Coronavirus reveals the schmuck deficit

Have you been good to your customers? They will stand by you now. Have you been mean? Then don’t be surprised when they desert you in your time of need. That’s the schmuck deficit. Payback is a bitch.

Many of the companies, large and small, that I deal with regularly are hurting right now. I’m doing what I can to help. I’m buying a gift certificate from my hair salon, where they’ve always been friendly and welcoming to me. I’m shopping at my local supermarket and thanking the employees. I’m ordering out from the restaurants I used to go to.

But I, like all of you, have some companies that I patronized but didn’t like much. I’m thinking about my gym, which is just down the street. It was so convenient that I went there two or three times a week, but it was not a pleasant place. It was dirty, the locker room was far from tidy, and the machines were often broken. Even though I visited so often and have been a member for nine years, the barely sentient staff never acknowledged that they knew who I was.

One clear sign of corporate contempt for customers is a policy that makes it difficult to leave. At this gym, you can’t just cancel by going online or walking up to the front desk. You have to call a separate financial company and then — yes — mail a letter with your account number to the financial company’s address.

For obvious reasons, the gym is closed now. It’s of no further value to me. And unlike my hair salon, I don’t give a crap about the owners.

Here’s the email they sent to acknowledge the problem:

Our response to COVID-19

Dear Valued Member

We appreciate your patience during these hard times as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic. While we are social distancing and have temporarily closed our doors, your [name of gym] staff wants to remain connected to you as much as possible. Throughout the week, we have been working on making decisions, answering questions/concerns and will continue to do so to keep everyone at ease.

We are writing today to give you an update after Governor Baker’s latest announcement. When our doors were forced to close, we thought it would be for a couple of weeks. We understand the severity of the situation and know the Governor’s decision to keep non-essential businesses closed until May 4th is for the best of members, staff and the general public. As soon as we are allowed to open, we will do so. As a company operating under such a foreign territory, we are still taking this day by day. We truly value our [name of gym] community and greatly appreciate your commitment to us. We understand everyone is struggling right now, including our small, family run business. Our landlords are still requesting rent and utilities still must be paid. With that said, we are asking for your help in allowing us to reopen in May by leaving your membership as is. Any time paid for will be added to the end of your membership. We may be asking a lot, but we also do not want our business to cease operation as a result of the pandemic.

If necessary, members can freeze their memberships immediately by calling [financial company]. If you do feel you need a refund for the month, or if you have any further questions/concerns, please call or email your home club and we will do our best to assist.

Again, thank you all for your understanding and your loyalty, stay safe & healthy! We will reunite soon!

When I responded to this email by telling the staff that after $5,000 paid to them, I’d expect more than a generic email asking me to pay for a closed gym, the owner replied with this:

You are not required to pay anything during the closure. I can freeze your membership at $0 for the time being if you would like. We were just asking for any type of monetary help during this difficult period to help us be in a position to offer our services again when this crisis is over.

This directly contradicted the previous advice to contact the financial company, who told me (after a 30-minute wait on hold) that they’d charge me $10 a month to freeze my membership.

By the way, not all gyms are behaving this way. Here’s part of the email my friend got from Planet Fitness.

Out of an abundance of caution, all of our clubs have closed until further notice. As your long-term partner in fitness, we have proactively frozen all memberships on your behalf, and you will not be charged any fees during this time [see our FAQs here]. We will be ready to serve you in a clean, sanitary, and judgement free environment when we reopen. At that time, if you have any questions about your membership, please feel free to come in, talk to us about it, and we will be happy to address any needs you may have. We will keep you informed and let you know when your club is ready to reopen.

We want to do everything we can to help keep you moving so we’re bringing the best of the Judgement Free Zone® you.

* Download the Planet Fitness app for access to more than 500 exercises designed for people of all fitness levels.

* Tune into Facebook Live for daily workouts at 7pm ET featuring our awesome Planet Fitness trainers and special guests.

* For anyone who can’t participate live, each workout will also be available to view on both the Planet Fitness Facebook page and YouTube channel after the broadcast is over.

Her gym is helping. My gym is begging.

I’m not unsympathetic to my gym owner’s plight. Bit I’m losing work, too. I can only support so many businesses right now. People who take my money and treat me like crap don’t make the cutoff.

Suffering from the schmuck deficit

On the off chance you’re not familiar with it, let me explain the Yiddish word “schmuck.” Literally, it refers to a part of the male anatomy. Figuratively, it describes a person who behaves in an awful and hurtful way.

If you’ve been nice to your customers when times were good, they will remember. They will stand by you.

If you’ve been mean and treat your customers purely as revenue generators, we will drop you, because you’re a schmuck.

I see you, airlines that have squeezed the seats together and charged us fees for changing reservations and checking luggage — while buying back your own stock. I have Platinum status for life on American Airlines, and I have no interest in saving the company. (I do feel for the poor employees, of course.)

I see you, auto shop that tried to charge me for repairs I didn’t need. What will happen to you now?

I see you, health insurance company that makes me jump through hoops to get care, makes my doctor’s life more difficult, and raises my rates every year. The virus is going to make things hellish for you. I sympathize — with the doctors.

All these companies are going to be paying the schmuck deficit. It’s going to hurt. But if you failed to invest in customers when you had the chance, don’t be surprised when your begging doesn’t pay off now.

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  1. …and this trickles down to employers as well. Those who treat employees well, will see the return. Those who don’t, well, as you say above. Payback is a bitch!

  2. I welcome the repercussions of the schmuck deficit. The delivery of postponed justice. The karma. For businesses, and for politicians, and for others who used their power to take advantage of ‘the little guy’ for too long, and for whom the COVID-19 coronavirus karma will be their comeuppance.

  3. Julie – That may be an aspirational goal.

    The unemployment numbers in the current and coming months says that the ball is in the employer’s court.

  4. Great article and very true — love how you cut through the BS.

    While I’ve always been budget-conscious, coronavirus has taught me what’s *really* important financially, not to mention to be more cautious with money as the future seems so uncertain. I’ve been taking the time to cancel services and fees for things I’ve been avoiding for months/years ($6/month for an email account I never use??), and my budget appreciates this drastic cut in spending. If a business has been a schmuck to me in the past, adios.