Thursday, April 09, 2020

Well, you can choose to alienate your customers, or...

The gym I go to - which is part of my phsycial therapist's setup - is pretty much a dump. The equipment is old - often second-hand goods from other gyms that are upgrading - and patched together with duct tape, baling wire and spit.  The toilet seats, in the ladies room at least, don't fit on the toilets. They're the wrong shape.

The gym did get new carpeting and a paint job last year, but the AC still doesn't work most of the time. 

A few years ago, a bunch of us chipped in to get a new TV to replace the rotten one that was there. You can't hear the TV over the radio, anyway. That radio is tuned to an old fogey radio station that doesn't play anything much after the early 1980's. Fine by me, except that it goes back to real oldies. Real old fogey oldies. And it's hard to build up an exercise head of steam when the beats are Eddie Fisher singing "Oh, My Papa" or Patti Page with "How Much Is that Doggy in the Window." The more current oldies are often the B-sides you've never heard, or a song you know, but covered by an off-brand act. At 9 a.m., they blare Kate Smith's "God Bless America." 

There are, of course, ample upsides. First off, the guy who owns and runs the place is a peach. He's smart, funny, kind, and one hell of a physical therapist. I love him. The employees are all great, too, as are most of the patients/gym denizens. Someone's always bringing in baked goods - sometimes store bought, sometimes homemade - and while this might be a crazy thing for a gym, it's actually not a crazy thing for this gym.

Whatever the coming holiday - and that includes Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, the Fourth of July  - or when any Boston team is in the playoffs - the place is decorated with balloons. In the appropriate color scheme.

On Opening Day - alas, there wasn't one this year - you can get a hotdog, cooked on what I'm pretty sure is a non-OSHA approved indoor grill, and a beer all day. 

It won't be happening this year - and may never happen again, for reasons that I'll save for another time - but on Patriots Day, my place hosts a party. A lot of runners show up. And a lot of non-runners. A fun event. 

It's also headquarters for a charity focused on families experiencing homelessness or poverty. It almost goes without saying that I got sucked into volunteering for Christmas in the City. (Check it out: that's my copy you'll be reading.) Pretty much everyone who works out or gets PT there gets somehow involved in Christmas in the City, and by mid-December you can't even get to the rat-arse equipment because there are donated toys all over the place. Up to the ceiling donated toys. 

I love it, and had been going there 3 days a week for 12 years. I miss it. A lot.

Compared to my gym, Boston Sports Clubs are ultra-deluxe.

They're not the top of the line, fanciest of the fancy fitness places. They're nowhere near, say, an Equinox. But they ain't free, either. (And I think some of "our" rat-arse pieces of equipment are their castoffs.)

And now they're being sued by members because they're still collecting monthly fees, even though they shut down - and laid off all their employees in mid-March.
“They shut their facilities, shut down the phone lines, and made it impossible to quit,” said Lenny Kesten, of Brody, Hardoon, Perkins & Kesten, the lawyer for the plaintiffs. “It’s appalling behavior to take people’s money when you know you’re not providing them with a service.”
...“If they didn’t lay off their employees, I might have let it ride,” said Paul DelVecchio, one of the four named club members filing the suit. He said he and his wife, Lynne, were charged $140 for April membership at BSC’s South Station gym on Atlantic Avenue, even though it’s closed.
“It doesn’t seem right. They’re trying to work both ends,” DelVecchio said. (Source: Boston Globe)
Yes, you can quit your membership, but to do so members are supposed to show up in person or send a certified letter. Which doesn't work out so well if all the locations are closed. And if you're supposed to stay home, anyway.

Yes, they have put in place the ability to quit or suspend membership for the duration, but the instructions on how to do so haven't been all that clear or timely. And people who wanted to quit or suspend ended up getting charged for April. Insult to the injury of having missed out on a half-month's worth of service for March.

Like many (most?) businesses, Boston Sports Club was caught off guard by the sudden end of the world as we know it. Who wasn't? So the fact that they weren't immediately prepared with an action plan isn't surprising, or especially shameful. (Sure, people have no doubt been telling that they need to have a Disaster Recovery, Business Continuity, and other "what if" plans in place, but, like a lot of good ideas, the idea of having these plans often ends up towards the eternal bottom of the corporate to-do list.)

But Boston Sports Clubs have been really been terrible in their response to the crisis - and other gyms have stopped charging. 

Massachusetts AG Maura Healey is now on the case, and I wouldn't want her going after my company. (There's also Federal law suit that was filed in New York against the parent company.)

Live and learn, but companies really should know by now that in time of crisis, you really do need to communicate with your customers. It's almost as if these guys went out of their way to alienate theirs.

On the other hand, your in good hands with Allstate Insurance. Because folks sheltering in place aren't doing as much driving these days:
Allstate expects to give back more than $600 million, with personal auto customers receiving 1 percent of their monthly premium in April and May, according to a statement Monday. American Family Insurance said it plans to return about $200 million to its auto insurance customers through a one-time payment of $50 per covered vehicle. (Source: Boston Globe)
Fifty bucks may not seem like a lot of money, but fifty bucks is fifty bucks. Stay at homies can use it to do a bit of shopping on Amazon. 
The company is also offering free identity protection for the rest of the year and payment relief for struggling customers.
Good thinking on Allstate's part. Doing the right thing before being asked, let alone walloped with a potential class action lawsuit.

So which company is going to end up with happy and loyal customers?

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