My Gym Gets an “F” for Customer Appreciation

Sixteen years ago, I purchased my first “The Firm” work out tape. I was introduced to the product by an ad in SHAPE magazine.  I paid $49.95 which was a LOT of money for a video tape, even back then.   It marked the beginning of my personal quest to restructure my body without the aid of a surgeon.

I was an AVID home exerciser until I gave birth to my third child the same week we moved into a new home to accommodate our growing family.  For some reason, that series of events threw me into a tail spin from which I have yet to recover physically.  In other words, I fell off that horse and haven’t been able to get back on for any serious stretch since.

Fast forward 13 years later. Over the past decade, I’ve made multiple “false starts” at regaining my “the Firm” physique.  Thanks to my hyperactive dog, I had slain the “I gotta exercise” monster but I wanted to add weight training to my cardio vascular walking work outs. After six months of false starts….last December, I joined a gym.. . hoping to achieve the goal to the left!

I told the gym’s owner up front that I was was joining for much needed accountability. THIS IS IMPORTANT: I was assured that if I went MIA, I would get a phone call from them.  We’re grading on a curve and they’re the ones who set the standard. I didn’t set up a false expectation… they did that for me.

In February, I contracted the Bataan death flu that was going around. Because I suffer from some kind of sick mental defect, I found it IMPOSSIBLE to stop working and rest … which meant my recovery took longer than anyone else’s on the planet.  Needless to say, I haven’t been to the gym in the past month.

Not only did I not get a phone call… when my birthday came and went this week, I didn’t even get a birthday card from them.

I used to get cards when I lived in Indiana from my insurance agent on my birthday. My husband would get them too and I have to admit… its only in retrospect that I recognize what a powerful marketing tool it was.  I never would have imagined that something so small would have such a HUGE affect on my loyalty to my agent. In hindsight, those silly birthday cards actually kept me from rate shopping on my insurance! I realized that as I begin to “rate shop” for the third time since moving to the Sunshine State. I’m ready to jump ship. The agent with whom I worked isn’t in that office anymore…. I have no connection… no loyalty… no reason to remain other than getting the lowest rate possible. It’s an ugly position from which to try to do business.

Back to my gym… it’s not that they’re not trying to grow their business.  After all, they are having a drawing next week to present a 50″ plasma television to one lucky member.  The way to enter the drawing is to either renew your membership (1 entry) or bring a friend who joins (2 entries). The problem is… a chance to win a television isn’t enough to get me to renew my membership OR bring a friend. On the other hand, the guarantee of a warm, personable staff would be MORE than enough… and that’s not what’s happening there.

The friendly faces I saw behind the counter in December when I signed up are no longer there. The helpful personal trainer is gone and replaced by a young man whose disgust and disrespect for the middle aged woman with whom he was demonstrating the proper use of the equipment was glaringly obvious.  The pleasant, friendly older woman behind the counter when I joined has been replaced by a surly teenager who sneers as he hands me a bottle of overpriced water.  Snowbird season isn’t over…. what happened to the friendly staff?

Because of what I do… I’m conscious of what’s going on. I’m taking note.  The other morning, I found myself watching an infomercial for The Firm. I find myself thinking, “You know… I could pull out my old tapes and try to get back on that horse again.”

OOPS!!!   Not only am I NOT bringing friends and family in to join “my” gym… I’ve already checked out myself. They may have gotten 12 months of membership fees out of me… but they won’t get a renewal at this pace.

The thing is… the gym owner and staff “set the tone” for the gym.   They set my expectations by assuring me they’d stay involved… but once my check cleared… they were on to “more important things”…. like recruiting new members.

I tell clients over and over again…. you can not build your business exclusively upon new customers.    If you don’t have repeat business… you’re dead in the water.  Whether it’s a gym… or a blog… repeat customers are the LIFE BLOOD  of any business!!!

When the shoe fits… I get flamed.

Well, my last blog entry inspired a nice little flame from the designer in question.

Despite the fact that I didn’t mention him by name, he recognized himself in the post and sent me an email taking me to the wood shed. He dressed me down thoroughly and instructed me that had I followed the instructions on his web site and “contacted him in the specified manner” that he would have gotten back with me sooner.

Here’s a news flash for ANYONE who thinks a potential customer is reading every single word you write… whether it’s a blog, a brochure or an ad that runs in print….

NO ONE READS YOUR COPY AS CAREFULLY AS YOU DO.

The semi colon used on the about page instead of a colon is not going to tip the scales and make someone NOT contact you to hire you for your services…unless you’re offering your services as a proof reader or editor.

As a matter of fact, I’ve seen typos in one place or another on almost every “successful” web site.  It’s the new world order of marketing… “Get it out quickly… mistakes be damned…. make corrections later!”

I’ve been telling clients for a decade now… “The absolute BEST email you can get in your in box (aside from the “I’m interested in hiring you” one)  is the one where the reader corrects your typos!”  Why?  Because that means people are READING your content!!!!  That is the sign that the content featured on your web site/brochure/ad is indeed compelling content and that readers care enough to share their observations with you.

If you’re going to use your Facebook/Myspace/LinkedIn account as your primary web presence… check it daily.

I know… there are people who advise you to ignore your email.  However, I think Steve Pavilina hit the nail on the head with tip #6 on “10 Business Lessons From a Snarky Entrepreneur

Become so organized it disgusts people.  You’ll never achieve perfection, but you’ll be far better off than your peers who spend two weeks every year looking for things they misplaced.  If you aren’t chronically well-organized, punctual, and dependable, rest assured you’re competing with someone who is.

In the end, no one likes to be “dressed down”… however, you must remember…your best customer is not the one who quietly slinks away… and then complains to 15 people about your business.  Your most treasured customer should be the one who voices a complaint.

Kristin Zhivago writes in her post A buyer’s hellish experience

Understand what people want to do on your website. If you’re not mapping out every step of what everyone wants to DO on your website, you’re bound to be frustrating people. This is vitally important. It is also seldom given half the attention it deserves. There is no substitute for getting input from users and watching users try to use your site. Yes, it’s an extra time-consuming process. It’s also one of the most important things you can do to increase revenue.

I contrast that designer’s response with the ABSOLUTELY classy response to a customer service mis-step which appears on the Ingram Micro blog, First Impressions are Hard to Overcome.

So what do you do when such an issue comes to your attention?  The best defense is not defensive at all.  Own up to your mistakes or shortcomings, pledge to try harder and resolve the concerns, and ask that the offended party give you another chance.  Sometimes they will.  Often they won’t.  In either case its an expensive and humbling lesson.

Excuses and deflections will never fly.  Honesty and perseverance might.

My apology to the designer mentioned previously:

I did NOT intend to humiliate you or dress you down.  I intentionally did NOT mention you, our shared client nor my other client by name.  No details were shared which would identify you and that was by design.

I’m sorry your feelings were hurt.  Your work is inspired.  Take my blog post for what it was… insight as to how a potential customer uses your web presence to contact you.

I’m most disappointed that I will not be able to offer your services to my constantly growing list of clients.  I hope my comments will enable you to refine your web presence so it can become a powerful catalyst in building your business.

Oh… and sorry it took me so long to cook that crow so I could eat it!

Make like a scout and be prepared….

Last month, as I was writing the content for my monthly newsletter, I saw an opportunity for a colleague of mine.

I met John when he began working with a web client of mine on my client’s PR campaign. It was a wonderful experience. While John is a Havard grad and I’m only a Manchester College alum, we both are preaching the same message from different pulpits. John preaches his message and guides clients to garner what he calls “earned media coverage.” I, on the other hand, preach my message of targeting your audience via paid media coverage and the web.

In the meantime, I have ANOTHER client who is doing everything “right” in her quest for achieving “I’ll be a guest on Oprah some day.” Her efforts are in STARK contrast to the small business owner who contacted me a couple of months ago. While my client is making a significant investment in not only money but also time in preparing her marketing materials, this wanna be Oprah guest was adamantly opposed to spending more than the tiniest portion of time AND money to achieve her goal.

So, I wrote a newsletter about my observations on the subject. “Do your marketing goals include appearing on Oprah“. Because, I have had clients who have “broken through” and been featured on nationally televised shows and each of those clients have told me it was their professional appearing web site PLUS that web site’s search engine friendliness that got the ball rolling for them.Continue Reading