Sorry, There’s Nothing I Can Do For You…

It’s really hard for me not to mix my business with pleasure. Mostly because my business is customer service, and like everyone else I am constantly frequenting places where customer service should be a priority. On the rare occasion it is, I’ll sing the business’s praises from the highest mountaintop (I am equally happy to share when it’s bad, too). Usually, however, the service I receive is average. I guess I’ve grown used to neutral when it comes to the exchange of goods. Proof? I would rather ring up my own stuff at a shop’s self-serve kiosk. And side note: automation kills any potential for genuine retail connection.

Good service not only cares for the needs of a customer, it inspires customers to feel proud of the exchange. It creates loyalty. When I owned a running store in California, I used to ask my staff what they were doing to harvest an environment that would still be attractive even if we ran out of shoes. We mindfully kept our focus on the customers’ needs rather than on traditional business acumen. 

In my last post I wrote about rethinking our business philosophy: Determine the needs of the customer and how to meet them, and then figure out how to shape it into the needs of the business.

Sounds easy but it’s rarely done.

The best businesses understand that it’s not about them, it’s about their customers. I shake my head when I find organizations who still force their agendas onto shoppers. But I also find solace in knowing there is no longevity in this.

Allow me to share a story:

For years I’ve been going to a local gym, O2 Fitness, a gym chain with a location less than a mile from my house. It’s never been anything special, just the small town standard weights and sweaty classes, a tired locker room and sauna scenario. Its location was convenient, and I was on a month-to-month membership that didn’t require any start up fees at the outset. I distinctly remember walking away from my initial signup session thinking, “Damn, that was easy!” I went frequently.

In 2018 I walked across America. I knew in advance I’d be gone for 8ish months, so I cancelled my O2 Fitness membership. I could have payed a fee to put it on hold but that seemed foolish to me. Upon my return, I missed having access to the gym, missed yoga class with one of my favorite teachers, so I reached out to the local manager with my story. Told him I am currently a bit tight with my pursestrings, and I can logically afford $30/month. Also said I’d prefer a month-to-month, given how much I travel. He put me in touch with a “membership consultant”. I was excited to think they had a plan to fit my needs.

When the membership consultant reached out, I once again stressed my specific budget. He invited me to come in to explore my options. Things were looking good.

I won’t spell out the ensuing details because they just rile me up. But in a nutshell, O2 Fitness didn’t have a plan anywhere near my stated needs. I’d been baited and switched. I felt like a sucker. 

Lots had changed since I was a member. Things were now contractually structured and included startup fees in excess of $100. My membership consultant offered one solution to access a $29/month rate. I’ll paraphrase: Just ask a friend to take me on as a family member, and all I’d have to do is mail a package to myself from Amazon, like order a pencil or something (his words), and then bring the label in so he could see me at that other member’s address. That seemed ridiculous to me. So I walked out, apologizing for wasting our time.

But fact remained, I really wanted access to a gym. And a few days later I decided to bite the bullet and jump through the hoops. I met again with my membership consultant, and left with an access key. Still, I felt raked over. Something akin to having sold out so I could get my treadmill on. A few days later they sent me an experience survey, and I shared my festering sentiments.

Which brings me to what got me writing about this in the first place. 

Post-survey, I heard back from the manager with whom I was first in contact. Two things he said struck me. Two things that every business needs to ponder (and remove from their lexicon). First off, he prefaced his response with, “It’s our policy…” And then addressed his membership consultant’s inability to meet my needs by saying, “[He] was doing what he was taught to do.” Two major strikes.

I understood his words to mean there was nothing they could do for me, which simply can’t be true. There’s always something that can be done, the bigger question is—is anyone empowered to do it? Any company who wants to keep customers happy will empower staffers to throw a bone if need be. My management consultant had only policy and rules to work with. I feel for him. He must see a lot of unhappy faces when presenting O2 Fitness’s concrete options. 

But more than an inability to meet my needs, such management excuses proclaim that O2 Fitness doesn’t really want to connect with customers. It’s their way or the highway. I can’t help but wonder what would happen if they had actual competition in town. For sure they’d lose me. 

I love doing business with companies I feel connected to. And though I will participate in O2 Fitness’s option-less experience, I don’t imagine I’ll ever feel very connected to them. Hitting the gym is basically like the automated, self-serve line at a grocery store. If I suddenly realize I am out of toilet paper, I’ve got a place to get some. If I need a workout, well, I’ve got O2 Fitness. 


For 14 years Tom Griffen has been working with teams looking to deepen their connections with others. He believes that the tenets of quality service are basically the guidelines for an enhanced life. His training and speaking workshops are in high demand across industries. Interested in learning more? Reach out!



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