Bally's CIO Pumps Up Customer Experience With iPads, QR Codes and Video

The health club chain deploys customer-friendly technologies to change an intimidating culture and save a failing business model.

After two bankruptcies, multiple lawsuits from customers and the sale of 225 gyms over the last decade, Bally Total Fitness was in trouble.

The gym chain had become known mostly for its binding contracts and unwelcoming atmosphere, says CIO Guy Thier, who launched several IT initiatives in 2011 to transform the way Bally's dealt with customers.

When he joined Bally's in 2003, Thier says the atmosphere at one of the company's gyms was like that of a used-car dealership. "When [customers] walked in, they would end up right in a salesperson's office. Once you bought the membership, you never heard from us again." That intimidating culture and process had to change, Thier says, starting with the front desk.

Now, instead of a trip straight to the sales office, Bally's staff gives potential customers a tour of the gym and is starting to use iPads for sign-up and payment. Front-desk workers will use the iPads to recognize and greet customers based on member profiles on a Facebook-like app, which Thier says will help build relationships with customers beyond the contract. "We started shifting our culture from a hard sell to more of a member-service culture," Thier says.

Outside the gym, the Bally's call center was the main channel for contract questions, renewals or cancellations, but the call center's applications didn't communicate with each other to show a complete member history, resulting in long calls with no resolution or ill-timed efforts at cross-selling. So Thier replaced Bally's disparate systems with a call-center application from Kana Software that shows an overview of the customer's whole account on a single screen.

And now that customers increasingly use social media to communicate with the company, Bally's has begun participating on Twitter, Facebook and Yelp--and tries to respond to customer comments within 24 hours.

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