Everyone makes mistakes at one time or another. When we do mess up, and the customer complains, it's second nature to become defensive. Go ahead and take your minute to sulk, but immediately afterward, take responsibility for what you did wrong and admit that you made a mistake. Many find this the most difficult step in effectively handling a customer complaint. Once you have overcome the biggest impediment, take the following measures to ensure that you retain your current members and keep them content:

  • The member took the time

    How many times have you thought to yourself, “I'm going to write a letter about that?” Or, “I'm going to talk to the manager about that?” How many times have you actually followed through with your complaint? If you're like me, you don't take the time to complain when something upsets you. You simply don't have the time to follow-up and so you go on without doing a thing. Life is busy and time heals most wounds. So, think about those complaints that you do get — written or verbal. They required an investment in time and effort and you should recognize that.

  • Respond

    When responding to a member's complaint, make sure that you let the member know who is taking responsibility to deal with the issue. It's okay if you do not have a solution at that moment, but make sure that you acknowledge the complaint and how important it is to you to swiftly and appropriately correct it. Let the member know that you are going to assemble the facts and when he or she can expect to hear back from you. Most important, stick to you word.

  • Solution

    Once you have identified the problem and have a solution in place, make sure that you communicate with the member prior to moving forward. Your solution might not be what he or she had in mind and you want to make sure the member is satisfied with the proposed solution. Put yourself in the member's position; would you be pleased with what you are proposing? Be truly authentic and genuine when presenting the solution.

  • Follow-up

    How many times has someone followed up with you to ensure that the solution worked and you were satisfied? It probably has not happened often. Follow-up is imperative in ensuring that a member feels important and feels that his or her complaint and the solution were important to you. Reinforce and strengthen your relationship by calling the member one week after the solution has been put in place. Also, keep documentation of the complaint and the agreed upon resolution. This is a perfect way to determine if you have a recurring dilemma in your facility.

  • Making your members feel valued is vital for member retention and future referrals. Hearing their complaints and responding effectively is just one step in keeping your members happy. Another important point to consider: is it easy for your members to complain? There are few things more frustrating than not being able to find a way to voice your opinion. It tends to make you look as though you don't care about your customer's opinions. Your members are proud of where they have chosen to workout and you want to make it as easy as possible for them to be heard through multiple venues.

    Consider a proactive approach and survey your customers; it shows you care. Customers who have had complaints resolved are often times more loyal than customers that have not complained. Make sure that you have a written policy in place on dealing with complaints, and that your employees know what it is. Make your members feel as though their complaints are valid and important. This will ensure that you keep those valuable customers and even increase your customer base through referrals.

    Guy Caron has more than 10 years of experience in the health and fitness industry and is managing director of Bare Associates International, a global mystery shopping company. Guy can be reached at 703-995-3107 or gcaron@baiservices.com.