Five Things Unhappy Gym Members Want to Tell You and Your Staff

Most business owners never hear from the vast majority of their unhappy customers. According to consumer research, approximately 96 percent of dissatisfied customers never let companies know about problems. People do not like to complain because they find it uncomfortable, inconvenient or unproductive. Instead, they simply stop doing business with those companies.

If your club’s unhappy members were to speak up, what would they say? They might make some of the following comments:

Please notice and appreciate me. Many members feel a degree of ownership of our businesses. They commit longterm financial and emotional resources to join and attend our clubs. What do you do to reinforce your members’ decisions to belong to your club? At the very least, strive to know and greet all guests by name. And beyond nice manners and good service, how do you show members that you are grateful for their referrals, purchases and tenure at your club? Special recognition programs, such as anniversary campaigns or referral rewards, can be systematized yet personalized to acknowledge individual participation and commitment to your club.

Ask for my feedback—and act on it. Through surveys, focus groups or suggestion boxes, members should have clear pathways to share their feedback. After receiving member comments, you must follow up with responses. In an ideal world, members want to see how their feedback has changed the way you do business, but sometimes you may only be in a position to acknowledge their opinions and thank them. In either scenario, if you fail to respond, members will stop voicing their concerns and suggestions. This type of silence creates blind spots in service delivery and undermines member loyalty.

Design club procedures to fit my needs, not yours. Is it difficult for members to access their account information? Cancel or freeze their membership? Update their credit card information? Does your staff have to refer members to “corporate” to process changes to accounts? Members never want to hear about the constraints of company policy in solving their problems. They want you to put their unique needs above those of your club’s internal processes. A customercentered club is happy to do so.


I don’t expect perfection, but I demand prompt resolution. Enable your team to respond quickly in the wake of a mistake. Give team members the leeway they need to resolve member issues efficiently without having to defer to someone higher up in the organization. This builds member confidence and empowers your team to deliver your brand’s promise. Coach team members to focus on the outcome of every interaction to determine the best course of action. Help all team members, regardless of their positions, to understand the role they play in providing exceptional service. As Disney likes to point out to its cast members, you are either serving guests directly or you are serving someone in the company who does.

Keep me posted. How do you communicate changes that will affect your members’ club experience, such as upcoming construction, class cancellations or holiday hours? Whether a simple, unfortunate oversight or a complicated web of approvals gets in the way of the communication process, the resulting surprise, anger and confusion is the same. To communicate an upcoming change, you should determine:

  • Who will be affected by this change and who needs to know?
  • What exactly is going to happen?
  • Where will it happen?
  • When will change take place, and when should team members and members be informed?
  • How will members and team members be notified? Also, how much lead time is needed to execute the communications strategy?
  • Why is this change happening?

By paying close attention to the needs of your members and by educating your team to your policies of integrity and follow-through, you will have fewer unhappy clients. Your positive club environment will draw potential members and improve your retention.


Christine Thalwitz is director of communications and research at ACAC Fitness and Wellness Centers. She emphasizes that the difference between a complaint and an opportunity is our perception, attitude and response.

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