Everyone is FLUXed

Wait… Weight. Watch. Err…..

Weight Watchers(tm) is perhaps the biggest and best-known weight loss business in America.  They have been in business fifty years, and have more than a million members.  They use a combination of food tracking based on scientifically-researched data about calories, carbohydrates and so on, and weekly meetings that mirror the well-known “12 Step” recovery programs for various types of addictive behavior.

Over the years, Weight Watchers(tm) has periodically changed its program to incorporate new data about the relative importance of things like daily water intake, portion sizes, and so on.  Each member gets a daily allowance of food “points” to consume, based on age, gender, height, and weight.  The advent of laptops, mobile tablets, and smartphones, has brought with it the Weight Watchers(tm) apps, to ease the tracking of both food consumption, and physical activity.

In the past, changes from one iteration of the plan to the next were not too significant.  The terminology changed, from “ponts” to “points plus” for example.  But the core concepts and relative food values didn’t deviate too much from generation to generation of the program.

This is important to members.  Research clearly shows that many people who are able to lose weight under the plan, gain it back over time.  Members get discouraged, leave, and often return again months or years later.  So the continuity of the program, and the ease of resuming and learning the current system, is important.  It is a key driver of member satisfaction, and customer retention.

So, from our FLUX perspective, we can say that:

People’s EXPERIENCE as they join and rejoin Weight Watchers(tm) helps them LEARN and UNDERSTAND the system and program fairly easily.  The meeting leaders and weigh-in staff work specifically to welcome the new and returning member.  People FEEL comfortable coming in, even after long periods of absence and regained weight.

Members’ past EXPERIENCE gives them EXPECTATIONS about how each new and future meeting and following the program will be for them.  From the first days and weeks of changing food choices, portions, eating and activity habits, members begin to match their ENGAGEMENT with Weight Watchers(tm) to their new EXPERIENCE every day.  The discussions at weekly meetings; the occasional seasonal challenges (to try certain foods or activities, etc.); and the personal challenges of very tempting events like weddings, and holiday dinners with family, bring varied DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE   over time.  The member’s RESPONSE CAPACITY grows.

And SO…


In December 2015, Weight Watchers(tm) introduced what it called it’s “biggest changes in 50 years.”  This came during the holiday period- typically the most challenging time of the year for those trying to manage their weight loss.  All that the meeting leaders were allowed to tell members in advance, was that- as always- the new and improved plan was rooted in the latest and best scientific information available.  The message seemed to be the same as it had been for 50 years:

“Trust us.”

But then, the million-plus members got seriously FLUXed.  Here are the basics of the new plan and its major changes:

for the first time, WW was about more than just weight loss.  The new “Beyond the Scale” approach included specific and personalized fitness/activity goals for the first time.  The intention was not just to lose weoght, but to be more healthy overall.

building on current research, the new plan acknowledged that foods relatively high in sugars and saturated fats, were more likely to make a person unhealthy.  So, to discourage the consumption of these foods, WW new “smart points” significantly raised the point values for foods with these ingredients.  Daily point allotments, and the weekly allowance for indulgences, both changed.

the old app was stopped.  Members were told it would cease working the next weekend, but that a new app would immediately replace it.  The new app would, of course, reflect the new plan and system.

So. . . where’s the FLUX?

The impact on members was dramatic.  The DEGREES OF DIFFERENCE were significant, and in most cases, challenged members’ ability to easily and quickly respond.  Here are some examples:

  1. a drink at Starbucks- not the huge mocha frappawhatzis shakes, but a moderately-sized drink with low-fat milk, jumped from 6 “Points Plus” to 12 “Smart Points.” The culprit was the sugar content of milk.  A member could manage a drink like that once or twice a week at 6 points, with a daily allowance of 26, and a weekly treat balance of 49 to use at their discretion.  But at 12 points per drink, the choice had far greater significance, and became much more difficult to justify and manage.
  2. Olive oil- a “healthy fat” whose minimal consumption was actually recommended every day in the old plan (members were to check off the number of  “healthy fat” portions they had each day)- suddenly became part of the Evil Empire.  Was a tablespoon in the pan for cooking now worth 5-6 points where it had been just 3 the day before?
  3. The new app rollout was a disaster.  It was more awkward, more confusing, more different than its predecessors.  Foods that the member had entered themselves, using the built-in point calculator, were now at zero, because the new app didn’t know the needed sugar and fat info necessary to calculate the new “Smart Points.”  The app was crashing routinely.  Over the following days and weeks- right in the middle of the critical (for managing weight loss and adherence to the plan) holiday period, the app was taken down and replaced with a new version every few days.  The complaints on the Apple app store and WW user forums ran up into the hundreds and even thousands.

Yet. . . Yet. . . not all was lost.  Not all was bad.  The Weight Watchers’ member forums on their web site showed that SOME members adapted to the new plan very quickly.  Seemingly with ease.  They didn’t seem to FEEL angry or frustrated by the “biggest changes in 50 years.” They were able to quickly LEARN, UNDERSTAND, and EXPLORE the new system- and achieve the outcomes they wanted.

For most members, however, the change was a major FLUXup.  The patterns and habits of food purchases, cooking, and eating that had been completely fine and within the plan yesterday, became unacceptable literally overnight.  The app rollout was a business nightmare.  How could a major business like WW not have done beta testing and focus groups to know what a mess their programmers had created?

For now, the FLUX goes on, as it always does.  For Weight Watchers(tm), the FLUX was amplified by the concurrent announcement that Oprah Winfrey had just bought 10% of the company’s stock, with an option to buy another 5%. Ads with Oprah for the new “beyond the scale” and “we’re in this together” messages began to run as the new year began.  Weight Watchers(tm) stock took a 20% jump up.  Customer satisfaction from being FLUXed? Not so much.

By Bruce Waltuck (c) 2016 all rights reserved