Doing the ‘Right Thing’ by Your Customers Has Never Been More Important
We live in uncertain, unprecedented and challenging times. With coronavirus (COVID-19) cases growing worldwide, business leaders are scrambling to deal with a wide array of problems from low/no sales and stalling supply chains, to keeping employees safe and healthy. COVID-19 will change the world as we know it — it already has begun to leave its mark — but “how” it changes the landscape and the future of business is up to us.
In business, CEOs have gone from being symbols of aspiration to objects of intense scrutiny, and more often than not, brands are being asked about their overall impact on society rather than the specific product or service provided. With more and more consumers motivated by purpose-driven brands, the need for businesses to stand for something (or someone) is a critical component for success.
At Retro Fitness, our total brand position revolves around our customer and what concerns them not only as it relates to health and fitness, but also how we support the communities where we work and live. Our franchisees and our customers in the communities where they all live are inextricably intertwined, making our brand part of the fabric of numerous communities across the country.
Stemming from conversations at this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos in late January 2020, we’ve learned that in order for consumers to “buy into” a brand, there needs to be trust. Trust, in fact, is what has become the ultimate brand currency. To take it a step further, the future of business — especially looking to a post-COVID-19 era when the need for brand trust will be at an all-time high — lies with the consumer. How do we instill that trust? We do it by taking responsible action on a daily basis, being ethical, wearing the brand’s heart on its sleeve, and bringing to light the voices of our customers by sharing what matters to them most —a human brand with a voice that aligns with that of our customers’.
Despite what should be glaringly obvious, too often business leaders continue to gloss over the importance of “doing the right thing” all in a blind attempt to save a buck and ultimately meet their bottom line. The flaw in this profit-only thinking is that by cutting corners and lacking concern for what your customers care about, all trust is lost. That’s why I’m calling out business leaders who say, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.” B.S.! It is personal. In today’s climate, it can no longer be one without the other. The proverbial streets are littered with failed brands who chose to place profits before people, and it should serve as a warning sign to us all.
Like in any crisis, COVID-19 provides business leaders with an enormous opportunity to walk their talk. Is that mission statement hanging on your wall just a plaque? Or is it really what you and your company stand for? In these times you must illustrate a trust-based culture that’s rooted in caring about the communities you serve, or conversely, if not handled with thoughtful care and doing right by your customers, it will quickly undermine the perceived culture of any company — and in turn the bottom line.
In the case of many experiential businesses, and fitness clubs in particular, these uncertain times have already left their mark. However, putting customers before profits — something I learned from my earliest days at Starbucks and something I introduced on my very first day at Retro Fitness — is a muscle that when regularly exercised creates easy answers for very tough questions. In each market we serve, Retro Fitness is franchised by small business owners; individuals who in many cases are behind the counter and know his or her members by name. This is an owner who is proud of the community they serve. And I am proud of them. Together, Retro Fitness is united in a collective effort to bring that hometown gym mentality back to communities we serve through care and exceeding customers’ expectations.
In an effort to uphold this thinking and do the right thing by our customers, Retro Fitness stepped up by promptly freezing all membership charges until the clubs that were mandated to close are allowed to re-open. Unlike some others, we recognized that for our members, many of whom may currently be out of work, every dollar matters. Additionally, our franchisees who are the local business owners in these communities, are also customers of Retro Fitness. As such, we waived royalty fees for all clubs to ease their burden as well. These were not easy financial decisions for a company like ours, but for our customers (both franchisees and members), it was the obvious and right decision.
Customers are looking to brands now more than ever, which means what businesses do, or do not do, right now, will define their brands for years to come. That’s why I invite all CEOs, despite these trying times, to put their customers’ interests front and center — because while people should always come before profits, doing right by our customers has never mattered more.