Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Feel the burn

I’m moving soon, and so in addition to quitting my job, selling a few things and donating a bunch of my stuff, I’m canceling my gym membership. This last item may prove to be the most difficult task of the bunch.

To cancel a membership at LA Fitness* one must send “written notice at least 30 days prior to your next billing date.” If the notice is postmarked less than 30 days prior, one more billing cycle may (read: will) occur.

Now, a regular 30-day notice seems acceptable to me. I give notice, and 30 days later my membership is canceled, with any partial months of membership prorated.

But LA Fitness doesn’t prorate. So because I requested cancellation on April 29th and my billing occurs every month on the 25th, I’m going to get charged twice more. Five days earlier and I would have saved an entire month’s dues. And don’t even get me started on the mandate of “written notice.”

This system is completely wack. It’s not based on any technological shortcoming or customer service issue. It’s simply a way for LA Fitness to get an extra month of dues from their soon-to-be-ex-members.

And according to their annoyed ex-members, it’s even worse than promised. Google “LA Fitness cancel” and you’ll see pages of horror stories. Apparently LA Fitness has a history of claiming they didn’t receive cancellation requests, and of continuing to draw funds for months following the cancellation. These kind ex-members also recommend sending the cancellation request via certified mail, which I would not have thought to do.

What other company (or industry) fleeces its customer base like this? They show little or no regard for consumer word-of-mouth. Little or no interest in reacquiring lost customers. Little or no business ethics. What successful company gets so little trust from its own customers that third-party proof of receipt of communication becomes a necessity?

This got me thinking about two items I saw recently:

First, a recent post on Seth Godin’s blog about business deception, specifically online scams. Seth wrote “It's so much more work to create a spam site or a deceptive come on, so much more work to deal with the angry customers and be hiding from them.” And he summarized with the line from a restaurant kitchen sign: “If you're not proud of it, don't serve it."

Second, a post (positive rant?) on Gary Vaynerchuk’s blog praising Web 2.0 as a tool that may just lead to good people winning and bad people losing.

The days when people willingly but cautiously did business with disreputable companies are ending. There’s simply too much transparency, too many choices. Companies can’t afford to burn their customers because the Internet is a megaphone large enough to reach the world.

I have a hard time believing the muckety-mucks at LA Fitness (or their staff in general) are proud of the company’s snaky reputation. And if they aren’t working hard to solve this problem, I hope they get their just desserts.

* Incidentally, I did not join LA Fitness—they bought the gym I was a member of. Yet another gripe. Did I have the opportunity to not become an LA Fitness member? Take a guess.

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