Rob & Barry: We Couldn't Care More About Our Members

Rob Bishop Headshot

Imagine that you've just tested your pool water and found it to be - the actual numbers are irrelevant to the story - just fine. A member approaches you 10 minutes later, still in her bathing suit, dripping water on your shoes, and says, "The pH in the pool is high." You say, "I just checked it and it seemed fine, but I'm happy to look into it," even though you'd rather say, "Really? You must be a human chemical testing kit, because the water is actually perfect!" At that moment, would you rather be in the fitness business, or on a beach someplace?

If you've spent any time reading our contributions to this magazine's website, you might have run across some criticism of us as - not to put too fine a point on it - overwhelmingly negative, horrible people. You might even have thought this yourself. We despise our industry.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

We like to think of ourselves as realists. And also, we try to be honest and transparent about our inner conflicts when dealing with hundreds of members, many of whom have certain special needs and expectations. Moments like the one when (full disclosure) Rob squared off with Human Chemical Testing Kit show the fine line we sometimes walk. The conflict is in trying to exhibit an understanding of Customer Service 101 and not saying what really occurs to us to say. That conflict and the resulting stress makes our lives, and the lives of people like us, much more difficult.

We are frequently misunderstood. We are, in fact, the people who actually care. And do you know who we most admire, and wish we could be more like? The people who don't care.

They are the club owners and managers who have no interest whatsoever in listening to or accommodating anyone who diverges, or wishes to diverge, from the way they run their business. They don't care. Their gyms are the way they are, and you can take it or leave it. These are the people who are stress-free and will likely outlive us.

Our hero is a Gold's Gym owner we met years ago. We were bonding over how insane members can get about cycling classes and the lengths they'll go to in order to get a bike in a popular class. How did he handle it when members couldn't get a bike and then complained? He'd tell them, "I have 25,000 square feet of fitness equipment. Go do something else."

He loved his third-party billing company, because he knew when member payments weren't successfully processed. If a member tried to check in when he or she was overdue, the name would pop up in red. So, what did he do when a member payment was overdue? Did he give the person leeway to make the payment later? Nope. He'd tell the member, "Take out your wallet, pay me what you owe me and then enjoy your workout."

We met a CrossFit gym owner recently who told us about the people he has actively told to leave his gym. "One guy just wouldn't stop asking questions," he said. "I told him I'd had enough of him and that he should go somewhere else. I don't have time for that. I just want people to do the workout."

How awesome is that? These guys say what we only think! Is it good for their business? Who cares? These are happy guys! These are men who are likely never accused of being negative because they've always got smiles on their faces - because they don't care!

We've had uncomfortable meetings with chronically unhappy members during which we've suggested they go to another gym where they might be happier. We've sent staff members home when they were not dressed properly, and we've fired people on the spot when they've exhibited egregious behavior. We're not pushovers, and we proudly defend our business and our decisions. But to tell someone, "You ask too many questions, so get out"? That guy owns Club Cojones!

We're trying to care less. We are being much less accommodating of potential new employees who are hoping to get into the fitness business, and we've instructed our hiring managers to be much more direct - maybe a touch harsh - when it becomes apparent that a potential employee is not right for us. An example is the would-be personal trainer who already has a full-time job. In the past, we might have taken a chance on that person, because it's reasonable to envision a motivated trainer developing a solid part-time job with clients who work around his schedule. Now we are much less inclined to give such a candidate a chance, because the more likely scenario is that this person is looking for a hobby. We've told our managers to simply cut off the process with such people. We're not mean about it - just direct and unemotional. This is the same mindset that we've brought to our interactions with salespeople, and we're trying to care less with our members, too:

Member: Can we get Saturday-morning childcare service?

Us: We've had many requests for Saturday-morning childcare over the years, but every time we've offered it, the attendance has been poor.

Member: But you're so much busier on Saturdays now. Have you tried recently? I really think a lot of people would use it.

Us: Our Saturday-morning attendance figures are actually the same as they've been for awhile now, so it's hard to imagine more success than we've had in the past.

Member: It would make my life a lot easier, and both my husband and I could come together on Saturday mornings. It would be great.

Us: No. Sorry.

Even when it comes to positive feedback, we're trying not to care too much. When you care, the highs get too high and the lows can get too low. Of course, we want happy members, but we're not going to high-five and exalt when we've made them happy - that's what we are trying to do, so we already have some expectation of success. Plus, we know that it might be just a matter of time until the negative feedback arrives on the same issue.

For example, soon we'll be doing our annual re-grouting of our showers in both locker rooms, and then we'll be shutting down our cardio area for a couple of days when we move some old equipment out and bring new equipment in. In both cases, the inconvenience to the members will be a necessary evil, and the long-term benefits will far outweigh the inconvenience. To keep complaints down, we'll do what we've always done. We'll provide plenty of notice. We'll post signs and send out emails, text alerts, Facebook posts and tweets so that everyone knows about the projects. We'll prepare our staff with knowledge of what we're doing, when and why, and we'll make sure they have responses for the inevitable questions and complaints. On the positive side, the newly grouted showers will surely yield some compliments, and the new cardio equipment will get lots of people excited and happy.

But either way, we won't care as much as we used to about feedback from the members. We're doing the right things, for the right reasons and at the right time. We just won't care what the members have to say. If they're happy, that's great. If they're angry, that's fine, too. We're going to get these projects done and we're going to move on, continuing to run the business as best we can and with the best intentions.

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