By Neil Perkins
It is fair to say that my approach to customer service at times leaves a little bit to be desired. Perhaps my late teens and early twenties working as a doorman and the principal that customer service sets with the sun formed my impeccable approach to customer service? I am getting slightly better, at least people who complain are no longer left with unconscious in a fire escape — after putting me in no other position but to defend myself of course.
Engaging and communicating with your customers can be hard work and setting the parameters for the rules they play is very challenging. Recently I had a ‘Groundhog Day’ moment as I have been faced with the same problem I encountered 12 months ago. Our classes can get very busy and consequently, they get booked up. 12 months ago, I encountered the same problem we face now, this time with a new customer base. We ‘grasped the nettle’ 12 months ago and changed our class cancellation time from a 5-minutes to a 24-hour window and brought in a suspension process that prohibited our members from pre-booking classes if they failed to attend a class or if they late cancelled.
At the time, it was an unpopular decision for a minority or our members. We looked back through our records and found that 14 members were bringing the business to standstill by pre-booking multiple classes in advance and then cancelling 10–15 minutes prior or not showing up. We had a nucleus of old members from Fighting Fit City Gym who felt a little upset that classes where been occupied by ‘newbies’ who’d flooded into the new gym. Admittedly classes had never been that busy at Fighting Fit and consequently the old guard were keen to keep their space. We had a handful of members prior to the restriction of booking classes that would book more than 20 classes per week, yet they ‘d attend nearer a quarter of these classes. Of this 14, we lost a handful who kicked and screamed on the way out of the door. This turned out to be the correct move, from September 2016 to March 2017 we grew from 238 to 350 members, we couldn’t have kept and grew a database if we’d have enabled this nucleus to monopolise classes that they had little intention of attending.
Fast forward to September 2017 and we’ve taken a few steps backward since March. We made a judgemental error in putting a hefty joining fee on the gym in April, we let the standards of our classes slip and we lost momentum in the market place with the aggressive social media and direct marketing by Pure, Easy and JD Gyms battling it out whilst we stopped taking on members. Consequently, our membership database shrunk for the first time and we had room to grow. With us pushing a very competitive FREE 3 class passes, we thought we’d introduce some new blood to the gym and get back marketing, new faces started to appear. The old guard again sensed the increased volume and class pre-booking started to shoot up with fear of no spaces, therefore so did the old problem of increased class no shows. We’d softened our stance and the suspensions and even though T&C’s clearly stated 24-hour cancellation, we were being ‘sympathetic’ to people who were…. stuck in traffic, held up at a meeting, had a flat tyre, were feeling ill, couldn’t get a babysitter and gave justifiable reasons…. the problem we faced is that the same people were calling and if they had a dog, it would have eaten their homework! On week commencing September 4th we had 21% of the people who booked onto our classes late cancel or not show up. On that week, every 6.35am class was fully booked, one of them had seven people not show up to it!
Like the doorman of over fifteen years ago I rolled up my sleeves and popped in my gumshield in like I’d just heard the ‘code red dancefloor’ call come over the radio. We tweaked our email informing members of the suspension process and I put my direct email as a contact for any complaints or appeals — I was ready for a battle. Last weekend we implemented our first range of suspension. Saturday mornings Pure Core, Bootcamp and Boxing Squad where fully booked. Sunday’s Bootcamp and Boxing Squad were at capacity and the Monday morning Bootcamp was fully booked and Pure Core was one off capacity. Over 7 classes, 24 people failed to attend and therefore the first 24 emails flew out suspending them from pre-booking classes for a seven-day window. They had an option of a nominal £3 fee to reduce this early.
The suspension process was put into action and I expected a battle, I didn’t get it. Of the 24 suspended parties, 17 paid a late cancel fee and several of the have applauded the new process. The incentive to get up out of bed when the alarm goes or risk a seven-day suspension, many feel this is a great selling point. Also prioritising set times for exercise and making that commitment has proved to be a popular addition. This unlike 12 months ago hasn’t proven to be unpopular and jeered, on the contrary it has been celebrated. Members who book last minute have been impressed, we are finding now that classes are not booking up a week in advance, people are only booking classes that they can make the commitment to attend. It has proved a ‘win win’ all round.
I’ll roll down my sleeves and put the gumshield back in my pocket ready for the next ‘Code Red’ call over the radio. It seems that the old saying treat em’ mean, keep em keen does apply in business.