Customer Service Challenges Take Many Forms

Rob Bishop Headshot
[Illustration by Arnel Reynon]
[Illustration by Arnel Reynon]

A few months ago, a video of an irate member destroying the front desk area of a Planet Fitness location went viral. When I saw the video, I just laughed — because it wasn't my club she was trying to dismantle. But what really caught my eye was the staff members who were also visible in the video. They just stood there calmly and watched. What else could they do besides call the police?

If you work in this industry (or any service industry, for that matter), then you have stories about annoying customers or crazy things that have happened at your place of business. After watching that one patron physically attack a Planet Fitness, I started thinking: Who are the worst customers I have ever had to deal with — the ones who made me (nearly) lose my temper or abandon any thought of customer service?

Names have been changed to protect the guilty.

Delinquent 'Jim'
"Jim" was several months overdue on his account. Our billing company continued to attempt to bill his card until the overdue payments finally cleared. He called and wanted a refund and the staff person, of course, would not grant him one. He then drove straight to the club and refused to leave until he spoke to me. I tried explaining to him that he owed that money and there was no reason for me to offer a refund. Among the reasons he gave for why I should:

"Rob, why do you want to do me like that? We're friends."

"I called the billing company and they said they made a mistake and you should give me a refund." (No, they didn't make a mistake. I checked.)

"This has never happened before." (He'd bounced payments on eight other occasions.)

"I need that money for bills." (Of which your health club dues are one.)

I tried. And tried. And tried again. Twice I raised my voice. I'm ashamed to say I lost sight of any desire to try to find a mutually agreeable solution and instead wanted to punch Jim in the face.

Eventually, I took a deep breath and — with the help of Jim's wife — was able to find a solution that involved a partial payment now, with an agreement for Jim to pay the rest the following month.

Rehab 'Matt'
"Matt" had been an intravenous drug user for years and — for want of a better phrase — had "fried his brain." While under the influence, he had had three (yes, three) head-on car collisions because, as Matt put it, "When I drive, I like to hug the yellow line and I don't move over for anyone."

By the time he joined the club, he had been in recovery for several years but was now trying to put his damaged body back together. The problem was, he asked a lot of questions because he had no short-term memory and couldn't remember the answers we had just given him. He would work out for a few hours, stop to ask questions, forget that he had just worked out, and go back and work out all over again. He averaged six to seven hours per day in the gym. One day he had a pizza delivered to the club and ate it while sitting on the leg-extension machine.

If you changed from your dress shoes into sneakers in the locker room and didn't lock your dress shoes in a locker, Matt would put them on and wear them around the club. One staff person who had worked with Matt nearly every day for months eventually quit his job and left the fitness industry because he "just couldn't take it anymore."

Aquatic ultimatum
Both in their 40s, "Margie" and "Diane" come to the club three times a week to swim at 6 a.m. They are usually the only two people in the pool at that time. Margie has headphones (yes, for the pool) and likes to sing at the top of her lungs. Diane likes to shout at Margie, "WILL YOU PLEASE SHUT UP?" They would then each stop at the front desk on their way out to complain about the other one. One of my managers worked with the two of them for weeks, to no avail. Finally, I told them both that if they didn't stop, I'd cancel both their memberships.

Drawing a line
"Mike," who comes to the club to swim, told me he was an amateur artist and likes to draw people. He asked if he could take a picture of my face so he could sketch it because my head is square and easy to draw. (Was that a compliment?)

A few weeks later Mike wanted to show me his drawings. The first thing I noticed was that he had Photoshopped my head onto the paper and then drew my body in various poses. I was on horseback in one (disturbingly, with no shirt on) and wrestling a shark in another. Then came the drawings of me in a loincloth and finally with nothing on at all. "Well, these are... nice."

But what nearly got Mike thrown out of the club was the time he opened the shower curtain while I was showering. He told me that he was so inspired that he was going to stay up all night sketching. I told him that if he ever opened someone's shower curtain again, he'd lose his membership privileges.

You can't wash off that feeling no matter how long you stay in the shower.

A brush with 'Brian'
"Brian" was a long-term member who liked to walk around the men's locker room naked. No towel. No underwear. And he would stay in there way too long. He'd chat up people when they came in to the locker room. "How's the new job?" "Going to be hot today." "On my way to do a little fishing this weekend."

The worst part was seeing him brush his teeth while naked. When we asked him if, perhaps, he could wrap a towel around himself, he responded, "Why?"

Body by 'Mark'
"Mark" comes to the club nearly every day. He lifts weights for an hour or so, takes a spin class once in a while and runs a few miles on the treadmill. He also parks in one of the handicapped spaces because he has a "leg injury." After observing him run miles and miles on the treadmill on several occasions, I asked him why he parks in the handicapped parking space. "Because the spaces are larger and I don't want anyone dinging the door of my car." What?

Park it, 'Steve'
"Steve" is an older gentleman who attends our water aerobics class several times a week. If all of the handicapped spaces are taken (see Mark above), he will simply park on the sidewalk by the front door.

On more than one occasion in the past few months, Steve's posterior has "missed" the toilet bowl, resulting in the type of accident that no one should ever have to clean up. We had to address this with Steve, and he said he was on a new medication (that evidently makes it hard for his posterior to find the toilet bowl).

Free speech from 'MaryAnn'
"MaryAnn" has been a member of the club for more than 20 years, and in all that time I don't ever recall her smiling. She loves it when we do any sort of promotion that involves anything free, such as a free personal training session with a new trainer. She is usually the first name on the sign-up list.

However, in the past 20 years, she has never actually purchased anything — not even a bottle of water. But her real claim to fame is that she complains every time we hire a new instructor or add or change a group fitness class. And I know when she is going to complain, because she starts the conversation with the words, "I'm really not one to complain, but... "

That's my short list of customers my club employees could do without. Trust me, you don't want to see the long list. Some members didn't make the cut because their stories buried the needle on the "squeamish meter" even more than those mentioned above.

Drop me an email or post a response online to let me know about your greatest customer service challenges. You'll never top the guy who draws naked pictures of me. And if any of you come across that portrait of me wrestling a shark, you might be able to retire on the money my brother will pay you for it.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of Athletic Business with the title "Horror stories from the front lines of customer service." Athletic Business is a free magazine for professionals in the athletic, fitness and recreation industry. Click here to subscribe.


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