Sometimes the Customer is Wrong

“This place just isn’t the same as it used to be…”

When this message comes from a client, it is rarely meant to convey positivity. It always stings.

You’ve probably heard the same thing yourself if you’ve been running a gym for more than a couple of years. I have some good news - sometimes your clients are wrong, or simply don’t appreciate what is in the best long-term interest of your business.

One of our first, and most loyal clients is a guy named Sahil. He was one of the dozen or so athletes who set foot in our first facility on day-one, and has managed to complete close to 1,000 training sessions here at CSP in his lifetime. Sahil has earned the right to be critical of our business, and he has never been afraid to share his thoughts.

He dropped the “this place has changed” card on me a couple of years back after returning to train as a recent college grad. It didn’t stop there…

  • The training environment isn’t as rugged as I remember it.

  • People aren’t as strong as they used to be around here.

  • You guys are too corporate now.

Most of the things he said were probably accurate. We had changed, but it was due to necessity. Grungy powerlifting gyms don’t scale well, and they hardly illustrate a safe and professional training environment to professional athletes and parents of teenagers.

When Sahil began training with us, we were bootstrapping it as a startup trying to find our identity as a business. Our optimal training environment changed dramatically between year one and year six. At some point during that very same period, Sahil stopped representing our ideal client. That’s okay. If you were to ask him now, he’d probably tell you that he sees why we pivoted a little bit and understands the rationale.

The next time a long-time client tells you “this place has lost its magic,” fight the urge to make immediate changes in an attempt to be everything to everyone. Instead, ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Have we lost sight of what makes this place great, or are we simply making the necessary adjustments to take us to the next level?

  2. Is the person who is sharing their concerns still a member of my target market, or have their life circumstances and training needs changed over time? If you've built a business that is designed to cater to high school and collegiate athletes, you probably shouldn't be losing sleep over the tough feedback that you got from a client who is no longer a member of either of these demos. 

You’re going to have to let go of some of your garage gym tendencies if you want to take this operation from an entertaining hobby to a viable long-term business. There will be times where “thank you for your feedback” will suffice, followed by staying on your course.

Remember, the client doesn’t always have to be right.