Americans and our indifference to rude customer service

When rude employees at the gym saved me money

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Jan 17 · 6 min read
Photo credit: Artem Beliaikin/Pexels

Have Americans gotten so used to bad customer service that we’ll just shrug it off? I thought about that recently while writing “How Culture Impacts Service Expectations — and Why Americans Settle for Less.” In a survey of 20,736 people from 19 countries, surveyors asked if they would pay for better service. Forty-seven percent of all consumers said that they were open to paying more for a service experience that exceeds their expectations every time — with frustrated customers almost twice as likely as satisfied consumers to be willing to do so.

But what caught my attention the most was that people in the United States (31 percent) and the United Kingdom (28 percent) were the least likely to be willing to pay for it. Meanwhile participants in China (81 percent), Germany (63 percent) and Italy (61 percent) were completely on board. In all fairness, 20,736 doesn’t even make a dent in the amount of people who live in my hometown of Chicago (2.7 million), and a different group of Americans may have come to a contrasting conclusion. But I thought long and hard about this one, and I’m in the group that wouldn’t pay for better service either.

Part of the reason is because I’m too frugal. But the other reason is technology has made it so I simply don’t have to — usually. Here’s a prime example.


When I first looked into finding a gym, my only goal was to find WERQ fitness classes. I loved the choreography and used to loyally go to those dance-cardio classes at the gym near my former employer. When I left that job, I was determined to keep those dance classes going — regardless of where the gym was located. I signed up almost immediately after attending one class at a new gym and thought, “I’ll be going to this gym forever!” That is, until I met the valet employees, who were so consistently rude that I left that gym as soon as my membership expired one full year later.

Photo credit: Ruffa Jane Reyes/Unsplash

Would I have renewed my gym membership for another year without the valet problem? There’s about a 95 percent chance I would.

This was a hard decision to make, considering I don’t believe I’ve ever been anything more than neutral regarding fitness instructors. I’ve been joining and leaving gyms since I graduated from undergrad in 2003, but this was the first time I would schedule my outside activities around when instructors were at this gym — even the days that they randomly substituted other classes I didn’t even like.

Photo credit: Nicole De Khors/Burst

I walked in the door high-fiving and hugging my kickboxing instructor. I gossiped and cracked jokes with my WERQ instructors — there were three whose classes were phenomenal. I flew through traffic to try as much as possible to get to my early Pilates class on time. But all good things must come to an end, and I knew I had to deal with the parking valet employees an hour after each class.

In the year I was there, I dealt with the following:

  • The one parking attendant who would only hold the valet passes by the edge of his fingernail as though it was drenched in too much black.
  • The parking attendant who came outside to lecture me on not being “diagonal enough” although my wheels were never on either side of the parking spot lines. Then he switched to telling me my car wasn’t moved up enough, even though it lined up with other cars.
  • The parking attendant who would rarely stand up to take my pass. He’d just look at the door, leave me to open it and put the pass on his desk while he dutifully sat nearby cutting little triangles in his sandwiches.
  • The parking attendant who refused to let me in the lot altogether, demanding that I park on the street because the lot was full. (I looked through the back, and it was not.)

And the final straw was the last parking attendant who stood in my way while I tried to drive in the lot and insisted that I park on the street. After two minutes of back-and-forth, he shouted about how, “Only members can park in the lot!” This was my 11th month at this gym — the same gym where a handful of instructors knew me by name and the front-desk attendants handed me my fitness class cards without me telling them where I was going. I was in this gym three to five days a week. So why this parking lot attendant decided he didn’t know me is anyone’s guess. (I’m pretty sure you can guess from the fingernail-valet incident that these parking valets didn’t look like me.)

When my annual contract was up, I considered rejoining. But when I brought my issues with the valet up to the gym owner, I was told that they were on disability and had a “tough” time finding other jobs. She also told me I’m “not the only one” who has complained. Never in this email did I read anything about how improvements would be made or how questions would be asked about my frustrating experience — just that I wasn’t alone. And the disability excuse won’t work with me. My mother is currently on disability after a couple of health scares, and that didn’t make her decide to return to her job and be unnecessarily mean to everybody. As a matter of fact, she worked harder to prove she could still do the same job.

But poor customer service almost always means I walk away — and save my money in the process.

And right around the time all of this was happening, a cable representative showed up to my home and told me all about video streaming and ROKU. By the time he was done with his sales pitch, I’d changed cable companies, bought the device and realized I could stream those same WERQ fitness routines and other aerobics and Pilates classes from home. And I paid less for cable plus streaming than I did for my membership. So I didn’t renew.

Would I have renewed my gym membership for another year without the valet problem? There’s about a 95 percent chance I would. But poor customer service almost always means I walk away — and save my money in the process. Technology has made it so much easier to do this, too. And my guess is some of the Americans who took this survey know what I know: Nothing beats a bargain, especially when I don’t have to pay extra to get it.


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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; Wag! dog walker; Rover dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 4x officer; WERQ dance enthusiast; Visit Shamontiel.com

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