The husband of a friend of mine came home from work one day to eat lunch with my friend and their daughters. As he prepared to return to work, his four-year-old daughter said, “You have to go back to work to make money?”
He said, “Yes.”
She replied, “Remember to come back home when you are done…and remember to be a good boy.”
I tell this story because January is a time for resolutions, and from the e-mails that I have received from members in the past year, I wonder whether more people in our industry need to resolve to be good boys and girls. I receive at least one e-mail every other week from a facility member either chastising me for running an article mentioning something positive about their fitness facility or for listing their club in our annual Top 100 list. The members generally detail their dissatisfaction with their fitness facility, sometimes soliciting my help to resolve the situation. That says to me that these members feel their complaints are not being taken seriously by management, or they feel the situation at their club is so egregious that the press must be notified.
Their complaints vary — some have been unable to cancel their memberships, some are concerned about lack of adult supervision of children's programs, some complain about equipment placed too close together, and others are disturbed that their complaints about illicit locker room activities have been ignored. I'm surprised I don't hear from more members whose clubs have closed unexpectedly. I have a folder filled with news articles about these types of occurrences, which leave a bad taste in many members' mouths that reputable clubs find difficult to wash away.
The most disturbing report came from the same husband mentioned in the opening story. He belongs to a chain whose cheap rates he couldn't pass up. However, he soon found out why the rates were so low. His early morning visits to the locker room are akin to running an obstacle course as he must maneuver around the towels left on the floor by the late night workout crowd and not picked up by the cleaning staff until that morning. He has witnessed the cleaning staff using those dirty towels to wipe up the water on the locker room floor and throwing the towels into the laundry basket, apparently to be laundered and then set out for members to use again. The whirlpool has had a leak since the day he started several months ago. Most frightening is that the pool floor is littered with razor blades (yes, razor blades!). He has complained to management several times about the problems, but so far, to no avail.
I know things aren't as bad as they were in the 1970s and 1980s when the industry suffered from a rotten reputation. Plenty of good, reputable facilities now exist, but even well-run clubs can run afoul of members at times. Studies have shown that customers who have had a complaint successfully and quickly resolved by a company are even more loyal to that company than customers who never had a complaint. How you as a reputable facility owner handle member complaints reflects not just on you and your club, but it also reflects on the entire industry.
Unfortunately, we can't tell a disreputable club owner, “Remember to be a good boy” and expect him or her to follow through. Their motivation for getting into this business is obviously different from yours, but you can resolve to “be a good boy” (or girl) and handle member complaints promptly and thoroughly as they come in. As unfair as it may seem, reputable facilities must make up for the bad that disreputable clubs inflict daily on our industry's reputation.