My husband and I recently went shopping for a health club. What ensued over the next week is nothing less than an incredible saga of poor salesmanship and worse customer service that sent us running home to dig out old exercise videos and try it on our own.
Here are the events that transpired, as well as the sales and customer services questions they prompted:
Event #1: While we were searching for a health club, a friend also visited a local club to sign up. When he asked his “Counselor" about a 50% discount off the initiation fee offered to people who know a club member, he heard, “What discount? I never heard of a discount. " After the customer insisted three times that a friend had received a 50% discount off his initiation fee, the Counselor finally “remembered" the “Buddy Plan" and gave him the discount.
Sales & Customer Service question: Was the Counselor unknowledgeable or forgetful about the Club's services, or was he really going so far as to pretend he didn't know about a branded discount until the customer insisted?
Event #2: I visited the same health club. The receptionist wanted me to meet with a Counselor to discuss membership and receive a tour. I didn't have time, but asked for a brochure outlining pricing and club features. They didn't have brochures. I asked her the price. She couldn't discuss that with me. “Can you give me any information?" “No. But you can go to our website and get it online. "
Sales & Customer Service question: Would they really rather make me work for the information than allow me to obtain it easily without sitting through a sales presentation?
Event #3: Even though neither my husband nor I were thrilled with events 1 or 2, we decided to visit that club because it was nearby and published a reasonable monthly rate of $34.99 online. We went to the club, where a receptionist asked us to wait until a Counselor was available to see us.
When we asked our Counselor about the “Buddy Plan", his eyebrows skittered to the top of his scalp as he incredulously asked, “You know someone in this club?" Inconceivable though it seemed to him, we did have friends in the area. We had to ask (again, three times), but he finally confirmed that we could cut our initial fee in half because we each knew someone in the club, but we'd have to “do some stuff. "
Sales & Customer Service question: Was it a policy to make customers insist three times before acknowledging a discount - or simply a weird coincidence? And was it really his intention to question our word (that we had friends in the club)?
Event #4: When asked about monthly fees, our Counselor asked if we wanted a plan that allowed us to use all of their health clubs around the country, or just the local facility. We told him we just wanted to use that facility, and further that I was really just looking for an aerobics class while my husband was interested only in weight machines). He showed us a pricing sheet, on which the lowest monthly fee listed was $49.
We told him we saw a price of $34.99 online, to which he replied, “Oh, you don't want day care and racquetball?" We had just told him we only wanted an aerobics class and weight machines! Without day care, the price went down to $39.99; without racquetball, the price fell to $34.99 - exactly what was posted online. Unfortunately, neither price was listed on the sheet we were shown. If we hadn't seen the website, we never would have known there were options lower than $49.
Sales & Customer Service question: Why show customers what appears to be a comprehensive pricing sheet that doesn't list the two lowest-priced options? Is it really their intention to trick customers into paying higher fees by denying them information on lower-priced options that better suit their needs? Do they think customers will never find out? How will customers feel when they do?
Event #5: Just before asking about day care and racquetball, our Counselor had said that all club features were included in our membership at no extra charge. I can understand an extra charge for day care, as this is not an actual health club feature. However, if all health club features are included, why the extra charge for racquetball? Even if it is a special case (since you must reserve court time), why not tell customers the truth: “Everything except racquetball and day care are included in the health club membership. "
Sales & Customer Service question: What purpose is served by omitting information or misleading customers? Again, do they believe customers won't discover the truth? How will they feel when they do?
Event #6: Our Counselor then told us they had no contracts and wouldn't lock us into one. All we had to do to join was to pay the initial fee and the “first and last month's payments. " We asked what he meant by “first and last" (if there's no contract, what and when is the “last" payment, and why must we pay in advance?). He responded, “So that when you give 60 days’ notice to leave the club, you'll just have to pay for one more month, then the last month will already be paid. "
Sales & Customer Service question: If there are no contracts, there is no “last payment, “nor is there a need for 60 days’ notice. You just pay as you go.
Event #7: In response to Event #6, we asked, “If we've made the decision to quit the Club, why would we want to pay for 60 more days?" The reply was, “So it will be available to you if you want it. "
Sales & Customer Service question: Huh? Why would we need it available to us if we've already decided to quit? Making us pay for something we no longer want or need is not a benefit - and simply calling it one doesn't make it so.
Event #8: Once we told him that having to pay for two more months of membership after deciding to quit is not a benefit, he said, “Well, if you go across the street, they'll make you sign a one-year contract. At least we don't make you do that!"
Sales & Customer Service question: Did he just say what I think he said? Did he just basically say, “Well, maybe it's not good, but at least it's not as bad as the other guys"? So, now the company is differentiating itself by being “the lesser of two evils?"
Why would any company risk turning away customers in this manner? If customers are willing to pay for services they want and need, why throw their business away trying to get an extra two months out of them?
From the receptionist's unwillingness to give me information, to my friend's Counselor's “forgetfulness", to our Counselor's inability or unwillingness to adequately explain company programs and benefits, everything stemmed from company policies designed to present the fewest customer choices necessary to ensure offering slightly more than the competition, while not offering customers what they really want and need.
Rather than spending time and energy making restrictive or deceptive sales and customer service policies, let's focus on offering choices that truly serve customers, and allow us to actually become a great choice, rather than simply the lesser of two evils.
Sandy Geroux is a national speaker, trainer and author of It's My Dream And Who Am I To Stop Me?, her blockbuster book on personal responsibility and achievement. An award-winning salesperson, she helps others achieve breakthrough performance with her programs on effective risk-taking, goal-setting and achievement, sales and customer service. For more tips, articles and information on her speaking programs, visit her on the web at http://www.sandygeroux.com or e-mail her at email@example.com