WeightWatchers Eases Customers Into New Points Plan

December 30, 2010

WeightWatchers members are an obsessive bunch. This Zengage writer (and on-again, off-again WeightWatcher) once heard a woman at a meeting ask the WeightWatchers leader how many Points are in a Communion Host. The woman (who was completely serious) wanted to make sure she counted the Host at Sunday Mass so she wouldn’t go over her allotment of Points for the week.

This may represent an extreme when it comes to WeightWatchers members, but eating is a big part of life, especially when you are trying to lose weight. It’s no wonder that WeightWatchers members take their quest seriously, investing time and money (in the form of fees for meetings and WeightWatchers-branded products such as cookbooks and food) to make the plan work in their lives.

The Brief History of WeightWatchers

This Zengage writer has been a WeightWatchers member on and off for about 35 years. It all started when my mother took her chubby 10-year-old daughter to the local Elks Club, where the WeightWatchers meetings were held. In those days, you had to eat liver once a week–whether you liked it or not–fats could only be consumed at meals, and foods were legal (OK on the plan) or illegal. The way we think about food has, thankfully, come a long way since then. So has WeightWatchers. Following is a brief history of some of the organization’s key moments.

1961
Jean Nidetch invites friends to meet once a week to discuss dieting and offer support to each other. The WeightWatchers meeting is born.

1963
WeightWatchers is officially launched.

1965
WeightWatchers magazine is launched.

1977
A new WeightWatchers Food Plan lets members eat cheeseburgers, corn on the cob and other succulent foods–all within limits, of course.

1978
WeightWatchers begins to recommend that exercise be incorporated into the program.

1987
The new, improved QuickStart Program includes a Self-Discovery Plan that examines your feelings about food.

1995
Members eat at least a certain amount of fiber and no more than a certain amount of fat on WeightWatchers’ Fat & Fiber plan. This program, launched during the fat-free craze, was relatively short-lived.

1997
WeightWatchers develops the Points program.

1999
WeightWatchers.com is launched.

2004
The WeightWatchers Core Plan allows members to choose from a list of foods that can be eaten (almost) without impunity. The alternative Flex Plan is Points-based.

2008
WeightWatchers Mobile debuts.

2010
WeightWatchers launches the PointsPlus plan, which uses a formula that takes into account the way our bodies use the protein, carbs and fiber in food.

So the WeightWatchers organization had its work cut out for it when it updated its 13-year-old old Points program to the new PointsPlus system. How do you ease your members into a plan–and keep them as WeightWatchers customers–when it will change the way they have been eating and thinking for perhaps years?

The PointsPlus plan uses a new formula that incorporates information about a food’s protein, carbs and fiber. The old Points program, in contrast, was based mainly on a food’s fat and calorie content. On the old Points plan, foods that weren’t nutritionally equal could be equal in Points. The new plan takes a more holistic approach to food and the way our bodies use it. For example, fruits and vegetables on the new plan are now zero points (a change, by the way, that is about as big as change gets in the WeightWatchers universe), and most processed foods will cost you more Points than they used to.

Great Lengths Taken to Transition Existing Customers

This may all make sense on paper, but it would take a careful, thoughtful rollout to ease existing members into the new plan and to attract new customers. The program was introduced in WeightWatchers meeting rooms on Nov. 28, and the online version of the program was adapted to the new PointsPlus system as of Nov. 29. At WeightWatchers.com, a letter from WeightWatchers President and CEO Dave Kirchoff was posted. The letter explains the science behind the new program, acknowledges that the change might cause anxiety for those accustomed to the old program, and offers some practical advice based on the experience of PointsPlus beta testers.

WeightWatchers also used its Facebook presence to both incite excitement and allay fears about the new program.

On Nov. 6, WeightWatchers updated its Facebook status to acknowledge the new program and linked to a video posted on YouTube that featured Kirchoff discussing the genesis of the new plan. The update received almost 1,000 Likes and 445 comments. On Nov. 16, WeightWatchers updated its status to: “There’s so much buzz about the changes coming to Weight Watchers, we decided to answer your most common questions. Is fruit really free? Read to find out.” More than 500 people liked the update, which received 226 comments.

On Nov. 26, an official announcement from Kirchoff was linked: “In late November of this year, we will be launching what I think is our most significant innovation since the Points system hit the scene some 13 years ago. This exciting new program … aligns perfectly with our tradition of providing you with the latest, most scientifically sound nutrition information. While it is (happily) still based on the Points system, it takes Weight Watchers to an entirely new–and outstanding–level.”

On Nov. 29, a video outlining the new program was posted. Comments on the update ranged from, “It seems to me that WW keeps changing the rules just so we have to buy the latest products,” to, “I thought the program needed to be updated a couple of years ago.”

Since the launch of PointsPlus, WeightWatchers has linked to reviews and analysis from a variety of sources, including CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and USAToday.

This is not the first time the WeightWatchers program has been updated, and it likely won’t be the last. it’s also not the only weight loss program out there. (Hello, Jenny Craig.) Only time–and scales–will tell whether WeightWatchers has been successful in helping its customers weigh their best options.

Photo courtesy of -Paul H-.