The $10,000 Band-Aid (or How to Handle Lousy Customer Service)

It seems like everyone I know has a 24-Hour Fitness membership.  When the subject of gym membership comes up, people love to talk about just how little they pay for their 24-Hour membership.  These are usually individuals (like myself) who joined the gym early (or who were grandfathered in when 24-Hour bought out the gym).  That’s why when my friend told me he cancelled his 24-Hour membership (at a whopping family membership cost of $9.00 a month), I was floored.  I had to know more.

Now, my friend works as a sales executive, so he’s very knowledgable and sensitive to customer service-related issues.  It so happens that he was fed up with the lousy customer service he was receiving from the front desk.  So who hasn’t gone through this scenario before?  Instead of 24-Hour Fitness, insert gas station, restaurant, fast food, retail, hotel, or any other customer-facing business that we enter into every single day:

Walk up to the front desk.  Front desk attendant has head down, either: 1) texting, 2) reading (or studying), 3) talking to someone (usually a co-worker or friend) without acknowledging you, or 4) just straight-up ignoring you.

This is one of my pet peeves as well.  My entire work life has included some type of customer (or client) service, so I’m pretty sensitive to the customer experience.  But my friend?  Damn…even I don’t think I could give up my sweet $9.00-a-month membership, even if the front desk person was lousy.  But the timing of my friend’s story is pretty funny since I recently had my own 24-Hour front desk experience.


While working out, I noticed I had a small cut on my finger.  Not wanting to bleed all over the equipment, I headed over to the front desk to get a band-aid.  As I approached the desk, I could already see the 20-something front desk attendant talking with the big bodybuilder trainer (who was in cool-guy stance, arms crossed and leaning back on the desk).  Standing there, the trainer saw me but didn’t acknowledge me.  And finally, when the front desk girl finally turned around, I think she thought I said “Can you go outside and wash my car?” and not “Do you have a band-aid back there?”  After a slight eye roll and sigh, she dug into the first aid kit and gave me the band-aid.

Let me first say I’m not picking on 24-Hour Fitness here.  I’ve been a member since college, and for the most part the front desk staff has been all good. That’s not the point.  My point is this one bad experience is all it might have taken for me to leave.  Now, my $10,000 band-aid is obviously an arbitrary number.  But potentially, how much business (i.e., referrals, recommendations, and product purchases) is lost that could have been prevented by simply being attentive and polite?

I feel this same way about Fry’s Electronics.  I don’t know, maybe Fry’s is set up this way.  But it seems the people who really like Fry’s are the one’s who either: 1) know exactly what they need or 2) know what they’re talking about.  In other words, if you’re like me and need explanations and product comparisons, forget it.

Everyone has their bad days, so a single instance of poor customer service isn’t usually enough to turn me away (unless it’s something completely terrible).  But if it’s something you’ve encountered a few different times, what can you do?

Respond With Kindness: Sounds counter-intuitive, huh?  But remember what I said about people having bad days?  Who knows what kind of personal or professional drama the person who’s helping you is going through.  Instead of customers constantly pounding them, maybe they need a kind word (or look).  They might appreciate you so much, they might hook you up (i.e., discount, add-on, not charging you, etc.)

Escalate: Know what auditors do when we don’t get a timely response?  We escalate a position up.  This usually gets the attention of the person who’s supposed to be helping you.  It means you’re serious and want the issue addressed now.

Tell The World: With social media, the entire world is literally listening.  Companies hire teams of people just to monitor social media traffic and customer feedback.  There are stories of individuals tweeting or blogging about their experience only to be contacted immediately by the company.  This isn’t the old days where your poor experience is limited to you and your immediate social circle.

Go All The Way Up The Chain: This is escalation on ‘roids.  Instead of going to the store manager, hit-up the executive-level staff (usually the CEO).  Now, unless the CEO is one of those unusual individuals who will actually respond to a customer complaint, you’ll usually be directed to a person or team that fields these types of complaints.  That’s OK…if possible, they’d rather try to appease you and have you move along than to continue having to listen to the squeaky wheel.

Leave: OK, so most of the companies or services you leave aren’t going to feel the impact of losing your business.  In some cases (like threatening to leave your cable carrier), some type of compensation or negotiation may be available.  But like my friend said about 24-Hour Fitness, it was about the principle.  So yes, you might lose a good thing or deal, but there will always be businesses out there that will appreciate having you for a customer.

What was your worst customer experience and how did you respond?
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