61 – Cat Zohar – Simple Member Engagement Tips For Martial Arts Student Retention
Cat Zohar shares simple martial arts student retention tips that any school owner can master.
- Cat Zohar’s martial arts life, being an innovator and a visionary
- How to establish rapport on the online platforms
- The benefits of relationship marketing
- The challenges in building relationship within large martial arts schools
- Cat’s proven techniques for improving customer retention
- And more
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.
Of course, you can. If you can take your hand, putting it in front of you, look at it and then give yourself a direction to smile – smile. And be able to do that, you can great somebody when they walk in the door, I promise. You can train anybody to do that. If you are able to handle that little interaction right there, you can train someone to be friendly.
GEORGE: Hey, this is George Fourie and welcome to another Martial Arts Media business podcast. Today, I'm joined by Cat Zohar. I didn't check – Zohar, am I pronouncing that right?
CAT: That's correct!
GEORGE: Alright, awesome. So Cat will be joining me and about 11 other also martial arts instructors and business leaders at The Main Event and that's in San Diego, 26th to 28th of April, so that's next month. Depending on when you're watching and listening to this. So we’re going to have a bit of a chat and Cat has some amazing things going on in the industry. She got started when she was a 6-year old and I'm here to learn about what Cat does and have a great conversation and of course, bring great value to you. So welcome to the show Cat!
CAT: Thank you so much for having me George, I'm happy to be here! And hello everyone!
GEORGE: Awesome. So, let’s start right at the beginning – who is Cat Zohar?
CAT: Well, I think Cat Zohar is a martial arts innovator, martial arts visionary for the industry. I started martial arts practice when I was 6 years old in Cleveland, Ohio where I grew up. And it's something I've been most active in my entire life, so this is just the continuation and the next chapter of Cat Zohar, I guess you would say.
GEORGE: All right. So you mentioned innovation and visionary – can you elaborate a little bit on that?
CAT: I've done a lot of firsts in the martial arts industry. I started girls only martial arts program, designed just for young girls between the ages of 3 and 10 and we set up the Karate Princesses Program, which was designed specifically to teach real martial arts techniques and skills for protection – princess protection more appropriately referred to. But actually, giving them a base to take part in martial arts. When I was a young girl starting in my martial arts classes, my mom used to be like, girls don't do karate. So our motto and our tagline was, girls do karate too and that was really a big focus.
This was actually pre all of the pink belt stuff that you see today, so we actually had to make our own karate princesses belts out of cool princey pink fabrics and things like that. So we had a whole bunch of ways for the girls to earn bling for their belt by participating and doing princess like behaviors around their community as well as their household too and school.
So there was a bunch of things like that I've done over the years that have been… well, innovative for the industry and I've seen many different trends come and go over the years as well, but a lot of the things that I like to visually express to the people that I connect with is we’re taking what it is that they want to see happen and sometimes giving them the steps to be able to make that happen and how to be able to market what that is. Or maybe help guide them a little bit where I could see the direction developing or progressing fast for the people that they service.
GEORGE: Ok. And you mentioned you've seen a lot of things come and go: what's been the cool thing that you feel has stuck around over the years?
CAT: Well, here's another way where I feel that I bring that vision to the martial arts industry, where I actually coined the phrase that came into the industry is member engagement and one of the big things that I really focus, the most part of my recent career on has been developing and building those relationships with our students and parents. And if it comes down to it, the one thing that I feel will always be here, the personal connections and the relationships, despite the era of digital, websites and connecting and not answering phones and stuff like that. I still believe that that personal element and that interaction has got to be there. And not only does it have to be there, there are so many ways to be able to make it by design, so it works.
Not just for a school owner of multi-locations, but also a single school owner, or a single operator. And a lot of times, that's something that they have but they don't necessarily recognize what they have. They want to try and make your marketing, make them look super big, whereas their greatest marketing effort is actually just harvesting and nurturing those relationships that are small or that are intimate to them and that's some of the greatest ways that they're able to grow. What's interesting to me is, you'll see a lot of great big organizations trying to appear smaller, so that way they have that personal bond and connection. So it works both ways.
GEORGE: Very true, because that's been, just looking at the shift of the internet over the last few years: I think it really came to a point where everybody wanted to automate. Automate and how can you separate yourself from being connected, where now it's becoming, you can see all the changes happening in Facebook, especially – the focus is really, how do you facilitate more relationships? How do you facilitate more one to one type of relationships and connections? So how would you go about that? So if you wanted to create member engagement and you wanted. I assume you're talking through online platforms, right?
CAT: Yeah, it could be anything though. I mean relationships that I specifically refer to though is the actual connections that they have with the parents in the martial arts school and the kids that take part in their program. Or breaching that gap, it's for me what takes place. A lot of parents will drop their kids off to the martial arts program and then for a lot of times, they have even nannies or sitters that bring them to the classes and the parents don't actually get to see what their child learns, or what they do. Maybe it's with the exception of when they come to a belt promotion, or testing or grading.
So these are the types of things that when they do show up, they're like, oh, I didn't even recognize this was here, but the interaction with the instructor and the parent may not be that strong. But how can we actually make it that even an absentee participating parent is still involved with the school, where they feel like, oh, yeah, that's where my kid goes to martial arts, this is what we do. And where they feel a connection with it as well too. Which is not that foreign thing, my kid does that, it's his activity, it's whatever. It’s Tuesday night at 6 o'clock – no, it's more about how they actually can make that relationship grow stronger with the parents, so that way their parent is the ally. I hear so often martial arts school owners say, oh, it'd be great if it weren't for the parents.
Well, it's because they don't build that reform with the parents! They connect with the kid or they get the kid to like it and then they get hurt when the parent says, we’re going to pull him out, or we’re going to do another sport or we’re going to do another activity. Where one of the biggest things then that I see from a martial arts school owners perspective is, why would you do such a thing, you don't know! It’s because the school owner didn't communicate with them, or I told them, or it's because the parent doesn't see. Well, if the parent doesn't see, how do you show them? How do you tell them, how do you get them to be able to recognize that? How do you get them to see something bigger than just your sport, or your martial arts school as an activity for them? So these are the kind of things that I like to dive in on.
GEORGE: All right. And I can hear you're really passionate about that and it gets me thinking, that's really the.. It’s sort of the elephant in the room, right? Because you've got the student and you see the student every day, so you're building a relationship with the student, but the student is not the one that's paying the bill. So it's much easier for the parent to say, well, soccer is cheaper. Or easy to make that shift, because they're not part of the relationship. And I mean that most transactions, people might get started with the idea and for the skill set, but then they hang around because of the community. So I can see the value in that really involving them in the community and getting that happening. So the question is, do you have sort of a checklist or a process that you go about to facilitate that?
CAT: Yeah, actually there are several different tactics that we use, but the strategy that we overall build is developed on day one, is actually sitting the parents down and when we have our first lesson, letting them understand just how important it is to keep that communication going, but more importantly, to actually stop, take a minute, have a one to one conversation with them – not just, fill in this form and I’ll be right back, but instead, hey would you mind filling our permission slip to get them started and then we can take an interview together and see if this is a good fit and actually discuss what they want to see their child gain from the program.
And get them to open up about some of the things that they've seen or experienced in their child's behavior or mannerisms that may be concerning to them. And probe a little bit to actually get them to expand a little bit on why they feel for themselves their child needs either things that we deliver: better focus, better confidence, better self-esteem, stronger relationships with their classmates, better friendships – any of the millions of things martial arts can provide. Get them to actually have an experience, where you're discussing this with them and then from that, actually deliver that to them through your lesson.
And a lot of it just comes down to listening and most of it is that the processes and the things that we use really come down to just communication. You know, so often, we’ll hear a parent wants to pull their kid out and typically, not listening to the reasons that they say at that point is the reason why so many people don't return back to martial arts. I was always in the unique position, because I've had so many former students come back to the training after three months, after six months, after six years, after breaks or periods of time that they wanted to return back and it's because I never stopped treating them as a member, even after they weren't there. So we continually kept in contact or connection or random phone calls here or there out of the blue, where I wasn't doing anything more than just being like, hey what's going on? Missed you, how have you been? You know, or getting to be able to keep that contact going.
And now with social media, so we talk about what are some of the strategies we could specifically use. If you're using a closed space group for your members to be able to communicate anything that goes on in your classes, stop communicating so damn much about your classes! Nobody cares about the curriculum videos of the week and the month and posting all the videos and all the pictures of all these silly things, it's Greek to them. But instead, host conversations that actually spark a discussion, that get them to say, hey, this is what we do, this is how we handle this, or even as simple things as what's for dinner on Tuesday night? You know, giving them the chance to actually open up and build connections, so they feel they're connected to your martial arts school in a greater way than just that place they drop their kid off two days a week.
GEORGE: Alright, cool. That's perfect, that's awesome. So what do you see as the biggest obstacle here? Because I mean, there's this big transition right, if you're a small school, then it's very easy for you to facilitate this one to one relationships. Also, obviously, I mean, things like Facebook groups and so forth make it a lot easier, which is a real soft way to build that community feel. But then what if you start to scale and you're in the position of, all right, school number two, number three is opening up – how do you facilitate that through your staff and making sure that they are on track with the same strategy?
CAT: They have to be trained. People say, oh but I'm not a people person, or they use excuses like that, like, I can't teach charisma or anything like that and I think all that's bs! Of course, you can! If you can take your hand, putting it in front of you, look at it and then give yourself a direction to smile – smile. And be able to do that, you can great somebody when they walk in the door, I promise. You can train anybody to do that. If you are able to handle that little interaction right there, you can train someone to be friendly.
They might not have the personality of highness and warmth but you can condition them and practice through training and rehearsal and performance and reality and videotaping them and getting them to actually see themselves. And get them to be able to say, hey, welcome to our martial arts school! I'm so and so, I'm so glad to meet you and actually get them to learn these processes. And when we follow different types of pre-written scripts or material that we’re able to actually rehearse in training with our staff members and our coworkers and things like that and go over these things, well then, when we actually do it for real, it's not as awkward.
It might be a little bit at first, but here's the truth: everybody at first has awkwardness. It's like a first competition in the tournament, then by the time you've done a hundred of them, it's no longer awkward. In fact, you're like, can we get this stuff over with already! You know, I mean, I competed for 18 years, I know what that game is all about. So I mean, when the repetitiveness at first, you get that anxiousness, but the more they do it, the more comfortable they get at it, the more second nature it becomes. So you don't have to be a people person, but you have to at least care. And I wouldn't hire anybody that didn't care.
GEORGE: Awesome, I like that part. I was speaking to a client last week. We run a program called the Martial Arts Media Academy, where we help with marketing and facilitating all the connection, but I also really try to simplify the online space and really leverage programs. And it's something that came up in the conversation was, really trying to scale and having this problem where you're talking about member relationships and engagement, but the problem was that they found that most of their instructors are introverted. And they just don't have that very outgoing personality to really connect. And that was a big obstacle, or is currently a big obstacle for them is, how do they take that introverted personality to scale and be that outgoing person, or do they need to completely shift gears and train someone else, get someone in from the outside to take that front enroll.
CAT: You know, it could be both. One of the schools of thought that I subscribe to is, not everybody is engineered to do everything. Some people just naturally gravitate to certain areas. Bunny rabbits will never be able to swim, OK? That's just the way that they've been engineered and made, they're not going to be climbing trees either. So I mean, if we’re going to ask a bunny rabbit to climb a damn tree, he's going to fail. He's not going to do very well with that. You ask a monkey to climb a tree and then be, oh my god, you're a black belt at this stuff, how did you get so good? Oh, he's natural, right? Well, yeah, because some of us are actually naturals at certain things.
As far as communication, I believe with training, if they're able to get up in front of a group and be a martial arts instructor, they can just as easily be the martial arts instructor to the parents in the lobby and build those relationships the same way. When there's a disconnect is that they think that the parents are no longer their students too.
So when they take a different approach and a different lens through which they're seeing their martial arts school crew and actually recognize that the parents are there to support their children, so thus, the parents need the training to be able to better endure that role. The parents don't know how to do that necessarily unless they're taught and trained how to be able to do that.
So the person to teach them, who would that be? Well, the martial arts instructor, because what's their job? Their job is to teach! So if they see it not so much as, this obstacle or this barrier, but put it in terms of what they're already naturally selected and gifted for, hey I want to be a martial arts teacher, understand though that who we teach isn't just the person on the classroom floor, but it's everyone within the walls of our school.
And I think when we start viewing our martial arts school not just as a place that begins when we bow on the mat, but instead actually from the front door for whoever walks through, it's no different then. If you say you want to help people, or you want to change lives, or you want to be a martial arts instructor, we can be picky and choosy about the people… let me reshape that: yes, we can be picky and choosy about the people we take and the people we help; however, we have to recognize who are people that need our help.
And sometimes we think, well, the parents don't need our help – sometimes the parents need your help more than that kid on the mat, you know? They're the ones that actually are signing up, not just to be able to give their kid an activity, but also to learn how to better handle and parent their child. And to be able to do that, a lot of times it just comes down to better training and better practice with communications and drilling scenarios, both on the practice floor and how to be able to handle those announcements with the parents too. So making sure that the lobby is never a part of their martial arts school that isn't under their control. If that makes sense.
GEORGE: Yeah, for sure. I think to make it really practical, I like what you said, if you can look at your hand and smile, that's a really, really good start. Just a smile can do wonders. And I think I'll add to that, it's just really being present. Really being present in a situation is, if you can do those two things, and really smile and be present, understand where people are at, I think that's a good stepping stone. What would you add to that?
CAT: The only thing that I would add specifically is when they are given an opportunity to build a connection or a relationship with a student, understand that the student in front of them isn't just maybe the child for the class, but it's the parent or the guardian or whoever brought them to this practice as well. And be inclusive when you're teaching and let them recognize, let the instructor specifically recognize that being able to teach martial arts is part of the job, is also being able to enroll them and being comfortable with talking to them and having that connection.
Because if they want to help that kid that's going to be doing their classes, they have to have communication with that parent. Because if there's ever going to be a situation, that kids going to tell their mom or their dad first. And if the parent has enough respect for you and the program and what it benefits them with, they're able then to go back and relay that information to the instructor. Because the first person that's going to hear about the kid wanting to give up classes, or stop or runs into a challenge, maybe because they stubbed their toe in sparring or something silly like that, that we don't even give consideration, but could be very much a factor of why somebody doesn't want to take part or continue – if that's explained from the beginning, parents are heck of a lot more prepared for it when it does happen.
And we just kind of have to stop hiding the fact that there might be a time when they're going to say, I don't want to go to karate tonight, or I don't want to do martial arts or anything like that. Or I'd rather go out and play with my friends when the weather gets nice and that kind of thing that it's going to make a huge difference if they understand that and they know how their job as the parent is to support their kid in becoming a black belt, or becoming a martial artist I prefer to say, as opposed to just setting an end goal on it. Like get your black belt and then everybody wonders why they got one. They did it, that's what you told them they had to do! But yeah, get the parents to recognize. The first person they go to when there's a challenge is going to be that martial arts instructor to help them with it and see it through.
And the job of the instructor is to teach the parent that that's what they have to do. If that means they have to call them when they first get started, or if they have to keep that path of communication flowing – text messages are great right now, because if a parent wants to shoot you over a message about something that took place. But more importantly, if you want to shoot over that parent a video or a selfie, or something going on from class, especially if they're not present – it's the best way to be able to interact, engage and connect.
GEORGE: I like that, I like that. Quick selfie. This really reminds me – and I don't know who I'm quoting yet, it could either be Dean Jackson or James Schramko, but the story comes from experiences, customer, experiences. And the stories about, if I walk into a coffee shop or a restaurant for example and they treat me bad, I get bad service and I just feel bad about the experience – that's 100% of my experience with that company is negative, 100%. But on the reverse side, if I'm a regular and I walk in there every morning to get my coffee, I get treated with respect, smile, all these things that we just spoke about and about my 10th trip to the coffee shop, they slip up and make a mistake – that's 10% of my experience with them that's bad.
So when it comes down to that, you have a bit more understanding and you feel a bit more, OK, well, they slipped up, it's OK. Because you've got that relationship and understanding. And I think that relates to a lot of what you're saying here because a martial arts journey is going to have its ups and downs. And it's coming, the bad experience is coming, the “I don't know if I want to do this anymore” is coming. So if you have the relationship to back all that up, chances are you're going to be able to save that relationship, save that student and keep them back on their path.
CAT: George, amen – that was exactly it! One of the big things they say is the difference between customer service and member engagement, because people say, oh, it's the same thing, it's customer service, and I'm like, you're so wrong, I want to say something else, but I remember I'm a martial artist and I don't do those kinds of things. Instead, though, I say to myself, well, you know, customer service is dealing with problems. If you ever have a customer service – I laugh when somebody says customer service department is going to return the martial arts student calls, and I'm like, you have a customer service department? What do you need that for? That's like where, what does that mean? That means problems and that you're just expecting to have lots of problems to have to deal with if you have a whole ton of staff doing customer service.
Member engagement though is pre-empting that, recognizing oh, we've been doing this for this many years, we recognize it – hey, this is a common occurrence and it's going to happen. It's not if it does – if you're the unicorn that this doesn't happen to, no! It's not going about it that way, it's expecting that, hey you know what, this is part of the game, this is just what happens. It's going to come in time, and when it does, this is what we're going to do about it. But member engagement is recognizing that. The kid who has floods and you don't teach an Okinawan system of martial arts, where their pants are up to their knees.
Their parents are not buying them a new uniform – you think that's because they have plans and aspirations for him to stick around another 5 more years? I mean, I probably would disagree. But giving that kid a new uniform, making the kid feel more comfortable then, forgetting about the $30 or the $20 or the $50 or the $100, I don't care how much your uniform is, but whatever that amount is, and saying, I care more about the relationship than I do about the uniform and I want to see this person stay – you make that gesture, you push that forward, hey: if we can give a new uniform to a new guy that we don't even know, why can't we give on to a kid who does practice in our program and doesn't have a proper fitting uniform.
Talk to the parent, it might be a budget thing. It might be not a high priority thing, but I’ll tell you who it's going to make a difference for that kid on the mat. That's member engagement, that's recognizing, man, that kids got to be embarrassed by the way he's getting a wedgie in the middle of his class. And it doesn't allow him to do anything because his mom won't buy him a new pair of pants, I mean, let's be real here, you know? I mean, this is what's going on, I mean, in the day where we have over… I don't even know what the correct word is, but just so much abundance of bullying going on, throughout the world.
This is real life crisis, it doesn't matter where you're at, but that's definitely something that… let's make sure that this doesn't become a zone where the kid is going to get bullied because some other smartass kid says something to him and says, your uniform is too short, or doesn't your mom love you enough to buy you new pants or whatever. Give them the respect of saying, hey, I recognize this. Because any parent is going to appreciate that, so it's just a matter of saying or recognizing where you see a situation, let the light bulb go off and say, that isn't right, let's do something about it.
I mean, everything gets triggered. We know this, right? Somebody misses a class for two weeks, chances are, you're going to get a phone call, or you're going to get a notice from the billing company, or you're going to get some kind of information, or a credit card payment isn't going to go through. And then another two weeks, so you know what's coming. So you can either pick up the phone or here's something better: what if we knew that was coming right on the same day they were supposed to be there and they weren't there? If I would date somebody and they say, oh, that was a great first date and then I don't hear from them for like a week or two weeks later and they send me a text, hey – they're not getting a response! Please! If you want to actually build a relationship with anyone, you have to have communication.
You've got to show that you care, you've got to recognize that, oh – this person actually does have my best interest in mind. And if you can convey that, you're not going to have a problem then when that parent has a situation they want to… or like you've mentioned: when you drop the ball. I ordered you the wrong size belt, I got you your belt, but unfortunately, it came in 5 sizes too big and all this. Well have another one for you in the next 4 or 5 days, but here – use this one for now. They're going to overlook those kinds of things. It's definitely in our benefit as martial arts school owners and operators to make sure that we get to know our people and connect with them and recognize when these things happen. Because customer service is too late, that's overcoming objections and that's like, it's such a buzzword. It's such a sad way of trying to build things around something that's already gone, so see it before it happens, you've got to catch it before it happens.
GEORGE: I like that. Awesome. What I really like about that is really, you eliminating the objections. And looking for the opportunity to build relationships is really what it is. And I like what you mentioned about the bullying part because there's always so much focus in advertising, we’re always fighting the bullies and build the confidence and build the fun, but then sometimes there's a disconnect on the actual mats. That was the ad, but is that what you're really doing in your school? Are you really paying attention to that, because as you've mentioned, bullying is a big thing and in Australia right now there's the no bullying week, so there's a lot of promotion and things going on about that. And I don't know if that's in the States as well, but a big thing about that is, is there an opportunity to be bullied right there in front of you? Or just feeling adequate, or not in place? Because of the social pressures.
CAT: I think it's more responsibility than ever. Any teacher, any teacher, any educator, not even in martial arts; a dance teacher, a music teacher, a school teacher has to recognize those things and recognize why someone might be getting singled out, or pushed out the same way and making sure there's a stronger connection with them, because you might be that only connection with them.
GEORGE: Awesome. Cat, it's been awesome speaking to you. And I'm looking forward to seeing you speak at The Main Event.
CAT: I’m looking forward to it!
GEORGE: Yes, and that's going to be awesome. Just a few last words: if people want to connect with you, find out more about you, how should they do that?
CAT: Send me a friend request over Facebook. I love to be able to connect with people, especially if you're in Australia or some other part of the world where I want to travel to one day and get a chance to vacation, I would love to connect with you and be your friend.
GEORGE: Is that what this podcast is really about? All right, awesome.
CAT: Find me on the Facebook, that's the best way to connect with me. And send me a PM if you have any questions about what we talked about today, I'll be happy to talk to you more.
GEORGE: Fantastic. Cat, it's been great speaking to you and I will see you in San Diego soon.
CAT: Pleasure is mine, thank you, George. Have a great day mate!
GEORGE: Thank you.
Awesome – thanks for listening, thanks, Cat Zohar. Great energy, great content. If you're enjoying the show and you're getting great value from it, please, let us know! A good way to do that would be to give us an awesome review, like a 5-star review on the iTunes platform, or Stitcher if you're listening to this on an android mobile device. So for the iPhone, I know you can go, there's a little purple icon, the podcast app and you can just go through the show there and give us a review. Stitcher, probably just follow the instructions, or wherever you're listening to this – just give us a feedback. We’d love to hear from you, I can see you are listening because I see the numbers, but podcasting being a very one-way communication platform, it's hard to get the feedback.
So it would be great to hear from more guests – that would be awesome. And if you need any help with your marketing, with marketing your school, especially on the tech side, the digital platforms that are forever going and changing, then get a hold of us. Get a hold of us on martialartsmedia.com we would be happy to chat with you and I look forward to bringing you another interview, another lady! And it's kind of ironic, four ladies in a row. It’s just pure coincidence. It's not because it's been a women's week, or anything like that, depending on when you're listening to this. It’s been pure coincidence and I'm hoping you're enjoying the change in perspective and change in energy and viewpoints, which is what this show is really about. How can we create good content, good things, good insights that you can apply to your business and that way we all learn and grow.
Awesome, well that's it from me. I will be back next week with another show and speak soon – cheers!
*Need help growing your martial arts school? Learn More Here.