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Evaluate Complainers to Determine Your Response to Complaints

Evaluate Complainers to Determine Your Response to Complaints

Nic DeCaire is the owner and founder of Fusion Fitness Center in Newark, DE. He is a graduate of Wilmington College. DeCaire is an IFPA certified personal trainer with 12 years experience in the Newark area. He started working the front counter at a local fitness center at age 14, and his success and passion for fitness have grown since then. A former competitive bodybuilder and power lifter, DeCaire has won many awards in the sport. He is the chairman of the Main Street Mile, serves on the board of Kids with Confidence and is a member of the Newark Morning Rotary Club. DeCaire can be contacted at 302-738-4580 or

How many people do you interact with on a given day? Is it just a handful, is it hundreds or more? What’s unique in interpersonal relations is that everyone you deal with has their own personality, their own likes and dislikes, and often their own quirky ways of doing things and reacting to situations. Face it: all of your members are not going to get along in perfect harmony. The one thing you can count on is that you’re going to have complaints. Since you can’t avoid them, it’s best to learn how to deal with them.

During my five years as an owner of a club, I’ve learned one important thing when it comes to complaints: the customer is not always right. They do, however, most certainly have the right to voice their opinions. And I have the right to disagree with them. As owners or managers, the best line of defense is to learn which battles to fight. None of us want to lose members because that means lost revenue and often ill will. When picking your battles, you have to decide if the complainer is going to be a cancer on your business. Are they capable of being happy and satisfied, or are they inherently miserable? If it becomes apparent that they will make it a point to tell every member about their complaint, it is likely worth giving a refund and cutting your losses.

Every gym professional has a story to tell. Some people complain about the oddest things—from the toilet paper being too rough to the color of the front counter. When I think about complaints I’ve had to deal with in the past, two come to mind: the Maxim Letter and the Music E-mail.

Once I received a typed letter with no return address. The sender chastised me about how disgusted they were that I had Maxim on my magazine rack. They said it was insulting and degrading to women who work out in my facility and that I should take it off the shelves immediately. A few other choice words also were used. It was signed Anonymous.

Maxim is no better or worse than the Cosmopolitan sitting right next to it, but that is beside the point. This was a tough decision because I did not know who the complaint came from and how much money they spent at my club over the past year. I weighed my options and decided to take it off the rack. No big deal. People did not miss the magazine, and I potentially saved a client who could have spent thousands of dollars with us per year. Remember this: If you can’t value the complaint, you don’t know how much you stand to lose.

Recently, I received an e-mail about how the music I play at my facility is “crap.” Apparently, someone parked in my parking lot and walked to a neighboring business. He did not like what my outside speakers were playing, so he decided to take time out of his day to e-mail me to tell me to turn off my outside music because people do not like to listen to that “crap” music. My first thought was to fire back a response that my mother would not approve of. I refrained and thought about the situation. This individual is not a member, and I do not make any money from him. But I do not want to anger him and have him badmouth my facility around town. With this situation, I decided to have fun with it. I did not e-mail him back, but I did post his e-mail on my Facebook account and held a contest for my members to come up with the best response to “Bob.” The winner would receive a free T-shirt and smoothie. Not a traditional way to handle a complaint, but my members loved it.

Everyone has different ways of dealing with complaints—some right and some wrong. Here are five major points I always use when dealing with a complaint:

1. Listen to the complaining members with your full attention. Keep eye contact and do not speak until they are done talking.
2. Ask them what they would like you to do to resolve the problem.
3. Evaluate the complaint. Is it justified? Is it going to cost you money? Could it give you a bad reputation?
4. Decide how important these members are to your business. How much money do they spend besides their monthly membership?
5. Ask yourself if the decision you made is fair and honest.

No matter how you decide to handle complaints, remember that it takes years to build a good reputation and only seconds to destroy it.

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