This blog post originally appeared on Lee Boyce Training. It has been reposted here on The PTDC with permission.
I’m going to keep this short and sweet.
I log on to social media on any given day. And wherever I look–left, right, and center–coaches are trying to help the industry with their sage, proverbial words of wisdom on their blog posts, Facebook updates, and Tweets to help other trainers get better at their jobs.
This industry (and many like it) thrives on the sharing of information, passed from those who are more experienced to those with less experience. It’s what makes things change for the better on a broader scale. But the gray area makes its presence felt when advice on “proper customer service” (for which we all need reminders) begins to become confused with “hiding what our clients need to hear.”
Now, I can’t control the actions of people who are just plain stupid. You may know some of them: The people who simply don’t care about their jobs; have a chip on their shoulder; are rough around the edges; and may be in a transitional phase in their career and decide to grab a weekend certification to validate fabricated credentials for a quick, one-year cash grab. This article isn’t for those people. We expect bad service from them.
This article isn’t for the misinformed either. That’s something that education can play a large role in fixing. It goes without saying that you need to consistently have the “basics” of customer service down pat-you know, such as not sleeping in on your first client every morning, showing personal interest during workouts, and rinsing with Listerine. These are the things that make clients decide whether or not they’re going to stick around with you within the first week; or whether or not you can get them results, despite your slipshod behavior.
It goes beyond these things.
I’d like to zero in on the way trainers treat “satisfied” clients.
It’s great to go above and beyond to ensure that your clients are being taken care of. (Until you start challenging your ethics and morals as a fitness professional. I’m not splitting hairs by saying this, either.)
It’s always going to be an area of conflict when a client, who has severe postural issues, complains of joint pains, and could stand to drop 10 percent body fat to achieve better health, hires a trainer who simply wants nothing more than bigger biceps. Such a dilemma isn’t found just within such an extreme circumstance. The age-old dilemma of giving a client what they want versus giving them what they need will probably affect all of us at some point in our journey.
Basically, are the things we’re saying, permitting, or encouraging with clients keeping them in the dark about what “true” health and fitness are?
Before I continue, I’ve seen the other side of the coin, where clients hire trainers as “rent-a-friends” for a social retreat from the tribulations of their secular or personal lives. For these people, hiring a trainer for the sole purpose of having someone with whom to commiserate when times get hard is a matter of personal choice, but it’s beneficial to know that our job is to get (and keep) our clients in shape.
But back to “true” health and fitness.
Aside from a few very general statements, I think that the definition of being “in good shape” is too broad of a topic. There are definitely different measures that can be taken, depending on the goals of the person in question. For instance, a cardio junkie would benefit from significantly reducing the amount of mileage he does if his goals are to optimize muscle hypertrophy or lose weight. To be fair, this is something the unsuspecting trainer may not even realize he’s encouraging, since they may meet two or three times per week and the client could be doing those extra miles outside of the gym.
Let’s take an older female client, for example. She’s in great condition to train and build, but gets mentally daunted by the numbers on the side of the dumbbells she lifts–a mental block that keeps her from ever exceeding 10 pounds at a time. The coach may go easy on her. Maybe he makes a meaningless 2.5-pound increase to the weights being lifted to save her from a nervous breakdown and adjusts her form where necessary.
Then there’s the guy who wants better core strength, athletic abilities, and muscle development, but also has an undying affinity for the BOSU ball. Should we as his trainer keep him happy and do some BOSU back squats?
In all of these cases, my opinion is that the trainer isn’t doing his or her job as effectively as he or she could be. True, what the client wants and needs are two different things, but the methods being used to achieve those things just aren’t effective. It’s worth it to stop playing the nice guy for a second and explain things without any attempt to mask the truth. Here’s the bottom-line:
- Telling a client they are weak in certain areas is one of the best services you can provide them.
- Explaining that they’re accountable for their own results much more than you are is something that you need to drive home.
- Explaining the consequences for a lifestyle that doesn’t support the client’s goals should be done in the first encounters and all throughout.
Now I must sound like one of those same dastardly trainers who have no customer service skills and whom I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. Before you hang me, I believe that it all comes down to someone’s people skills. I’m a firm believer that all of the above points should be mentioned, as long as a trainer’s knowledge base can support it. What matters is how that knowledge is delivered.
For some reason, having proper fitness knowledge and good cues has been viewed as more important than having good communication skills and being personable. That is shocking because the one crucial factor for applying that fitness knowledge and using those cues is the presence of other people. Your clients.
Personal training is a service industry, and you need to know how to deal with people in a diplomatic but non-patronizing way to succeed in it.
Most clients will be able to detect when they’re being patronized or falsely motivated. In most cases, they’re paying us to hear the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s part of our job to deliver all of the above. So if they’re paying you to hear how great they are and nothing more, they should reconsider their goals.
The bottom-line is that we as trainers shouldn’t put in our efforts to falsely motivate someone, while withholding the cold, hard facts that they absolutely need to hear. Doing so only contributes to the problem. If a client’s too weak to do something, don’t avoid it. If a client wants to spend 15 hours a week on the treadmill, make sure they know what they’re doing to themselves as a result. The difference between a good trainer and a bad trainer doesn’t come from saying these things, but rather how they’re said.
Consider this: Is the fear of a negative reaction preventing you from telling a client the whole truth about training?
Maybe it’s because you’re afraid they’ll leave you. Maybe it’s because you need the money-really badly. We’ve all been there, but I think there’s no monetary value for your integrity as a coach. Compromising it could begin a downward spiral into the path of a “fitness sellout”.
Don’t do it.
Instead, put your foot down and diplomatically say, “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”
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