Customers don’t expect you to be perfect. They do expect you to fix things when they go wrong.
Donald Porter, V.P. British Airways
The most rewarding part of gym ownership is the ability to help people meet their maximum potential. The opportunity to watch someone develop, grow and learn over time is what makes the fitness industry such a great place to work – and is why so many of us choose this over other occupations.
On the other hand, there are days when goals aren’t met, when disappointment occurs and things just don’t go right. Most of the time, this goes unnoticed and unrecognised, but if you’re lucky, it can result in a customer complaint.
Yes, you read that correctly. Lucky. You might not realise it yet, but customer complaints are probably the most critical juncture in any business-client relationship, after the initial sale.
Most people don’t like to complain. It can often take a lot of courage to turn around and tell someone that you’re disappointed or annoyed about something. Understanding this is critical to handling complaints properly. By taking the time out of their day to show their dissatisfaction, the customer is giving you an amazing opportunity to create new found loyalty, and to improve your business in the long term.
Adopting this mindset is the first step towards handling customer complaints, but it certainly isn’t the last.
Take a step back
In the weightroom and in the world, it can be easy to let your ego get ahead of you. When you’re first faced with a customer complaint, you need to let your ego go. Criticism isn’t always easy to deal with, especially when you’re already under stress, and recognising this is important. The first step in resolving any customer complaint is taking a deep breath, and accepting that you’re going to have to be humble.
Don’t do anything (at first)
This might seem counterintuitive, but it’s true. Letting the customer talk and explain their issues is probably the most important step in the complaints process. As the customer explains their problem, try to note as many details as possible. If you’re speaking over the phone, taking rough notes of important details can be a massive help in developing a speedy resolution.
Even if you encounter this sort of issue regularly, it is a new experience for the customer. Recognise this, and listen to their complaint in full.
Set the tone
After the customer has explained their issue, you are able to begin the process of developing a mutual relationship of trust. Ask the customer for their name and any other relevant information, and offer them an apology. This doesn’t need to be profuse or long winded – “I’m really sorry to hear that, let’s get this resolved for you right now” is a good start.
Owning the problem
Whether you agree or not, the customer has come to you with a complaint and sees you as being responsible for the problem. There is nothing more frustrating than seeing the buck passed around as nothing gets done (anyone who has dealt with Australian telcos will be aware of this). By taking ownership of the complaint, the customer sees that you are actually serious about solving the issue. Sometimes, this is all it takes to turn an otherwise awful situation into a good one.
“I’m so sorry that our rowing machine is out of order – I should have noticed sooner! I’ll do my best to make sure that it’s available for your next workout”
This sort of dialogue could evolve into a conversation about the relative merits of different training methods for kayaking – an opportunity to learn about your members needs (perhaps you should invest in another rowing machine?)
Often, the easiest way to resolve a complaint at this point is to ask ‘What can I do to resolve this problem today?’ or ‘What can I do right now to fix this issue?’. A lot of the time, complaints can be resolved rapidly, and with minimal fuss, simply by asking.
However, there are issues which can be difficult to resolve immediately – in these cases, it is important to reiterate to the customer that the complaint will be resolved. Give a time frame, and take down their details so that you can follow up. If the complaint is serious, consider how you can help to minimise the impact – waiving fees or offering complementary PT services are great ways to keep a client engaged with your business, at a point at which they might otherwise consider cancelling their membership
After you’ve resolved a customer complaint, you should take the time to provide an explanation and follow up. This process is a really effective way of creating loyalty with customers. Very few businesses in this day and age take the time to follow up complaints with personal communications. Use this to your advantage!
If you love helping people realise their fitness goals, gym ownership might be the perfect next step. Visit www.fsfitness.com.au/franchising for more information.
As a bonus, here’s a great list of customer service quotes to keep you and your team inspired!