Pound Wise

Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

eDiets retains customers with round-the-clock support

eDiets.com claims that its members lose weight and stay in the group longer than any of the site’s offline competitors. And better yet, the main reason for its success costs the e-business nearly nothing: The other members keep fellow dieters coming back.

The Deerfield Beach, FL, company hosts dozens of chat rooms on the site (www.eDiets.com) where subscribers can open up to others experiencing the same pangs and drives. Members give tips and advice, share feelings and provide encouragement in support groups such as Fitness Challenge, Suddenly Single or 100 Plus Club (for people who want to lose 100 pounds).

“When there’s support involved, you’re more likely to stick with the diet,” says Donna DeCunzo, director of nutrition services at eDiets.

But plenty of support is also offered by the company, starting with the customized diet. New members fill out a profile that includes their name, e-mail address, weight, height, allergies, food preferences and choice of program. They choose the recipe program (with lots of cooking), the convenience program (with ready-made meals such as frozen dinners) or a combination of both.

Then eDiets sends back by e-mail a customized meal and exercise plan and a shopping list — including the brands to buy that best suit the diet — for one week at a time.

The plan includes well-balanced, low-fat meals designed to help people lose one or two pounds a week. “We feel more than that is not really practicable,” says David Humble, eDiets’ CEO.

The cost is $15 to join, plus $10 each month, with a three-month minimum.

Diet Data

The diets aren’t exactly tailored to each individual. “It’s about as personalized as you would get if you went to a nutritionist,” Humble says. Members can modify their profiles on their personalized Web pages, or pick up extra recipes on the home site. Diets are altered as subscribers lose weight.

To keep members with the program, 30% of eDiets’ staff is dedicated to customer service.

In addition to reps who answer technical and membership queries, health care professionals — nutritionists, psychologists, a relationship expert and an eating disorders specialist — are available by e-mail and telephone 10 hours a day. Around the clock, there are chats and online discussions moderated by professionals.

Newsletters featuring human-interest stories and food and nutrition tips arrive by e-mail five times a week. Free newsletters also go out to groom 3.4 million prospects as customers.

All this support is geared to helping members change their eating habits. “We want this to be your last attempt at weight loss so you’re modifying the behavior that caused the problem in the first place,” DeCunzo explains.

“You may come home from a hard day and eat a bowl of ice cream to relieve the stress,” she says. “It’s not the food, it’s going to the food for medication.”

Support System

It’s a customer relationship management formula that works. eDiets has 170,000 subscribers, up from 33,000 in 1999. Better still, the average stay in the program is six months, an excellent retention rate compared with the six-week stay in the average offline weight-loss program such as Weight Watchers.

“People come into our program because of the personalization, but one of the reasons they stay is because of the very close support,” says Kendall Goodrich, vice president of marketing.

Indeed, DeCunzo has modified diets for members who want to remain in the program after they have lost weight. “They want to stick around for all the healthy benefits,” she remarks.

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