• May 1, 2009
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Your Savings Are My Services

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Memo from the desk of Marshall Lager, May's Chief Holistic Fitness Officer:

So, we’ve pretty firmly established by now that there’s a recession, right? Good—don’t need to cover that here. And, because of this recession, individuals and companies alike are tightening their belts, doing what they feel is necessary to survive a tough economy and maybe even come out of it stronger. Fine, got it. I shouldn’t be surprised at any measure taken in the name of financial hardship. (I am surprised that I fell off the wagon pretty hard, clothing-wise—a decidedly nonhardship measure; see my August 2008 column for why.)

Yet surprise manages to surprise me anyway. My local gym—I’m not going to name this particular New York sports club, other than to mention that it’s a chain you might also find in Boston or San Francisco—has instituted a couple of changes recently that don’t strike me as all that clever, even if they help bring in a few bucks in the short term.

First, and less shocking, is a recent reduction in hours. Our location now closes early on Fridays (which, to translate for any non–New Yorkers, means 10 p.m.), and really early (5 p.m.) on weekends. That’s understandable, except (a) members aren’t getting back a prorated amount of their dues to reflect the reduced service, despite the fact that the savings in salaries, utilities, and insurance should more than make up for the refund; and (b) one of the reasons I joined this particular gym was its hours, so that I could work late and still work out, or take care of business on weekends before getting all sweaty. (There’s one other unfair factor: a clause that says I can’t cancel the contract penalty-free unless I move at least 25 miles from the chain’s nearest location.)

The second change is more appalling, considering that health clubs are supposed to promote health. My gym, bastion of fitness that it is, has started letting other businesses sell products on the premises. The products include colon cleansers, herbal products for targeted fat loss, and other such late-night-infomercial snake oil. (You know, the sort of “nutraceuticals” that have their own section in the pharmacy because the shop owners don’t want you to confuse them with real medicine.) I’m no chemist, but the preponderance of evidence tells me these things either have no effect or can actually cause harm—especially the colonic stuff, which can destroy your crop of healthy digestive bacteria. Some people are embarrassed enough by changing clothes in a public locker room; imagine how they’d react to the effects of that.

While we’re on the subject, would it have hurt the owners to send notification via email? Yes, a gym membership is only valuable if you use it regularly, but sometimes life events or health problems get in the way. Had my beloved girlfriend not warned me, my first hint of change might have been a locked door, or somebody hawking me a box of G.I. JumpStart.

My point, and I do have one, is this: It’s understood that y’gotta do whatcha gotta do in order to get by, but consider the value of your reputation, and not just the potential new revenue or cost savings, when making changes to your products or services. I’d be much less likely to join a gym—or recommend one—that sold Herbal Colon Grenades or had fewer available off-peak hours. I’ll keep my membership—I don’t have much choice—but my respect for the place has taken a hit. So think about the effect your planned changes will have on your customers and prospects, and judge whether those changes are worth the damage to your rep.

Have any of your service providers cut back on service? Rat them out to Senior Editor Marshall Lager at mlager@destinationCRM.com.

For the rest of the May 2009 issue of CRM magazine, please click here.

Every month, CRM magazine covers the customer relationship management industry and beyond. To subscribe, please visit http://www.destinationcrm.com/subscribe/.

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