Talwalkars Gym: Do they think the Customer is an Ass?
August 10, 2007 241 Comments
I had a rather bad experience with the Talwalkars Gym in Sadashivnagar (Bellary Road, Bangalore) recently and so I thought I should write it down so that people googling for it will find this out and perhaps be forewarned.
I have been a member of the Sadashivnagar branch of Talwalkars for a year now. While people do complain about them being overpriced (5k per month and 20k for an annual membership), my opinion has been that there is perhaps some value since so many people join the gym. Also, since it is covered under my company’s fitness benefit, I really can’t complain.
Hence, this post is not meant to rant about their pricing. The whole problem started when I went to renew my membership. I asked the chief instructor on the floor around the third week of July about renewing it and he told me that new rates will be applicable from August beginning with new offers and I should wait. I decided to delay the renewal since I still had a few weeks left. One the first of August, a colleague of mine told me that there was a new scheme in Talwalkars under which renewal was only about 15k. He called them up and cross-checked with them. I thought the deal made good sense so I even sent out a mail to people at large in my office so that they could avail of the deal if they so wished.
When we reached the gym, the instructor (the one I had asked earlier) informed us that renewal would come to about 20k, a full 5k more than what we had heard. What they had done was bumped up the price by 3k and were then giving a 2k discount under an ‘early bird’ offer. Renewals would get a further 1k discount. Talwalkars has other schemes (such as discounts on couple membership) but he was extremely reluctant to share these with us (though he kept insisting that the prices are decided by the head office and they have to follow the catalog but he was not allowed to share the catalog with the customers). He said that he is not allowed to give us the details by the head office. On prodding further, he did give us the catalog sent by the head office, and we found that a discount of 15% is available in the case of renewal. However, he informed us that such a discount was applicable only on the full price (bumped up by 3k than the current price and this fact was not mentioned in the catalog) so the deal would come out to be more expensive for us. He was obviously not very comfortable with us asking a number of pointed questions because he seemed to be sweating profusely. I asked him for a proof somewhere in between, and he started fidgeting so much that I felt he was trying to evade.
The fun continued when I came back to the office and tried the Talwalkras number again. I called up the Jayanagar branch and they told me that the rate was 15k (n fact, they also said that the rates all over the country are higher). I called up a number of other branches as well, and it seemed to be lower everywhere. In Bombay, the rates were 10k. I could not get through to the head office in Bombay. I checked at each of these branches and they said that the rates are the same all over the country (and were very insistent about this). When we called up the Sadashivnagar branch and asked them the reason for the bumped up rates, they said that they have better equipment than the other branches. It was not clear now whether the rates were decided by the branch or the head office.
I agree that Talwalkars is a private company and they can pretty much do whatever they wish to, but I would like to focus on the following complains:
- Don’t try to make a fool of loyal customers: In most other shops (or organizations), if there is an impending price increase the shopkeeper would actually inform you and try to get more sales. It also makes sense to inform loyal customers anyway, at least they should get some rewards for their loyalty. It seems obvious that Talwalkars Sadashivnagar is making enough money and doesn’t give a damn whether older members leave or continue. On the contrary, they wish to bump up the price for them so that they can extract more money. At the same time, you can not ask repeat customers to pay the same amount as new joinees, esp. when the service is like a gym. If you mention a 15% discount, it should be given on the price you are charging new joinees and not a bumped up price which clearly implies fleecing. (In fact, a lot of other people have also left the gym for various reasons which I will not belabor here)
- There has to be transparency in pricing: If you are referring to a catalog, make it public and have the policies clearly mentioned. There is no point of playing a game of FUD with your customers. Moreover, the pricing should be simple. If there are alternate schemes, state them clearly, and not make a mess of the pricing structure so that the customer doesn’t trust you. Either there should not be any ambiguity, or if there is, the benefit of doubt should be given to the customer. He is the king, after all!
- Have clear communications between the head office and the branch: While it is very apt to have pricing being decided centrally, it is important to have them communicated to every branch. If the branch manager says, ‘We’re sorry, but everything is decided by the head office, and we can’t do anything’, the customer is going to wonder what he is there for. They could very well do away with him and replace him by a membership vending machine (a la a Coke vending machine). Also, if there is differentiation between the branches, it should be clear. I am still not sure if the differential pricing is a matter of policy, or if the guy was trying to cheat me.
- Hire competent people: The most important thing. You can be doing each of the three above, but if the person in-charge does it convincingly, the customer is not going to feel sour (I am actually giving wrong advice here!). The point is, the person should be able to handle uncertainties, and tricky situations, if they arise. We don’t want answers like “Cummon man, do you not trust me?” from the in-charge. Of course, we don’t trust you. The FUD game never works.
- Let customers see value in the price: Though I promised not to talk about it, I have to revisit this. At the end of the day, there has to be value. I thought that my year-long association should have promised me a better price. Most companies give a lower reimbursement for renewals as compared to new joinees, precisely for the reason. At least in the case of a gym, a repeat customer has much lower cost: since he knows most exercises and just has to use the equipment. It was very clearly noticeable that the trainers were only interested in helping people who had coughed up more money for getting a personal trainer, and others were left to fend for themselves. If that is the policy, so be it. But then, the customer has to be charged commensurate to what he is getting.
Of course, I had refused to renew and I would recommend the same to others. The price is not the pain point because finally a person has to judge if s/he sees enough value and s/he wishes to spend that much money for the service s/he is getting. However, what irks me is the fact that they are trying to so blatantly fleece customers. They obviously seem to think the Customer is an Ass.
Thanks to all this, I am now enjoying the Sankey Tank in the mornings.
Update: Sriram has posted his own horrendous experiences with the Talwalkars Sadashivnagar branch at his blog: http://talwalkars.blogspot.com