Mega Corp LA Fitness and Customer Service:
Got a Complaint? Try to Find Them and See What Happens?
Open Salon, April 23, 2013
LA Fitness, a national gym chain which took over Bally's locations in Southern California, has an almost impossible
methodology regarding customer complaints. If you go to their website, you will find no telephone contacts or even an email address to communicate with someone in the corporate office, only numbers for the local gyms.
I wanted to contact someone at the corporate level, because I've been going to a gym for decades and occasionally you run
into creeps who share the facility and/or educationally challenged folks who have managerial responsibility.
Only by asking one of the gym managers for such a number was I able to finally speak with an entry-level customer service employee named Sabrina. I explained to Sabrina that I'd just had an unpleasant experience at the club on Hollywood Boulevard near Grauman's Chinese Theatre and gave her the circumstances.
On repeated occasions I have had to deal with members putting water on the coals of the sauna, which are not really coals
but electrical devices. Others spray various oils on the coals, which emit fragrances akin to Vick's Vapor Rub by a multiple of four. It is difficult to breathe in some instances, and for a few it's a serious problem, because there may be people who are simply allergic. Or there may be still others who just want to sit in a sauna in a neutral environment, not to mention the possibility of sparks flying out of the heating device.
Some people cooperate; others don't and in defiance put even more water on the coals as if to dare you to do something.
In one instance, I reported the guy and an employee named André actually did his job. He took the member's ID and scanned the bar code into the computer, warning the man that he would lose his membership if he did it again. In another instance a young man started to put oil on the coals, and when I told him it wasn't permissible and that it wasn't appreciated by others,
he apologized and refrained from doing so. However, as I was exiting the sauna he politely asked me if I was coming back.
I told him that I wasn't, and so I'm rather certain that he put his oil on the coals after I'd left.
Today, I told a man who put water on the coals that he wasn't supposed to do so, and he responded in a hostile manner that he'd been doing it for five years and that "everybody does it." I just left quickly as I'm tired of fighting with some of these ignorant souls, and as I was drying off he came out and in a very aggressive manner wanted to know why I was so upset, repeating that he'd been doing it for five years and that everyone else does it.
I tried to explain the dangers and why it was inappropriate, and he cut me off saying, "Just because you're white doesn't make you right." This really burned me and I got angry that he was playing the race card. This very muscular African American man, about eight inches taller, essentially said we could take it outside, which, to my mind, was threatening and I told him I would report him to management. He turned away, then faced me mockingly and actually told me his name was Sam to indicate he couldn't have cared less.
After telling the general manager that I was about to call the cops, she directed operations manager David to go back into the locker room with me. As I was explaining the situation to him we initially walked past Sam, who brazenly called over, saying
"It was me."
This was now a different Sam in the face of management. He was like a pussy cat, repeating that he didn't know he wasn't supposed to put water on the electric coals, and his countenance was the opposite of what I'd experienced. When I reminded him about playing the race card, he denied it, but then repeated "All I said was 'just because you're white doesn't make you right.'" To his mind there was nothing racist about such a statement.
At this point, what annoyed me most was operation manager David's lack of empathy for what I'd gone through. Either he was totally buying Sam's 180-degree personality turnaround or he just didn't like me. He absolutely agreed with me that Sam's action was not permissible, but mitigated the deed, seeming to agree that people don't know they're not supposed to do it.
So, I asked about putting up a sign, and he said that LA Fitness had a policy that all signs have to be system-wide, but to assuage me said he would request one. I also mentioned the people who have no problem spitting on the floor, some feeling it's okay to do so if they aim toward the drains in the sauna or other gym areas. The fact that people walk barefoot over those drains doesn't occur to them. David's response was that a sign (even in various foreign languages, as it seems to be perpetrated by those from countries where such actions are common) wouldn't help, dismissing my suggestions for proscribing the practice with his feeling that it wasn't necessary because it was obviously common sense not to do so.
Clearly, common sense is not always pervasive at these gyms or at many areas in our lives, witness the governmental sanctioned signs in public places about what can and cannot be done upon pain of fines and/or imprisonment.
That's the back story, and it returns us to my conversation with Sabrina at the LA Fitness central office. Though she was initially friendly I eventually got nowhere with this clueless representative, who essentially said no one has been complaining and they would have to deal with it on a case to case basis, warning transgressors, rather than putting up a sign that people would simply ignore. It is always frustrating when people minimize your complaint with the rejoinder that no one else is complaining or they haven't heard of any such reports. The fact that most people don't do so doesn't mean that it isn't happening in a widespread manner, not to mention Sam's statement not only to me but to operation manager David that "everybody does it."
I then asked to speak to Sabrina's supervisor and in a short while I was telephoned by area manager Jessica Zavala. She was very friendly and understanding and said she would talk to David about the situation. I said that it was likely David would just say I had overreacted, because by the time he became involved Sam was easy going and not at all hostile, whereas I was still in an accusatory state.
She also restated the company policy against signage, and I felt obliged to tell her I believed it was shortsighted. Why is LA Fitness so against putting up signs that would make it clear what is or isn't appropriate, in particular actions that could be injurious, not only to their customers but harmful to their equipment as well? She said "Well, everyone won't read the signs,"
but I indicated that there are others who might, including those who are now behaving irresponsibly and might not have done so if they saw a big sign above the coals telling them what was forbidden. Instead of logic, LA Fitness fosters a policy that it shouldn't try to prevent a misdeed because it won't prevent them all.
Her solution was that perhaps staff might inspect the sauna and other areas from time to time, to which I suggested that it would be doubtful they would see people putting water on the coals, and even though they'd be aware someone put oils on the coals due to the lingering odor, they probably wouldn't catch the guy who'd done it.
The main problem is that LA Fitness is a huge chain with a large turnover of staff, who are probably itching to get to something better in their lives. Folks not all that concerned about the membership except how to sign them up for revenue-producing deals, such as personal training sessions.
Most of these employees are not interested in being proactive, because the corporate culture doesn't support it or reward them and are therefore not sympathetic with a member who makes waves. This, even though, because LA Fitness does little to prevent transgressions, it relies upon members to police their facilities, to chide fellow members when they are acting out of line and to report the members to management for punitive action. The fact is most people will not utter a word, whether or not it bothers them, in the same manner that few remonstrate those who text in a darkened movie theater, in spite of the disturbing light emanating from their phones.
Such is the corporate culture at LA Fitness and highlights their indifference, which is no doubt why you really have to hunt very hard to find a way to contact someone at the central office.
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