Managing complaints in fitness

Receiving a complaint is often an unexpected part of running any business, including a fitness centre. No business is immune from receiving a complaint, regardless of how successful it is or how customer focused staff are.  There can be a tendency to see a complaint as a personal criticism rather than constructive feedback.  However, there can be positive outcomes when the situation is managed appropriately.

Why do people complain?

There are many reasons why clients might complain about your centre and the service they’ve received.  Sometimes a complaint will almost be expected following an incident; sometimes it will take you by complete surprise.  Understanding why people may complain can assist with managing a complaint if it occurs and potentially reducing the likelihood of further complaints.  The following are some of the reasons why people may feel the need to complain.

High expectations consumer expectations are generally high when engaging professional services.  Your clients make a conscious decision to pay to use your centre and with this comes an expectation of a certain level of service.  Whilst in your centre it’s likely they’ll come into contact with a number of qualified fitness professionals whose services they may pay extra for.  All of this can influence their expectations. 

Impact of an incident – a very common reason for complaints to a fitness centre or fitness professional focuses on a client being injured whilst exercising.  Most people undertake a fitness program with the aim of getting fitter and healthier.  When a client is then injured their experience has been the opposite of what they hoped for.  These injuries can impact the client’s life significantly, if their ability to not only exercise, but to work and enjoy other aspects of their life has been affected.

To inform and be heard – clients may wish to make a complaint about an incident or poor service in your centre simply so they are sure you and your staff are aware of what has occurred and how they feel.  They may wish to complain simply to be listened to and acknowledged, especially if they have been adversely impacted.  Not all complaints will lead to a formal demand for compensation.

Belief that someone is responsible when something goes wrong we often try to determine who’s responsible.  Sometimes someone is obviously responsible, sometimes it’s hard to determine who’s responsible and other times there is no one person responsible but it’s just an unfortunate set of circumstances.  However, if a client thought something had gone wrong and this led to them being harmed, it’s quite possible they may complain with the intention of holding someone responsible and possibly liable.

The importance of managing complaints

There may sometimes be a temptation to ignore a complaint and hope it’ll just go away.  Maybe the client won’t follow up.  Maybe the incident won’t occur again.  This is a very short-sighted way to run any business as there are clear benefits to appropriately managing complaints.

Clients will generally expect to see their complaint dealt with quickly and fairly.  When this doesn’t happen it’s possible that further complaints will follow and the issue or concern could become a much greater one. 

Managing complaints should be seen as good ‘customer service’.  You rely on clients to keep your business afloat.  When clients are unhappy with a service they’ve received, they can talk with their feet by not returning to the centre.  Keeping clients happy and satisfied is more likely to see them continue to use your centre and recommend your business to others.

Complaints can provide a business with an opportunity to review and improve their service.  Receiving a complaint may highlight an issue which the business had not been aware of.  When investigating and dealing with the complaint, the centre may wish to consider a change to avoid that issue arising again in the future.

How to manage complaints

It’s advisable that every fitness centre has a complaints policy.  This means that the centre will have an agreed-to process which allows for all complaints to be dealt with in a fair and consistent manner.  It also means staff know what to do which is important as managing complaints can be challenging.

A key aspect in dealing with any complaint is listening to the person.  Where possible, make time to sit down in a quiet space and give them time to express their concerns.  Make the effort to hear what they have to say and take on board what they have told you.  You may not agree with all they are saying, however it helps if you can try to understand the situation from their perspective.  You may wish to ask them to document their concerns so you both have an accurate record of the matter.  Avoid being defensive or taking the complaint personally as this may inflame the situation.

With low level complaints you may be able to offer a solution there and then.  However, this won’t always be the case.  With more serious complaints you should provide the person with an assurance that you’ll investigate the matter and get back to them with a response at a later date.

Guild Insurance expects those insured with us not to admit liability (or name someone else as being at fault), or to offer any compensation without contacting us first.  Contact Guild Insurance on 1800 810 213 as soon as you’ve received a complaint; don’t wait till it escalates to a claim for compensation.  We will provide advice and support to assist you to deal appropriately and professionally with what can be a challenging and possibly upsetting situation.  This support can be the difference between sorting a problem quickly and it escalating to a serious claim. 


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