When to Listen to Your Clients (and When Not To)

Podcast-1 (12)

Chris Cooper: (00:02)
Is the customer always right? No way. Is the customer always wrong? No. I’m Chris Cooper. I’m the founder of Two-Brain Business, and today I’m gonna talk about when you should listen to your clients and when you don’t have to. If this episode is helpful to you or if you have questions or you want to discuss it, go to GymOwnersUnited.com. That will lead you to our free public Facebook group just for gym owners where we talk about these things and everything else that goes into running a gym every single day.

Chris Cooper: (00:32)
So today we want to talk about your clients and when you should listen to them, when you don’t need to, and when it’s time to just take your own advice. Your clients want you to be successful, they feel very close to you, and they feel close to your staff and to your brand. And sometimes they’re going to give you advice. Sometimes they’ll try to fix the problems that they see in your business. This can sound like they’re complaining sometimes, but usually you’ll want to consider their ideas because they’re your valuable client, but should you consider their ideas? And likewise, your staff members want to help. They want you to think that they’re important. So sometimes they’ll approach you with ideas and they’ll hope that you will listen. And when that doesn’t work, then they’ll bring you some concerns. And if they still don’t feel important, they might even amplify their fears by saying, Hey Chris, a lot of customers are complaining about X.

Chris Cooper: (01:27)
Or, Hey, I think a bunch of clients are talking about quitting. Now, as a leader, you must appear open to feedback, and the best ideas do sometimes come from your clients or from your team. But how do you tell the difference? Today, I’m gonna help you identify whose advice you should take. Then I’m gonna tell you whose advice you should never take. And finally, I’m gonna tell you how to use precise questions to grow your business instead of using horrible client surveys or town hall meetings. So we’re gonna do an exercise quickly called seed clients. And so you’re gonna need a blank sheet of paper, your gym management software, and about 20 minutes without a distraction. If you’re listening to this while you’re mowing your lawn or driving your car, you can just kind of take mental notes and do the exercise later when you’ve got a little bit of time.

Chris Cooper: (02:14)
So you’re gonna take out your blank sheet of paper, you’re gonna divide the sheet into two halves. You’re gonna draw a vertical line straight down the middle. Now, at the top of the page, at one side of the line, you’re going to draw a smiley face. On the other side of the line, you’re gonna draw a dollar sign. So your page should look like this, held vertically. One vertical line down the middle. Smiley face on the top left, dollar sign at the top right. You should have two columns, one column under the smiley face, one column under the dollar sign. Under the dollar sign, I want you to write down the name of the 10 clients who pay you the most money every month. These might be your personal training clients, they might be group clients who buy additional services, whatever. The highest value clients by dollars.

Chris Cooper: (03:01)
Don’t worry about how you feel about these clients right now. Now on the left side, I want you to write down the clients who make you the happiest. Not just the smile, fly under the radar, the easiest clients, but the clients who actually give you energy and pump you up when they show up to your gym. Okay? These are the people who are not just the easiest to tolerate, but these are the people who make owning a gym worthwhile. Now, if you look at the two columns, the people who make you happy and the people who pay you the most money, they might mostly be different people, but you should notice a few names that appear in both columns. These are your seed clients. These are the best clients that we want to plant in the ground and duplicate over and over.

Chris Cooper: (03:46)
They’re gonna grow the next generation of clients. They’re the people who bring in the most money and bring out your best. So most of your clients will follow your lead, but you should follow these people. And so I want you to book a coffee date with each one of them individually. And on that coffee date, you’re gonna ask them these three questions. First, what led you to my gym in the first place? Second, what did you try in the past that you didn’t like before you tried my gym? And third, what is your biggest challenge in life outside my gym? Their answers will tell you what you should be saying or doing more to attract clients just like them. And you’ll also know what you can say less or just skip altogether. For example, if none of your seed clients are on TikTok, you probably don’t have to spend a lot of time building up your TikTok audience right now.

Chris Cooper: (04:35)
Second, they will also tell you what turns potential great clients away. So if you ask them, what did you do in the past that you didn’t like? You can stop doing those things and turning off the people that you want to attract. And third, if you ask them, what’s your greatest challenge outside my gym? They will tell you how you can serve them more and create more value for them and grow your business. You have a client-centric business. Over time, your service will gradually shift as your clients’ needs change. You probably opened your gym to maybe unconsciously service your own needs. You bought all the equipment that you needed to train, or that you like to train. And over time you’ll find that there’s a bit of an evolution. Your best clients, the clients that you like the best and are paying you the most, need different things. They might need different space, different equipment, different staff, different levels of professionalism, different prices, different location even.

Chris Cooper: (05:27)
And your business will evolve to serve them best. The key is to follow the lead of your best clients, adjust your service to give them what they need, and allow the rest of your audience to evolve to be more like your best. When should you ignore clients? Well, the client isn’t always right. So I just told you which clients are likely to give you good advice, but now I’m gonna tell you which clients’ advice you can avoid. We call these the loud minority. These are the people who, even when things are amazing, they’re complaining. And it’s really, really easy to focus on these problem areas because you and I are problem solvers. Our brains are wired to detect flaws and provide the right answer or the solution or solve the problem. But we also often get these false positives from our clients. These are feedback cues that seem to knock all the good stuff off the table.

Chris Cooper: (06:22)
We could have a hundred people getting amazing results. One person leaves us a one star review on Facebook. What do we tell our wife about that night? It’s the one star review. We fixate on the problem that has to be solved instead of the ones that have already been solved. Because we’re problem solvers, we fixate on negative feedback, even when that doesn’t represent the average client. And when someone says they don’t like a certain class time on our client surveys, we just wanna smash the whole puzzle and start from scratch, right? Yeah. See, I know you, I’m like you too. I feel the same way. Even worse, sometimes your staff will report that some of the members had problems with some of the services or some of the class times. This feedback is always super hard to pin down. Which members are have problems, what exactly do they say?

Chris Cooper: (07:14)
And these problems are aggravating because they’re completely unsolvable. The reality is that your staff might be exaggerating the complaints that they hear because they want to help you or they want to feel important or they just want to feel seen. And so they’ll keep bringing this stuff up until you acknowledge them, when really there might not be a big problem. In a moment, I’m going to give you a key to tell the difference on whether you actually have a really big problem, or whether it’s a staff person just looking to be heard and seen. Okay? But what I always tell my team is this: A small minority of people will always complain about everything. For example, they will complain because you didn’t include a weightlift class in your unlimited membership. Or they will complain because now you’re going to charge for your new nutrition advice, or they will complain because you don’t have enough classes, or they will complain because you’re just too expensive.

Chris Cooper: (08:08)
And while we want to listen to everyone, we only act according to our vision for the gym. And we don’t let the loud minority sway us because we understand that they don’t see the big picture. And we do. So when I hear everyone who’s complaining or “Chris, everybody thinks X”, then I know that “everyone” is not everyone. It’s just the loud minority. The members of the loud minority, while welcome at Catalyst, are not our perfect clients. And if we wavered on our position for every little complaint, we would have no direction. We would have a hundred different programs at a hundred different price points and a hundred concessions for each one. Every single interaction would become a negotiation and it would hurt our best clients. So we don’t do that. We deliver an amazing service and experience. Those who appreciate that service and benefit from that experience will stay and members of the loud minority will leave eventually.

Chris Cooper: (09:13)
Focus is a simple filter. Our mission at Catalyst is to meaningfully extend the lives of 7,000 people in Sault St. Marie. That means over 60,000 people in our city will not be a perfect fit for our gym. And that very few people will be a perfect fit forever. We will be polite and caring and tactful, but we will not sacrifice the standard to satisfy the very few. And some of our future best clients are not ready to be our best clients. Yet. Some of our former best clients are no longer our best clients because they have changed, but we have not. The lesson is to focus on your best clients. What I’ve learned is that following the minority is a disservice to the majority. Just as it’s important to train your strengths in the gym, it’s important to focus on your happy clients most of the time.

Chris Cooper: (10:05)
Perfect is the enemy of good. It’s impossible to please everyone. And some will like everything that you do. That’s fine. Your best clients will thank you for your consistency, for giving them what they love if you work hard to serve them. And your worst clients won’t be around to complain for long as the gym owner. You must always be tactful. You must always be polite. You must always be open to suggestion and criticism, but you don’t always have to act on it. Now, I want to tell you why we don’t ever use surveys or town hall meetings. You are building a client-centric business, but it is not a democracy. Your job as a coach is to understand what your clients need and give it to them. They don’t really know what they need, which is why they elected to pay you. They are voting with their wallets.

Chris Cooper: (10:59)
You don’t need to keep asking them what they want next. So client surveys and town hall meetings and even advisory boards are a horrible way to run a small business. In the darkest days of my gym, Catalyst, I was tempted to turn the gym into a co-op. Not because I thought my clients had better ideas than I did, but simply because I wanted somebody else to share the responsibility for the gym’s success. Or if I’m being honest, to share the blame when the gym failed. But you can’t make decisions by committee and hope to get anywhere. If you chase customer feedback, ideas, and complaints, you will be directionless. Your job as the CEO is to set the direction, not to be pulled off track every time somebody brings things up to you. Here’s an example. A few years ago, gym owners liked to use surveys.

Chris Cooper: (11:48)
So they would send out a survey to everybody in their gym, and all of the members essentially got an equal vote when responding. So who would respond? The complainers and the helpers. People with axes to grind and people who actually wanted to help. But as I explained earlier, these helpers exaggerate their feedback so that they can feel important. And the complainers exaggerate their feedback just to make things suit their own needs to a greater degree. Even though most of the people in the gym have no complaints, the squeakiest wheels tend to get the grease and the gym owner can be led astray in surveys. Complainers say things like this, I want you to change that. I don’t like this coach. We need more open gym hours. We need five more classes per week. And if you dropped your rate a little, you would get more clients.

Chris Cooper: (12:40)
So the gym owner makes changes in response to the complainers. They think they have to solve this problem because they’re a problem solver. And then two months later, she’ll call Two-Brain and say, Hey, I’m running these extra classes. Nobody’s showing up. I’m spending more time, but I’m not making any more money. This was a mistake. How do I fix it? Or the, “if you dropped your rates a little, you’d get more clients”. I mean, most of your clients only have experience as a consumer, not as a business owner. So meanwhile, while you’re hearing and acting on these complaints, most of your other clients had no problem with the previous schedule or the coaching or the rates. And even more often, gym owners will recognize that survey feedback as bad advice. And so they won’t make the changes. But the clients who gave their feedback will expect some kind of action.

Chris Cooper: (13:27)
And when no action is taken, they think, well, why are you asking for my feedback and then not taking it? Obviously, this coach doesn’t take me seriously. And then they amplify their demands by threatening to quit or complaining to other clients, Hey, I told him we needed five more classes a week. Hey, I told him he should be dropping his rates. Hey, I’ve been complaining that we needed more open gym for six months. The answer: don’t do surveys. Surveys are a no-win strategy. Your best clients will not give you anything actionable in a survey because they’re happy with how things are. Your worst clients will complain and expect you to take action whether you realize their complaints are valid or not. Worst, surveys make it easy to confuse the squeaky wheels with the people who are really driving the train. So instead of surveys, identify your best clients.

Chris Cooper: (14:19)
Right? Go back to the start of this podcast, take them for coffee, listen carefully. And while they won’t give you good advice on how to run your business, because that’s your job or a mentor’s job, they will tell you how to serve them more and how to find more people like them. The seed client exercise is a core part of our curriculum for a reason. Forget about building client avatars. Forget about trying to draw the picture of your perfect client. You already have perfect clients. After you identify them, you can let them lead you to finding more people like them. Growing your gym the right way, stress free and avoiding the squeaky wheels. Hope it helps. If this podcast was useful to you and you wanna chat more about it or chat with me and my team, just go to GymOwnersUnited.com. Join the free Facebook group, behave like a good human, ask all your questions and we’ll answer them with tact and diplomacy and courtesy. All of the bad apples have been removed from that group. It is full of people that I would love to help. And so if you go to GymOwnersUnited.com, that’s where we talk about this thing, and all these things about owning a gym. See you there.

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