How Emotions Influence Texting Response Rates in the Fitness Industry

Woman holding cell phone with text bubbles around her

What drives us as humans? Many things go into determining why we do the things we do. Take our personalities and emotions; how do they affect the actions we take? Add in external factors such as our physical environment and the role technology plays in our daily lives and things get even more complex.

Who hasn’t experienced waking up in a good mood only to turn on the news or check the messages on your phone and suddenly have your sunny outlook cloud over?

Language is a powerful driver of emotion. The words we use can motivate us to move forward or stop us in our tracks. Every situation we encounter, whether it’s perceived as positive or negative, impacts how we view the world. And that view can affect how we interact with others, whether that’s face to face with family, friends and co-workers or virtually as when interacting with computers or our mobile devices.

Evaluating how emotion and personality affect texting patterns

Zipwhip specializes in providing businesses of all sizes with texting software solutions that enable them to easily communicate with their customers. We wanted to better understand how emotions and personality play a role in the speed at which individuals respond to those text messages, primarily in understanding the connection between technology, psychology and human relationships.

For our purposes, we focused on the fitness industry and looked at the top 10 fitness brands using a market-leading fitness CRM (customer relationship management) software to connect with their members. Specifically, we wanted to gauge how individual emotions and personalities affected how slowly or quickly a text message was responded to, regardless of whether the message originated from someone working in the fitness industry or if it was from a member of a gym, boxing club, workout studio or other exercise facility.

We also wanted to understand if particular words used in the texts or the tone conveyed by those words were more likely to trigger a response from the person receiving it. Lastly, we wondered if either of those factors resulted in faster response times or higher resolution rates if an issue was raised that needed attention.

Analysis of text messages in the fitness industry

To conduct our analysis, we partnered with psyML, a data science company based in Los Angeles, California. The team at psyML combines psychology and machine learning to better understand human behavior and the factors that go into how individuals respond to various situations.

Dr. Galen Buckwalter is the chief science officer of psyML. He, along with a staff of psychologists, scientists and writers, promotes the idea that understanding personality, beliefs, values, and emotional states of an individual group is the first step to building more meaningful connections between people and digital technologies.

The company works with business leaders to understand their goals and create a plan to evaluate the psychological makeup of teams or customers. One of psyML’s primary aims is to help consumers better understand their own psychological states in order to be more self-aware in an otherwise transactional setting. As human interaction becomes increasingly digital, psyML believes it’s critical for consumers to have real-time personalized feedback in order for them to make better decisions.

Dr. Buckwalter believes that psychometrics, the process of applying numbers to human behavior, is one area where advanced analytics can successfully be used today. The quantitative study of personality is finding new technical applications, and the fitness-related text message study described below is one such example.

“When you consider the entire scope of human behavior and thinking, you can see just how broad the application of this field of study can be. Given our similarities and our profound differences of thought, the sky’s the limit,” said Dr. Buckwalter.

Dr. Galen Buckwalter teaching class about psychometrics

Dr. Galen Buckwalter discussing the study of psychometrics

The analytic dataset: interactions between companies and customers

The researchers at psyML evaluated over 1.5 million anonymized text messages sent through a market-leading fitness CRM software. All personally identifiable information was removed and then the aggregate data was analyzed to look for patterns of behavior based on words used by both the senders and receivers of the texts in conjunction with the length of time between each message.

Generally, the stronger the emotional component of the message, the faster it would be responded to which led to a higher level of engagement between the two parties.

The basis used to evaluate the texts relied upon the first cycle of communication between the fitness facility and the fitness participant. This provided a clearly defined, consistent marker of communication across all texts. In addition, the following criteria were established:

  • The response time was calculated as the difference between the time stamps for the initial text and the response text.
  • Times greater than three days were excluded.
  • Emotions were quantified for each text sent regardless of its length.
  • Personality was quantified across all texts provided by a unique Company Name and across all texts in a conversation for each customer.

The goal was to determine if the speed at which text messages were responded to was tied to the words used and the emotion conveyed by those words. Would some texts be responded to faster based on the context of the message, or would the words and sentiment expressed have no bearing on the time it took to reply?

Models used to evaluate the text messages

To calculate the results of their findings, researchers used two models for analysis. The first was used to determine EMOTIONS. It was based on proprietary and unstructured deep learning models developed by psyML, and quantifies the data based on: Anger, Disgust, Fear, Happiness, Sadness and overall Sentiment. The second was used to determine PERSONALITY. It was based on the HEXACO model of personality structure.

HEXACO model of personality

Image source: AOE Science

What is the HEXACO model? 

The HEXACO model is a six-dimensional representation of human personality that was created by researchers Kibeom Lee, Ph.D. and Michael C. Ashton, Ph.D. The model conceptualizes human personality in terms of six dimensions that are based around the following factors: 

Honesty-Humility (H)
Characteristics: sincerity, greed avoidance, fairness, modesty
Likely to care about social justice.
Unlikely to be concerned about personal wealth. 

Emotionality (E)
Characteristics: anxiety, dependence, sentimentality, fearfulness
Likely to be reactive to the actions of others.
Unlikely to be stoic. 

Extraversion (X)
Characteristics: sociability, social self-esteem, social boldness, liveliness
Likely to get energy from being around other people (be the life of the party).
Unlikely to enjoy working alone. 

Agreeableness (A)
Characteristics: flexibility, forgiveness, gentleness, patience
Likely to be nurturing and supportive.
Unlikely to be contrarian and confrontive when working with others. 

Conscientiousness (C)
Characteristics: diligence, organization, perfection, prudence
Likely to be comfortable fitting into a power structure.
Unlikely to rebel or push boundaries. 

Openness to Experience (O)
Characteristics: inquisitiveness, aesthetic appreciation, unconventionality, creativity
Likely to be open to novel or unconventional ideas.
Unlikely to value traditions.

Woman texting from gym

How emotion relates to the response time of a text message  

Emotions are often influenced by personality but can overpower personality traits. Depending on the situation, our emotions can play an important role in how we communicate with others. Below are the findings from psyML relating to how emotions affect text response times.  

When the first text comes from companies, higher emotions on each of the five emotions correlate with faster response times. The five emotions are anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness and overall sentiment. When the first text comes from customers, the pattern is similar except there is a significant correlation with Sentiment but not with Happiness.” — psyML 

It’s not surprising to see a strong correlation between emotions and response time because emotions are a quick way to get someone’s attention. People respond faster when they sense urgency. When both businesses and customers sensed urgency from the other party, there was a tendency to respond faster. 

The expression of Fear shows the strongest association with shorter response times for both groups. However, “Fear” in this context should be considered as a sense of urgency, such as, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to attend tonight’s workout.” Words used to indicate Fear include afraid, nervous and shocked. 

Example: “I woke up with an upset stomach. I could come to class but I’m afraid I’ll get sick.” 

How personality relates to the response time of a text message 

Depending on the situation, our personality can take a back seat to our emotions. As noted above, it depends on the sense of urgency of the message. Below are the findings from psyML relating to how personality affects text response times.  

“When a company representative sends an initial text and demonstrates higher levels of Emotionality and Conscientiousness there is a shorter response time. When customers send the initial text, higher levels of Extraversion are correlated with faster response times.” — psyML 

An important takeaway is that company representatives who demonstrate emotions, as seen in the previous analyses of emotions and Emotionality on HEXACO, as well as those who are higher on Conscientiousness (organized, supportive of authority) express themselves such that customers tend to respond more quickly. 

Customers who are higher on Extraversion (social, adventurous) elicit faster responses from the company. This suggests that representatives are responding more favorably to certain people and would benefit from training on how to respond equally to all customers.  

Psychological associations between company representatives and customers 

The words used in a text message can be highly impactful or they can fall on deaf ears. By connecting to the emotions of the recipient and considering their goals, a message is more likely to get the desired result.  

Using specific words (and even emoticons) to appeal to the emotions of fitness center participants may lead to higher and faster response rates. It may even encourage them to take a desired action, such as show up for a class, renew their membership or take steps to address an outstanding balance on their account.

 

Phones showing texting conversations

 

In the example above, the goal of the gym is to encourage the recipient to show up at their location for a spin class that evening. The message on the left that connects emotionally by speaking to the personality of the individual is more likely to get a desired response, assuming one goal of joining the gym was to burn calories.

On the contrary, using words with little or no emotional value, as indicated in the message on the right, may have the opposite effect. In this example, no message has been sent in response to the original text leading to the conclusion that, most likely, the individual will not be attending that evening’s spin class.

It’s no surprise that “burn” was listed as one of the top words used by fitness company representatives when sending texts. It appears the companies understand the emotional resonance that particular word has among fitness facility members.

Two final takeaways

One: the researchers at psyML found that a high level of texts sent to businesses in the fitness industry go unanswered. If a company wants to engage with their members, it’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street.

Sending out text messages to alert individuals about class sign-ups, facility closures or membership renewal deadlines is beneficial. However, being responsive to incoming requests for information or assistance is also important in maintaining trust and building lasting relationships. Automatic replies to inbound texts are one way a company can let their customers know that they received their message and will get back to them.

Two: fear should never be used as a tactic to elicit faster responses. Instead, words that may instill a sense of fear should only be used in situations of high urgency. If a business overuses this emotion in messages, the effect could wear off as in the fable of the boy who cried wolf.

Some best practices for business texting to keep in mind include: keep messages relevant, clearly state your reason for sending a text, include a call to action (if appropriate) and be respectful of the recipient’s time so as not to interrupt or overwhelm them with the timing or frequency of the messages.

If you’re a gym or studio owner, manager, sales representative or class instructor who wants to improve your communication with text messaging, download our free e-book: Texting for Fitness 101: A how-to guide for texting your members and prospects.

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