to have all the answers, but the role of the personal trainer does - especially for your long-term clients - have the relationship of a confidant and friend. Your clients look forward to seeing you, to having that hour in their week where they get to concentrate on their own needs.
That's our in-person role; we allow them to be just a little bit selfish for a fraction of their week. People still need that. Maybe they need it more than ever.
However, trying to fit it into our lives as they currently stand is very difficult. Some of your clients are furloughed workers, trying to adapt to working from home - isolated from colleagues. Some of your clients are trying to homeschool their children and provide stability and growth for their families. Some of your clients are still working, putting themselves potentially in danger. And all of us are isolated from at least one person we're missing.
Therefore, the human element is more critical than ever before in how you're reaching out to help people. We aren't just marketing online home workouts; there are thousands of free fitness videos available to people. That service is always available to clients, and it's never what we're competing with.
Sending a quick text message, a couple of times a week checking in with your clients, asking if they're feeling okay and whether you can do anything for them will be appreciated. Even if the answer is that they're feeling fine, they'll know you thought of them.
If you can find the time to chat on the phone to them, even better.
There are creative ways that you can set up social events online too - Pub Quiz nights, book clubs and just jumping on for a cup of tea together via video call. Facebook Live, which allow you to speak to them on video and them to respond via text comments, are a powerful marketing tool because people get to see and interact with you. The platform drives traffic towards your page in a way that it doesn't for written content.
It doesn't all need to be about fitness and working out at home either. Use this time as an opportunity to deepen the connection you have with your clients as people.
Asking QuestionsWhenever you're marketing your fitness services, your focus needs to be on your client and their needs. Your initial marketing is enough to get them to engage with you and start a conversation, but questions are a powerful and often underutilised marketing tool.
By asking questions in your marketing, you get to know your clients more deeply and engage with them and their problem in a profound way. You express compassion by listening to their answers, not interrupting them, and asking for clarification only when they've finished talking.
Empathy is when you can imagine how someone is feeling, and by asking the right questions of your market, you can demonstrate a willingness to help with their problems through compassionate action.