Ever seen "What Would You Do?" on ABC? Using a hidden camera, they show how ordinary people respond when put on the spot in ethically challenging situations. Here's the health club version - and all the scenarios described are 100 percent real:
1. A member has joined with a 12-month contract. Three weeks later, she says that her husband has had a stroke and she is going to be his full-time caretaker. She wants to cancel her membership immediately. Your contract provides for breaking the agreement in the event of a medical issue, but not for someone else's medical issue. What would you do?
2. An elderly member on a month-to-month membership submits her cancellation request because she is about to begin treatment for cancer. Her request arrives after the cutoff for that billing cycle. In fact, it arrives one day before her next billing date. So, while there's no problem getting her canceled before she's billed again in a month, she does get billed the next day. She calls, asking for a refund. When you don't issue the refund, she calls again…and again, and again. She then arrives unannounced in your office, in tears, desperate for a refund to help her pay for her cancer treatments. What would you do?
3. A member submits his cancellation request after your cutoff date for that billing cycle and is therefore billed one final time before he is cancelled. He claims he could not cancel when he wanted to because your club was closed for several days due to an electrical outage that impacted the entire area. When your staffperson politely explains that he could have mailed a letter or even sent an e-mail, he becomes verbally abusive, curses at your staffmember and hangs up. He then files a complaint with the Attorney General's office demanding a refund of his last month's dues. You thoroughly explain your side of the story to the Attorney General's office, and add that the guy is a jerk. The Attorney General asks if you would be willing to refund 50 percent of his dues just to make the problem go away. What would you do?
4. A member who is four months into a 12-month contract calls your club to ask how to freeze her membership. After receiving the answer, she says "thank you" and takes no action. One week later her father walks in, claiming that his daughter has died. He'd like her billing stopped. When you say you recently spoke with his daughter, he says that she was deceased even at that time. In the absence of an obituary or any coverage in the local press about the untimely death of a young woman in her 20s, you express your surprise and sort-of condolences, and say you'll get back to him. In your mind, you begin quoting Seinfeld's George Costanza ("At a terrible time like this, how would I go about getting a copy of the death certificate?"). Do you ask for the death certificate? Cancel the girl? What would you do?
5. A neighbor of yours is a member of your club. You consider yourself friends and your young kids frequently play together. When she decides to cancel her membership, she submits her request too late to prevent the next billing, but in plenty of time of prevent the one after that. But in her cancellation request to your billing company, she doesn't simply say, "Please cancel my membership." But she does write, "Please stop billing my credit card." This causes a problem, because she still has that last payment to honor but your billing company can't legally charge her card for that final payment because she told them not to. That means her final payment isn't processed. Since you don't let people cancel who owe you money, she stays active in the system. Failed payments occur again the next month and the month after that. Along the way, she receives 14 communications from your billing company - e-mails, phone calls and letters - asking her to please call to resolve this issue. She ignores all 14 contacts. You have no idea any of this is going on because this is what you've hired your billing company to do on your behalf, and you didn't even know she was cancelling. So, she goes to collections. At that point, she finally takes notice of the situation. She tells the collections agency, "I know the owner," and contacts you to fix it for her. Your kids are scheduled for a play date the next day. What do you do?
Seriously … what would you do?