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Customer service says no – how does the fitness industry measure up?

When I first arrived in Australia ten years ago, I remember being impressed by several incidents of good customer service that I received, and it was not uncommon to hear Aussies singing the praises of the quality customer service that was part and parcel of everyday life in this wide brown land. Either my impressions were some way off the mark and the locals were harking back to a bygone era, or something bad has happened in the past decade, because according to new findings, customer service ain’t what it was – or what it should be.

A recent survey by American Express World Service Australia has found that Australia’s reputation for customer service is languishing in the doldrums – in joint twelfth place with the UK out of twelve countries surveyed (behind the likes of the US, France, Canada, India and Holland).

Personally, it’s not hard to recall some instances of good customer service I’ve received in the past few months. But for every smiling waitress or helpful shop assistant, there have been far more impactful instances of terrible service, particularly from telecommunications companies and financial institutions using misinformation to get you onboard, but then being reluctant to help with problems and interested only in extracting more money from you. In fact, the best service from these companies seems to come only when you attempt to cease doing business with them, pulling out all the stops to persuade you to stay. Would I recommend them to friends? Not if I wanted to remain friends.

This is a problem. They used to say that if you had a good experience you told three people, whereas if you had a bad experience you told 10 people. In an age where ‘word of mouth’ encompasses online social networking, however, bad experiences are more likely to be broadcast to hundreds, or even millions – as in this now famous instance of an airline’s appalling conduct in its treatment of a passenger’s guitar,  which has been seen by over 8 million people on YouTube alone (along with countless other media exposure). Indeed, there are websites and facebook pages dedicated to publicising bad experiences in order to shame companies into providing better service (see www.nocustomerservice.com.au and others). Evidently it’s not working.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported Christine Wakefield, vice-president of American Express World Service Australia, as saying, ‘The barometer clearly said customers want superior service and it's certainly not being provided… Australians have a laid-back attitude and this might be translating to some businesses having a similar attitude.’

According to www.nocustomerservice.com.au ‘Customer Satisfaction is the second most measured indicator of business success after profit and loss!’. So what does all of this mean for us in the fitness industry? In an increasingly busy marketplace, most towns and suburbs will have more than one gym and more than one personal trainer – in many cases there will be several choices for customers within easy walking distance of each other. In other words, there’s a lot of competition and in order to win that customer you have to provide great service. And don’t mistake gimmicks and giveaways for good service – a pleasant, friendly and, most importantly, helpful, encounter with you or your staff will ensure a far greater feeling of goodwill in existing customers or prospects. People with questions want help finding answers. If you can deliver those answers, by putting in the work necessary to confidently provide help – you will win, and keep, the customer. And if providing yourself or your staff with the training to do this translates to slightly increased prices, then so be it. If it comes down to a choice between saving a few dollars and having an unsatisfactory time, or enjoying a pleasant experience which costs slightly more, I think that most people will opt for the latter.

What is your experience with customer service in our industry? Have you noticed it getting better or worse in recent years? And what are you doing to actively improve the way you deliver service? Join the conversation and leave your comments below.

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Posted by: Anonymous | 15-Sep-2010 10:07 AM | 4 out of 5 stars

As an Australian living in New Zealand, I can tell you customer service is languishing here also. Many of my clients all to often comment on how gym staff pay no attention to them, do not correct faulty technique, nor make the member feel comfortable with their environment. No wonder I'm busy with clients who no longer put up with poor customer service in gyms! Is this is a major problem for the industry worldwide?