The Thin Line Between Loyalty and Defection

It took all of ten seconds of poor customer service to eliminate a shade over $1,500/year in effortless annual revenue…

It was a normal Sunday morning. The Dupuis Family was kicking off a big day of activities and before we could start, I needed to address my empty gas tank situation. I pulled up to the pump, punched in my credit card information, and popped the nozzle into my car to begin pumping my usual bi-weekly tank of gas. My wife was in the front seat of the car, her door open, sitting roughly six feet away from the pump. 

I’m going to go grab a cup of coffee, I said. Can you keep an eye on this?

Sure, Pete. No problem.


As I stepped through the door of the mini-mart, I heard an abrasive shout from behind the register.


Yes. Yes it is.

You and I both know that you’re not supposed to walk away from the car while gas is pumping (still sort of shouting).

My apologies. My wife is sitting right there in the front seat, eyes on the pump, taking care of that for me.

That’s not how this works. Get back out there now or I’ll turn off the pump.

Roughly ten customers throughout the shop had their eyes fixed in my direction, looking at me in a way that made me feel like a criminal of sorts. I wanted to argue my case further, but was so caught off-guard by the aggressive approach being taken by the cashier that all I could think to do was walk out of the store.

I returned to my car, stepped over the pump line, and approached my wife to tell her what had just happened. The gas was still pumping. As I stood there ranting, with my back to the pump, I heard the click.

The cashier had turned off the pump before the tank was half full because I didn’t have eyes on I stood two steps away. He was on a nice big power trip, and his victory would have long-term implications.

Just like that, Cumberland Farms had lost my business until the end of time. No more gas. No more cups of coffee or quick snacks. No more anything. A minimum wage employee had unknowingly made the decision to cut ties with a patron who had spent more than $5,000 on fuel alone in the last five years since moving to town, and he surely would not lose a minute of sleep over it in the future.

For the record, I now understand and acknowledge that I was breaking a rule. But clients unknowingly break rules all the time, and there are two directions businesses can go with delivering that message...

Rating my Cumberland Farms customer service experience.

Rating my Cumberland Farms customer service experience.

The thing that makes gas stations and gyms similar

Gas stations are a dime a dozen. They sell a commodity, and spend their days competing on price and location. If we don’t like the way we’re treated at one station, we get back in our car and take our business a quarter of a mile down the road.

Like it or not, the average fitness consumer looks at gyms nearly the exact same way. Sure, we employ coaches with related college degrees, constantly spend continuing education dollars on improving ourselves, and ultimately spend far more time preparing ourselves to deliver exceptional customer service experiences than the local Cumberland Farms...but that’s a story that the soccer mom living around the corner is rarely told. Instead, she believes our gym to be no different than the $0 down, $10/month Planet Fitness offer sitting right around the corner.

As a result, we are every bit as susceptible to client defection during the early stages of the customer life cycle as the gas station with the unpleasant cashier. 

We can’t afford to have bad days, minutes, or moments. Office Managers can’t choose not to smile. Coaches can’t get away with resting bitch face while walking to the restroom. And independent contractors, who are perceived to be an extension of our businesses, had better not make a habit of “taking plays off” when a parent in the parking approaches him looking for the right lobby to access the gym.

Every interaction may not be an opportunity to earn additional business, but it sure as shit is an opportunity to lose it. 

The service we deliver is anything but a commodity, but that doesn’t matter if we’ve failed to shift that perception in the eyes of our potential consumers. We convey that message slowly and systematically over a series of training sessions in month one. The bad news for us is that those sessions will be the last we have the opportunity to deliver if we employ people who take it upon themselves to tell a client: “You and I both know that’s not how this works.”

Sorry, Cumberland Farms. I’ll see you never.

Want to go even further down the customer service rabbit hole?

My business partner Eric and I are going to spend Monday, September 23rd digging deep into everything from lead generation, to pricing strategy, gym design, and everything in between. If you’re interested in learning exactly how we’ve attacked building and maintaining the model we’ve had in action since 2007, this packed day of information is for you.

*** Take note that this registration includes complimentary attendance to the CSP Fall Seminar which is set to take place during the two days before our mentorship event. This one will be a good bang for your buck continuing education opportunity.

Check out all of the details HERE, and make sure to shoot me an email ( if you have follow-up questions.