Would a Poor Customer Experience Make Your Customers Cancel Their Membership?
By Caroline Cooper
Saturday, 19th October 2013
My friend Julie just cancelled her gym membership, and it's flagged up 5 important lessons on how to retain your valued customers.

You see for me ‘membership' is all about getting access to something that non-members don't get.

She'd been going to the same Saturday morning class now for over 10 years, maybe even 12 or 13. She'd lost count, but it's a while.  So you could deduce from that that she'd been a loyal customer.

Well, no. Actually she was loyal to the instructors, but not the gym itself. But she continued to pay her monthly membership despite getting nothing like a return on her monthly investment in monetary terms. But she knew by having the membership it at least kept her on the straight and narrow for at least once a week, and because she admits she's inherently lazy and often disorganised, it saved her hunting around for the class subs every Saturday morning. So there's been a perception of value attributed to that. So far so good…

So why cancel now? Well, it got to the point where the ‘extra' she'd been paying was no longer outweighed by the value as she'd been let down once too many times.

So where has it all gone wrong, and what are the lessons to learn?

Listening and acknowledging

Julie and her fellow members asked for some replacements for basic equipment. No acknowledgement of the request for 12 months. Then they were told it's too expensive. Even when they were asked to complete a customer satisfaction survey no one acknowledged their comments. Now eventually they have some replacements, but it all felt like too little too late.

Lesson to be learnt: Listen to your valued customers. Even if you can't oblige, offer some alternatives (they had the same equipment in the gym, but never offered these) acknowledge their requests, show some empathy and keep them posted of progress.

Don't pass the buck

The hall they use is shared with a school, so whenever there was a problem the school got the blame. As a customer she didn't care who was responsible, she just wanted it resolved.

Lesson to be learnt: When things go wrong, don't apportion blame – your customer doesn't care whose fault it is – just get it sorted. Same goes for your team too, empower them to take responsibility to resolve problems quickly.

Build a relationship

After so many years she never felt like a regular. There was absolutely no acknowledgement that she was there week in week out, and still got asked what class she was attending and if she was a member.

When a class was changed it would be good to know beforehand, not find out once you get there.  But apart from that this was a massive wasted opportunity. They frequently had open days, but never bothered to tell them so she didn't even get the chance to invite others along; it all seemed to be focussed on new members.  But if they could have got her ‘hooked' on another class her membership would have started to pay for itself again.

Lesson to be learnt: Remember your regular customers, their preferences, their personal details and use this knowledge to keep them informed of anything that might interest them. And make them feel welcome and one of the crowd.


This was the nail in the coffin. Having introduced a new member in January she was expecting a month's free membership as per the ‘conditions'. She chased and chased to get this back, and resorted to cancelling her direct debit for a month so they wouldn't be able to take the money.

Lesson to be learnt: Always stick by your word and have systems in place to make sure nothing can go wrong. Particularly when money is involved.

Review your customers' journey

The sad thing about all of this is I believe they are totally oblivious to any of these problems or think they aren't important.  Julie said she'd never seen a manager there on a Saturday. And whenever she fed anything back it was as if it was the first time anyone had ever heard the idea or request.

So my final lesson to be learnt: Get out there and talk to your customers. Take the customer journey and look at everything as if you were them. Look to see where the cracks are in your business so you can resolve them before your customers ‘cancel their membership'

Now your turn to check if anything even remotely akin to this ever happens to your customers……

Caroline Cooper is founder of Naturally Loyal who helps businesses to get more sales through their existing customers. Caroline specialises in working with hospitality, tourism and leisure businesses, helping them build loyalty through giving customers outstanding experiences and staying on their radar to trigger repeat business. She is author of the ‘Hotel Success Handbook'.
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