How to lose a customer – Step 1

It never ceases to amaze me how some businesses seem to throw roadblocks willy nilly between the potential customer and the sign-up moment.

This week, I had two perfect examples of this thrust into my face, whilst signing up for a gym membership.

I’ve been thinking of joining for a while, and had dropped in to a local gym to discuss prices. I’d gone through the sales process – the pre-talk, the requirements review (how much weight are you trying to lose, sir?), the walk-through, the pep talk, the works. They explained the price, and the discount offered for multiple members (I was signing up two of my teenagers, too).

At the last moment though, literally as I was standing with cheque in hand ready to drive in and sign up, I had an attack of price conscience, and realised I hadn’t compared prices with any of the other local gyms. So, I picked the closest, and rang them.

I explained that I was signing up with a competitor gym, for myself and two others, and wanted to know what their prices were and what the discount might be, for three of us. The very nice guy at the other end listened, engaged (great choice, and a great dad for encouraging your kids to be healthy!) and then suggested I come in for a tour.

Thank you, I said, but I didn’t have time – I was off to sign up elsewhere, I just wanted to see if they were comparable. Again, he suggested I came in for a tour. More firmly, I told him that just wasn’t possible – I just needed to know how if they were at least comparable on price, and if so then I might come sign up with them instead. This was repeated three times, as he desperately tried to convince me to come in.

Finally, we hit the crunch point. “I’m afraid if you can’t tell me what your membership cost/discounts are, I’m just going to go to the other gym”.

And that was it, he said “sorry, I really can’t give that out unless you come in”, and I hung up the phone.

I was astounded – given how expensive gym memberships are, given that I was talking about a definite commitment that day, and that I was talking three sign-ups in one, it seemed beyond belief that the business would rather walk away from the sale, rather than give a simple price over the phone.

Not only that – but the exact same conversation played out when I rang the next gym in the list. Needless to say, they lost the business too.

I understand that businesses like to have a sales process, and that the sales process works best to convert customers when their needs are well understood. That’s particularly true for complex products, and for products where final pricing is complex and/or dependant on use and need.

Gym memberships though are not in that category. In my experience they are generally a two or three tier price, with discounts for payment commitment. It’s a simple, stock price – and although there are usually some discounts or offers around, the price generally isthe price and remains so. Therefore there’s no real benefit in ‘understanding the user and their needs’, it is simply a case of using that time to sell harder.

When you don’t have that chance to sell harder – as in the phone call I made – the choice of abandoning the sale entirely seems – well, entirely insane.

Not so many years ago, we had a call from a company who wanted a price – over the phone – on a usability test. Generally, we like to find out as much as possible before we quote, to make sure we get everything covered in the fixed price; this time, the company were unwilling to provide much info at all, other than the basics (number of people, length of test, locations for testing). We quoted there and then, they hung up, and all was done. About two weeks later they called back and booked the test, and we finally talked about detail. During that talk they explained that they had rung three other companies, all of whom had refused to give prices over the phone. They have been a strong and trusting customer of ours since.

Forcing your customers to engage in the only sales approach you’ll accept is a great way to lose customers.

Gary Bunker

the Fore