Poor public relations

I wonder if there is any other service provider that has such a “customers must play by our rules” attitude as that I recently experienced with Fitness First?

For several years I was a member of my local Fitness First gym and for the most part have had nothing to complain about. The staff are helpful, pleasant and a pleasure to be around. Even though I’m edging closer to being 50 with every creaking-limbed day, I’ve never felt that the gym considered me less of a valued customer than the Jaffa coloured sylphs that sip their water while draped over a treadmill or the ever expanding tattooed muscle men who no doubt work the doors of my local nightclubs at weekends while discussing the relevancy of Plato in a post-Fordian economy.

My attendance at the gym has often fluctuated, depending in truth on whether or not I can fit in the time or I have been over indulging in the finer things in life. Occasional minor injuries have caused my fitness to falter along the way leading to, what I would argue, is a better deal for Fitness First rather than me, its customer; they still get paid while I do less damage to their equipment and basically become more unfit and poorer! Don’t get me wrong, I don’ think I am any different from the masses of gym members who pay their regular membership fees by direct debit, secure in the misplaced knowledge that they intend on getting additional value for their pennies by going for a sweat and sauna more often than they would if they paid each time they attended. The truth is we all get tired, bored or simply can’t bothered after a while, and so the attendance slips and suddenly we have not been to the gym for weeks if not months. That said, at no point does the gym drop you a line to say “hey, Graham, we have not seen you for a while. Is there something we can help you with to get you back to the gym?” No, it carries on taking your direct debit and not caring too hoots about you or your fitness. However, it will send you a text now and then suggesting you bring along a guest and introduce them as a new member, for which it will show its undying gratitude by rewarding you with a Fitness First drinking bottle or hand towel – which is always useful when you are not actually training.

Contrast that level of customer service with what happens when you cancel your direct debit because you don’t want pay for the privilege of not going to the gym. I did this after a three month break in training due to a back injury. Within days I was getting texts, phone calls and letters telling me I was in arrears and that to avoid “extra charges” I should ring Fitness First on a premium line straight away to arrange payment.

Apparently I should have given them a month’s notice of my intention to cancel my membership. At the same as receiving demands for payment, I had a text wishing me well for the future after leaving and another one offering me three months free membership if I stayed – both clearly indicating to me that Fitness First considered me an ex-member. Offers in reduced membership fees also hack me off. Last year the gym put on an offer that meant loyal customers like me would be paying several pounds a month more than new customers – thanks for that Fitness First, nice to know in this highly competitive market that we are appreciated.

Imagine then how happy I was to be told, after speaking with the gym about the issue of my cancelled membership that to settle the account I could either pay for a month that I would not use, or I could get  a doctor to write a letter saying I was not fit enough to attend the gym? Am I missing something or have I travelled back in time to school where I need a note from home to excuse me from games? Am I really to believe that I must produce medical evidence of my back pain to allow me not to pay for a service I really should not be using or indeed want? At no point did anyone from Fitness First suggest that my paid membership for the months I have not attended should be repaid – O no Sir, that would be just not on would it; after all, that would smack of good public relations and customer care.

Prior to the treatment I received from Fitness First’s marketing and accounts team I fully intended to return to the sweat shop and pump some iron, the chances of that happening are about as likely as politicians and bankers ever being trusted and appreciated by the British public.

Written by Graham Parker MA MCIPR

Graham Parker MA MCIPR

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