About the author:

Geraldine Farache

Geraldine Farache

Geraldine has experience creating digital and print content across a variety of sectors. She specializes in writing, developing and editing content and copy and has a strong passion for fitness.

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How to Deal With Toxic Customers

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Is the customer always right? When faced with challenging behavior from difficult members, it's not always easy to know what to do. We've tackled the tricky issue of dealing with "Toxic Customers", identifying red flags and providing advice for you, the fitness business owner.

What do you do when a customer who, amongst other things, consistently challenges the professional knowledge of your teachers and coaches? This conundrum sparks an interesting discussion about toxic customers and the decisions fitness business owners are faced with when addressing this issue. We’ve taken a deep breath and opened up Pandora’s box to shed some more light on this subject. A problem shared is a problem solved! 


How Can You Identify a Toxic Customer?

 As a fitness business owner, you need to be able to identify the toxic customer warning signs and take swift action. The good news? It’s completely preventable, with awareness and prudence. So what are those red flags? 

  • They are highly demanding with unclear and changing demands 
  • They are never satisfied
  • They take up a disproportionate amount of time and resources
  • They don’t pay on time or at all
  • They are abusive to you and your team


All boxes ticked? Don’t panic! We’ve all experienced toxic customers and as always, Arbox has your back. Dealing with these customers can be stressful and anxiety-provoking, however, there are some measures you can put in place to tackle tricky customers effectively. 


Communicate Clearly

It is essential to have well-defined boundaries in place to foster healthy relationships with members. Define roles and terms of engagement to create a better experience for everyone involved, and if needed use digital forms to put them in writing. For some, that means a strict email-only policy, for others, this may extend to SMS messaging. Figure out what works best for you and your team and communicate this to the challenging member. Toxic customers are quick to attribute blame, so clearly defining roles and terms in writing, can avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict. Communication is key! If you decide to continue their membership, be honest and transparent with your concerns and expectations moving forward.  

The consequences of not effectively managing disputes can be grave for businesses, so if the relationship has escalated to uncomfortable confrontations, remember to stay calm and breathe. Disengage from inflammatory discussions via social media and always have other colleagues nearby to offer support if necessary.


Appoint a Strong Team

Your team must be equipped with the necessary skills to deal with compromising customers. Provide comprehensive conflict resolution training to build their confidence and develop their skills. Up-skilling your team can help to altogether avoid challenging situations with toxic customers as staff have the know-how to defuse, rather than escalate confrontations. Enroll them in online workshops and practice role-playing. The more practice, the better. 


Assess Their Value

In today’s economic climate, many fitness business owners are extremely reluctant to turn members away, no matter how difficult and demanding they may be. However, time is money and you need to think like a business owner rather than a fitness professional. Is this member financially impacting my business for the good or the bad? Use Arbox membership profiles as well as real-time data and reporting, to calculate their cost over their profit. What kind of membership do they have? Have they generated new memberships by referring friends or family? Do they generate extra value through in-app shop purchases? If you’re costing you money and time that could be better spent elsewhere, consider bidding them farewell. 


Don’t Be Afraid to Let Them Go

You’ve done everything you can to improve this relationship but all efforts have been exhausted. It’s time to move the toxic customer on. This has to be managed carefully and discreetly because maintaining a positive reputation within the wider community is important. First and foremost check the small print of their contract to make sure the cancellation policy is clearly explained. Once you’re happy with the paperwork, think about who the best person is to deliver the news. If there has been a history of clashes with a particular staff member, avoid putting that person in a difficult position. Usually, this task is best executed by a manager or team leader as they may have the most experience dealing with sensitive situations. 


Be calm, be gracious but be direct and clear. To avoid any misunderstanding, you must provide an uncomplicated explanation of your decision and the steps taken that have led to this point. Despite the challenges, deliver this news with kindness and empathy. As much as we try to provide excellent customer service and get to know all members, sometimes it’s just not the right fit. Refer them onwards and do your very best to help them calmly move on. Remember that nothing is more important than your safety and the safety of your team. If the toxic customer becomes disgruntled, have strategies in place to defuse the situation. 


Fostering a positive environment within your fitness business takes care and dedication. Up-skill yourself and your team to recognize toxic customers early on. Don’t be afraid to say no from the beginning. Your fitness business will be better because of it. 

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