When Marketing Ears Slam Shut

Facebook combs through your responses to find what you want, what you like, and sells it to marketers. Google tracks your keywords and Target knows if you are pregnant before your family does. Every marketer hungers for first-hand information, hints of how you spend your money, what coupons you might want and which you might ignore.

So why is it, when companies have clients in front of them, expressing opinions,

Nautilus from information2share.com

the company seals its ears tighter than the Nautilus approaching Paris? It’s not just a communication problem. It’s also a training problem, and a creativity problem. And that’s why I am interested. I think companies are afraid of creativity because it might torpedo the status quo and the marketing plan. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I went to the gym tonight. I’d scheduled some time with a trainer to concentrate on my upper body strength. The trainer walked in, big guy, impressive muscles, and told me he had 14 years experience and he could get me down to my ideal weight if only I would commit to a plan he designed.

“I came in to learn a routine for my upper body,” I said. He spoke over me and told me that he knew more about how I gotten out of shape than I did. (Really? Is interrupting a client and telling them what they need going to make them feel comfortable?) I waited till he was finished, and again said what I wanted. He gave me a sheet to fill out (that assumed I lacked discipline, was lazy and wasn’t motivated and didn’t want to admit it), and disappeared. He reappeared with the manager who began to tell me how wrong I was.

Talk to the hand from barelyablog.com

Again, I told the manager what I wanted. He held up his hand in the “Talk to the Hand” gesture, and said, “Hey, no need to get angry here.” Wow. I wasn’t angry. I wanted to be heard. I wanted to be asked about my present routine and why that wasn’t working. It didn’t happen.

I tried again. “I’m not angry, I am trying to communicate my needs.” The big guy interrupted me again. I listened carefully and realized there was some sort of liability involved if I didn’t do the starter routine. The manager and the big guy double-teamed me, telling me that people “like me” (women? writers? over 50? those who need upper body strength?) need to do a routine planned by the health club, because, you know. . .they have all that experience. They were now speaking loudly and slowly as if I were one of those drunk guys wearing a wife-beater shirt in a poorly-lit, shaky-camera cop show.

Time is short and so is life. I want to use the gym because it is too hot to walk now. So I became very quiet, docile, and let them tell me about the experience they had and how I had to break my muscles down and how gaining 10 pounds of muscle would help me lose fat. And I remained compliant while the big guy took me around the machines I have no interest in and told me how to use them.Because if he doesn’t, the lawyers will get involved. He did not notice I wasn’t engaged. He pressed ahead, checking off  items on his new client to-do list.

At the end, he wrote up a routine for me. We had used maybe a dozen machine, and the health club had about three dozen. Many of them look alike to me.

Marketing, not listening. Or, losing business.

This was the second crucial moment that the deal could go wrong, that the gym might lose a client. Client loyalty depends on having the client feel smart, or at least competent.

“How do I know how to use the machine correctly?” I asked.
“I showed you how,” said big guy, briefly, writing down my routine.
“Do the machines have some sort of identification on them, so I can find the right machine again?”
“You will use the same machines as today,” said big guy. He was speaking slowly and loudly again, as if I were old and troublesome. And certainly slow.

I will admit to learning new things slowly. I will not remember the right machine, the right setting, the right way to set the machine, or the right way to use it. He was not going to help me learn. He was losing a customer and didn’t care. Didn’t know. He’d done his new-client routine and was ready for the next client. This is the biggest marketing mistake. Deserting the client while the client is unsure of the benefit of the product or service.

And that’s the training issue right there. Marketing department, are you listening? You won’t get people to use the machines if you don’t teach them how to use the machines. Not show. Teach. I learn nothing from doing what I’m told at a machine. I need to do it myself, with supervision, to make sure I know how. But that wasn’t going to happen, because, they have 14 years of experience and know why I am out of shape.

Big guy looked up. One more question on his part. “Will you be coming in around 9 or 10 in the morning?” he asked. Because, you know, out of shape women don’t work. They sit at home eating bon bons and watching TV.

As my silence stretched into oblivion, I realized that Marketing doesn’t know this is happening. They hand the new-client plan to training, who designs a train-the-trainer book, and big guy and his whole department memorize it and use it. No communication. No creative approaches to clients with questions. Just blind rule following. And then, when clients don’t stay, this well-known health club will pay huge money to Facebook, Google analytics and spyware to find out what clients are thinking. Because they don’t have a clue. They aren’t listening.

–Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach and trainer who saw a marketing plan fail today. She’s going for her three-mile walk tomorrow morning at 5 a.m. And it won’t be in the gym.

42 thoughts on “When Marketing Ears Slam Shut

  1. Print out this blog post and read it slowly and loudly to them when they ask you to renew your gym membership. It’s amazing how quickly ears open up when they want your money!
    Being marginalized only succeeds when you cave to the idiots (nothing is idiot proof as they keep making better idiots) and let them talk over you. The trick in dog training is to turn your back and walk away from the misbehaving dog: when you turn your back on someone who is lecturing you and they get all offended and try to scold you, you simply respond with “why should I listen to you? you don’t listen to me! and I’m the income–YOU are the overhead. I’m the customer and you’re here to wait on me, not the other way around.” I usually don’t wait for the idiot to summon the manager, I call for the manager first. If all else fails, walk. There is no reason to stay where you are mistreated, and if your full gym membership is getting you only part of the gym, you’re being cheated and deserve a partial refund for the parts of the workout routines that are being denied you.
    No trainer has the proper nutritional qualifications to know if you are sitting around eating bon-bons or not and putting you on a machine without being sure you are fully capable of operating it is a sure fire way to open themselves up for all kinds of liability!

  2. Well, I NOW belong to a women only gym, and the one before had these guys who would leave 400 lbs. on the machines and pout if you asked them to remove it. So I left. I trust you wrote a letter to the president of the company. I find that produces great responses (grin). I have written to both the presidents of AOl and yahoo, and boy, was bombarded with phone calls and solutions.

  3. It’s not the gap between the marketing guff and reality that gets me, but the complete lack of insight or personal awareness they demonstrated. It almost seems exaggerated to ridiculous lengths. It is so much more than just not listening to you, it is almost like they went out of their way to ignore you and alienate you. Clearly the world does indeed revolve around them.

    I guess you can at least be grateful there was no barbell dropped on you.

    • I was quite grateful they didn’t drop a barbell on me. As you age, you will become invisible in society. If you are overweight, you become an object of disdain. Our culture doesn’t like older people, and it permits treating them like recalcitrant children. It will be your future too. Because we refuse to deal with death (we don’t say people died, we call it passing on), because we don’t have good healthcare for the aging, we are threatened by those who remind us that life doesn’t last forever. Treating them dismissively fits into our society’s views.

  4. Oh my gosh, Quinn…what a horrible experience. A terrible “trainer” and a terrible “manager.” Reminds me of my health club experience where I was shuttled from trainer to trainer, until finally the poor schmuk dropped a barbell across my face (yes, leaving bruises) and I never went back! (I’ve had better experiences since at a new club–seven years later!!)

  5. I say that you should definitely let someone in management know what’s going on, although I realize management is the beginning of the problem. Ugghhhh. I’ll call ’em, let me at ’em! LOL (but seriously, I will gladly call them). I hate situations like this, I hate bad customer service, I hate rude people and people who don’t listen (especially to customers).

    What’s so frustrating as I read your post is here you are, really wanting to do something help yourself and they won’t even allow it because they think they know what’s right. There are no right or wrong workout programs for people. They should help you focus on your goal and then they can help guide you to another goal after you’ve accomplished the first. How difficult is that?

    I honestly hate going to the gym, any gym. I personally do much better at home and am very disciplined with my workouts (sometimes to the exclusion of too much other stuff). I definitely don’t want to go to this gym you’re referencing, I would throttle someone. Good luck with your goals, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.

    • You are such a kind person, Traci. What really bothered me is the huge distance between the marketing department and success with clients. I’ve worked in marketing departments and this would make me crazy. I’m staying at the gym because they have a great yoga teacher, elipticals and a treadmill, and that was what I was after. And yeah, I have to contact the marketing department of the parent company. They need to know about this.

  6. Quinn, you are always so spot on! Having just retired from 40 years of Corporate BS- this is so typical. And the thing is if you have signed a contract, they really do not care IF you come back or not… Frustrating,and to be minimized because of our age… is REALLY irritating.

  7. Oh such an excellent post..I deal with this continually about how to handle my disease of Parkinson’s. I am continually told how to address the issues and how I need to be fixed. Rarely, if ever does anyone listen as to what is happening to me. I am usually grouped into a place and then told..see..you are not the only one with those symptoms..
    And for being one at the edge of fifty..and I love it..I finally have come to peace with this body..which has had children..dealing with a disease..aging..unknown factors..and being a woman. No longer the need to be stick thin. I love being a woman..and looking like one..

  8. Wow, Quinn. What a nightmare. I hope you send a copy of this blog post to them. That is just terrible human behavior, no matter what the setting.

  9. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Shake head in complete understanding. Sigh. Sigh. Thow hands I air in complete resignation. Consider what life would be like in tv-bon bon scenario. Shake head. Go water the garden.

    • Hah! Big Guy belongs to one of these. Thanks for the offer, sweetie, but I’m a member at the gym, love their yoga and treadmills, and just don’t understand their marketing methods.

  10. i have to leave in a few moments for my session with my personal trainer, leigh, who does listen. she operates out of a reasonably small space..is using simple equipment, bands,medicine balls and very simple exercises i can do at home…i will ask her if she knows of anyone like her in your area. she charges $30 for thehalf hour of intense, personal attention[ did you ever try to sit and stand 10 times in a row holding a 5 lb weight in each hand and as you stand you lift your arms straight up?..works…..]
    simple and suprisingly efficient and no machines to figure out

  11. This is all so true. Customers are often ignored in large corporate stores, clerks are hard to find and often don’t know anything! Staff are ofen like robots.
    My daughter is a personal trainer and worked for a corporate gym. Her job was not about the customers needs but about fitting them into their boxes and meeting sales goals. She was paid peanuts while the company took most of the fees. They were offered bonuses for reaching sales goals and often when she reached those goals she had to fight to get her bonus. Needless to say, she now has her own business and tailors programs to suit her clients needs. I hope you can keep shopping and find an independent trainer who knows how to listen.

  12. Rendering a 3-D landscape on a computer (for a game, flight simulator, or the like) involves individual “tiles” (so to speak) that have lots of detail and are rendered “close” to the user’s point of view, to more distant “tiles” that have progressively less detail. You only encounter one or two detailed tiles at any given time, while a whole bunch (technical term) of the distant, more amorphous ones are visible.

    Edges present problems; a close tile might have a hill near the edge. But more distant tiles don’t have distinct details; they’re averaged. There is therefore a mismatch; the individual tiles never really mesh perfectly with the aggregate. It’s not that they just “sometimes don’t”; it’s an impossibility unless your landscape is perfectly flat and featureless. No details.

    There are, of course, ways around this; some of them bordering on hilarious. Also consequences; in some computer games it’s possible to “fall into the cracks”.

    Large organizations deal with aggregate populations and averages; policies and procedures to normalize things. To have, generally speaking, everybody doing the same job do it the same way. That, too, has to do with details — the details involved in individual persons and specific instances don’t (can’t) mesh perfectly with the aggregate.

    There are ways around this, too, but not every organization even recognizes the existence of the issue. I suspect as they get bigger, organizations begin to miss such things because of their characteristic fixation on aggregate results.

    Computer programming has progressed pretty rapidly in the relatively few decades it has existed. Organizing has not progressed much at all; the companies on the first London stock exchange three centuries ago would be perfectly recognizable today. I think the difference may be immediacy. When a computer program doesn’t work you know right away, and you can work on fixing it until you succeed. The failure is easy to perceive and usually straightforward to describe. With an organization, failure is usually slow, hard to perceive, and ridiculously difficult to describe.

    I think you’ve encountered a flaw or bug in human behavior. We’re just not very good at aggregate behavior.

  13. Off topic. This post suddenly reminds me of a situation in Prague, Czech Republic where I lived at the time. Two different people, one American woman and one Spanish women, asked for directions. An American lady asked a Czech man for directions in English and when he did not respond quickly enough she began to speak Louder and Slower…
    Some days later a Spanish woman asked me for directions in Spanish, and she too began to speak Louder and Slower…
    I still wonder what they were assuming…!

    Life is full of self created misunderstandings.

  14. How offending, hope that you will never go back to that place!
    Indeed they were programmed not to listen.
    Sad isn’t it when people start to treat you like some sort of imbecile, and only respond to you out of a bunch of assumptions.

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