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Off the Bike: What SoulCycle taught us about the Power of the Customer Experience

Emily White and Nicole Das

A few PANhattan team members attended the latest Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg’s speaker series, featuring a conversation between Bloomberg TV’s, Scarlet Fu, and SoulCycle’s CEO, Melanie Whelan.

Cornell Tech, a graduate-level institution, partners with Bloomberg to create the Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg speaker series. The purpose of the series is to bring together the broader technology community in New York City to discuss leadership topics and digital innovation across many industries. Members from our PANhattan team attend these monthly events to be sure we’re keeping up with the latest trends and this most recent one sparked our interest for a few different reasons.

Even if you aren’t an avid indoor cycling enthusiast like the two of us and many others in the office, you’ve probably heard of SoulCycle. As one of the first boutique fitness brands to establish itself in numerous major cities across the country, SoulCycle has quickly become not just a popular workout for fitness enthusiasts of all ages, but also a very recognizable brand. The company’s CEO, Melanie Whelan, shared her insights around some of the reasons why SoulCycle has been so successful for the past thirteen years – here’s what we learned.

Put your customers first

Melanie shared an anecdote with the audience that applies across all industries (and to life in general) – people want to be seen, heard, acknowledged and appreciated. While all of us who have ridden at SoulCycle can attest to the challenge of the workout, Melanie identified the 45-minute class as an “experience,” not just a workout. Her reason was that at its core, SoulCycle is a hospitality business, a feeling she gathered from the SoulCycle brand since her very first class in New York City’s original studio. She had received a thank you note and onesie after attending the class during her first pregnancy and has never forgotten how that made her feel.

SoulCycle strives to produce a memorable experience for their clientele. Whether it’s an instructor cheering you through life’s challenges from the podium or a curated playlist that leaves you feeling energized all morning long, the experience is key to the success of SoulCycle.

Melanie understands the challenge of quality control when trying to deliver the same experience in each class across all 90 locations, which is why she takes hiring so seriously. She compares the company’s hiring process to “American Idol on a bike.” Instructors audition and they are often not judged on their fitness abilities, but on their attitude when asked questions including, “How did you overcome a challenge?” Her hiring team keeps their ears piqued for responses that give way to personalities who can provide the experience her clientele expects.

NYC customer experience

Source: Pexels.com under CC license.

Retain top talent by offering a career path

Having a career as a fitness instructor comes with its own set of challenges. Much of the time, a career in the fitness industry can be unpredictable. Melanie and the rest of the leadership team at SoulCycle don’t want their instructors to burnout or have to work multiple jobs to make ends meet.

As such, SoulCycle prides itself as a “talent-first” organization and recognizes that the brand would be lost without the instructors that become influencers for the company and have the opportunity to build trust with their riders each day. Melanie mentioned that when it comes to retaining the best of the best in each market, offering career trajectory is key and that mentality is applicable across many different industries. When instructors no longer want to be in the hot seat, she makes it known that they can move into other areas of the business, whether it’s the company’s new media agency or the recruitment team. The way that SoulCycle can differentiate itself in an incredibly competitive landscape is the offer of stability, a home base, employee benefits and room for instructors to advance in their roles.  

Foster a “Culture of Yes”

As the age-old saying goes, the customer is always right – but it is important to take that a step further. Melanie understands, that of course, SoulCycle will not always be able to fix every single issue a customer encounters, but it is important to give the customer a “yes” in some capacity. Creating a “culture of yes,” as it is becoming known as, is one of the most important steps toward customer service excellence.

Melanie’s words really resonated with us. As public relations professionals working in a fast-paced, client-serving environment, it is important for all of us to highlight the importance of customer service skills, hiring the right people for the type of company you want to run, and saying ‘yes’ as much as you can.

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Topics: Culture

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