Preface

I originally wrote this letter and addressed it to "whom it may concern." Since then, I have come to the realization that based on my previous dealings with your representatives, it is highly unlikely that there is anyone in your corporation who will legitimately be concerned by it, figuratively or literally. As such, I have instead addressed it to an arbitrary "John." Statistically speaking, with 3.3% of Americans being named John 1 and a workforce of approximately 13,000 employees2, there should be roughly 429 Johns working for Bally at the moment (prostitution pun sincerely not intended). This gives me very good odds, I think. I also wish to apologize in advance for the length of this letter. As you may be able to tell, I am what your Member Support Center would call "disgruntled." On the last page, below my contact information and under the title "TL;DR" ("too long; didn't read"), you will find a summary of my grievances and demands. This is to facilitate intake for the Attention Deficit bunch, though I’d recommend reading this document in its entirety for maximum impact.

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Source: namestatistics.com Source: linkedin.com

Dear John,
Before stating my grievances, I would like to ask a favor of you. Please make 4 copies of this letter and distribute as follows (I know some of these people may be hard to reach, but if you tell their assistants that this is a copy of the updated 2010 Earnings Report from the Accounting department, I reckon it will get there a lot quicker): 1) Mr. Mike Sheehan, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) 2) Mr. Dennis Cary, Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Senior Vice President (SVP) 3) The Member Support Center (in regards to account cancellation) 4) The Member Support Center (in regards to a refund request) If either Mr. Sheehan or Mr. Cary is no longer with the company, please forward to whoever currently holds the position(s) in question. I am also herein issuing you my full written consent to redistribute this letter as you see fit, whether it is to coworkers, family, friends, or otherwise, under the condition that all of my personal details (account number, contact info, etc.) are removed. You could also keep this copy for yourself. You've earned it!

Disclaimer
I want to state before your company sues me to sweaty chest press hell and back that all statements contained within this correspondence, both positive and negative, are merely my opinions of Bally Total Fitness based on my personal experience. I cannot speak on behalf of all customers, nor can I say without a doubt that everyone’s history with Bally is as poor as mine was. This letter is, however, based on actual conversations I’ve had with your representatives, and the policies I list here were in fact conveyed to me as described, to the best of my knowledge. If I am somehow mistaken or just stupid, and your policies aren’t actually as insane as your representatives have led me to believe, then please accept my sincerest apologies. Finally, it’s worth mentioning that although there is an ultimate purpose to this message, it does contain an awful lot of satire. While I’d be delighted if you were entertained by it, I hope at the very least that you get my point and take it to heart. Thanks.

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The Cancellation Complication
Before I begin, I’d like to mention that the handful of weeks I've spent at the Bally closest to my home in the three or so years I've been a member have been anything but bad. Sure, I'm subjected to more penises in the locker room than the average gay porn film (which, coincidentally enough, is likely to also take place in a gym locker room) and am thoroughly convinced that your industry is single-handedly responsible for the unreasonably prolonged existence of Axe body spray deodorants, but these are certainly grievances applicable to all gyms, not just Bally, so I can’t hold you responsible. That's fine. I have also never had any problems with the machines in your establishment. They've worked properly 98% of the time (a relief for my absurd fear of death-by-weights à la Final Destination 3), save for the one instance where my treadmill insisted on communicating with me exclusively in Spanish as if I had accidentally pressed the number 2 key when prompted "para Español." I must acknowledge that this is a mistake I also seem to have made when trying to reach your customer support. In this case, the fault lies squarely on me. You see, John, the issue I'm having with your corporation did not arise in the big gorilla juicehead aisle of your dumbbell department. Rather, my concern came about when I called your Member Support Center on September 20th, 2010 to cancel my account prior to my September 21st auto-renewal date. It is then that I found out that I can neither cancel my membership over the phone, nor can I stop my payment for the upcoming billing cycle. The problem was further complicated when your representatives refused to schedule a gymthemed birthday party for myself and 19 of my friends (this is a joke - I did not inquire about the birthday party because I had already held it at the local McDonald's; ball pit, anyone?). Please allow me to pause this story for a second to point out that your representative did, however, present me with the awfully generous option of setting my account to "inactive" (a benefit, mind you, that requires eligibility). From what I was told, declaring my account inactive involves making my membership completely useless, yet ongoing, for only $4 a month. Paying the gym to make it impossible to attend, a feature I imagine was all the rage at Soviet gulag fitness clubs, is insanely convenient and I would be a fool if I didn’t spend at least one paragraph of my letter thanking you for offering your customers such a fine option. I was regretfully forced to reject this fantastic offer because I still have a sour taste in my mouth from the time I set my bank account to inactive for a mere $9 a month. (Quite the Catch-22 that was!)

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I must say, I was somewhat puzzled when your representative told me that he wasn’t able to terminate my account over the phone, but I was nothing short of comatose when he proceeded to notify me that it was also impossible to do so by fax or e-mail, nor was this doable at a Bally location (even the one where I signed my agreement). The only way to cancel, he said, was to physically mail a letter to your Member Support Center. Your rep said this was because you needed it in writing, but when you consider that I would have better luck ending my membership by Lewis-and-Clarking from New York to California to deliver it than by INSTANTLY teleporting it to you by fax machine or via e-mail, it makes me seriously question your motives. Despite the sheer madness that went into crafting a policy like this - I am certain that a combination of toxic glue vapors, Asperger's syndrome, and lobotomy were involved - the story only gets crazier from here. It turns out that even if I had written you a letter, mailed it, and had it arrive on your doorstep the day before my next billing period starts, I would still get charged for the upcoming month of service. This, it turns out, is due to the fact that your corporation must receive my letter 10 days before the start of my next billing cycle. I must commend you guys for throwing in this ingenious bit, because after twenty minutes on the phone with the Member Support Center, I was beginning to worry that I would somehow escape my agreement without paying for the service I was very clearly uninterested in having. He also told me that this was plainly written in my membership agreement. While I do consider myself a corporate contract legalese aficionado, it must have slipped my mind to read our agreement during signing because, honestly, I don't care. My opinion of service contracts (an opinion I'm sure is shared by most of your customers, really) is quite simple you give me dozens of pages of incredibly dense disclaimers and terms that provide your corporation with legal protection in the event of accidents and things like that, and I agree to it without reading it. This is because we both know it would be absurd for me to sit in your office reading your unabridged documents for two hours while a sweaty fat man in a red shirt groans at me and reiterates that it's not worth reading the whole thing. Turns out this was all for naught, as your professional hacker of a representative somehow managed to disable mainframe security, disengage the laser systems, pass the retina scan by using the disembodied eyeball of a security guard, and cancel my account without the need for a letter. He then casually mentioned 10 times that it was a “courtesy” like he was a homeless superhero desperate for change. (This isn’t a joke; he literally said it at least 10 times until I pointed out that canceling my account isn’t exactly an act of virtue.)

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The Refund Roadblock
Now that my account has seemingly been suspended, I wanted to address the matter of obtaining a refund. I will try to present my argument in a manner that I believe is logical, so I expect that you guys will read it, understand it, agree with it, and do nothing about it. Here goes: My next monthly payment was due September 21st. Great. I called your Member Support Center on September 20th, the day BEFORE my payment was due, indicating my lack of interest in continuing a membership with you. I was told the payment was being processed already and that I needed to write you a letter to cancel. Oh, and also that unless I was able to kill a howling wolf during a full moon and mail you its head, along with a baggie of pre-Great Depression Leprechaun gold and a 7 page essay on 9/11 conspiracy theories popular amongst the people of Botswana, there was nothing that can be done for me. Turns out there aren’t too many Batswana in America. Touché, Bally. But here's my question: if I'm calling you the day before my payment is due, the day before my next month of membership begins, expressing no desire whatsoever in continuing your service, and my payment cannot be prevented from going through, is a refund not a logical solution? Apparently not, claims the Bally support team. In keeping with your rather strange obsolete communication mediums fetish, I would have to write you another letter indicating that I want a refund and why. Once this is received, I assume that Bally simply considers whether it likes having money or not, decides that money’s a cool thing to have, and comes to the conclusion that all refund letters can be thrown out. If this is not the case, then my request is that your Member Support Center refunds the 12.5 pound ($19.00) barbell of monthly charges that your tele-spotter failed to assist me with. Additionally, because of the absurdity of this situation, I insist that you reimburse me in the amount of $0.44 for the cost of sending you this letter via United States Postal Service. Since the cost of faxing or e-mailing you this request would’ve been insanely negligible, I don’t believe I’m wrong in making such a demand. While 44¢ seems like a relatively small amount, it’s infinitely larger than 0¢, which is what I pay on average to stop paying corporations for services I’m not going to use. Then again, I don’t have to mail them letters. The total reparations of $19.44 can be refunded to my original payment method directly, though I’d prefer you cut a check so that I can have something tangible to show the world that you’re actually making an effort not to suck. If you would like to contact me to discuss the matter, my contact information can be found in the section titled "Contact/Info."

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The Penpal Provision
Since your corporation appears to have somewhat of an archaic outlook on how people communicate in the 21st century, I thought I’d dedicate a section of my letter to helping you guys modernize a little bit. On a side note, I have also sent this part of my letter to you by carrier pigeon and telegram to ensure you receive it. I am in the process of getting a Braille edition published so your upper management can read it as well. I think this is a good time to mention that I understand you need my request for cancellation in writing. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s a legal matter, and I cannot fault you for that. What I CAN take issue with is the limited and suspiciously inconvenient medium through which you require your customers cancel their accounts. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that chances are, your Member Support Center has yet to be outsourced to the Middle Ages, and your agents are all living very comfortably in the same millennium as me. If my suspicion holds true, then I must sincerely implore you to give them access to the wonderful world of e-mail. If you take my request seriously, I’ll even throw in a spindle of AOL 5.0 CDs on the house (issue my refund and I’ll upgrade you straight to 7.0). Once they are all set up, I would be more than happy to e-mail them my termination demands in the form of a hastily-written chain letter from a rich Nigerian prince. If you’re concerned that setting your workers up with e-mail will cause them to send each other the Y2K bug all day, then at least consider installing fax machines. Facsimile machines are like the love child of printers and mail, and if you’re lucky, you guys will be receiving intriguing offers to visit Disney World from “Management Office” before you know it (tip: don’t do it, it’s a scam). Some fax machines even sound like your computer modems, allowing for seamless integration into your surely-hip offices. As soon you get these bad boys up and running, you can begin to accept cancellation letters in no time! They’ll be barely legible, but at least they won’t have to be hand-delivered by Paul Revere. As I’m sure you’ve already gathered by now, what I’m saying is that no one writes letters anymore, and no one should ever be required to mail a letter to discontinue ANY service, much less a gym membership. If you can’t see how maintaining such a ludicrous policy would lead one to believe that you are simply hassling people out of canceling immediately, I am embarrassed for you; if this is exactly your intention, then I am downright appalled. Relying on the laziness inherent to those most likely to cancel gym memberships, although commercially brilliant, should not be the business plan of a national corporation.

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The Supervisor Syndicate
The next matter on my agenda is the supervisors working in the Bally Member Support Center. In the four phone calls I placed to the center asking to speak to a supervisor, I was transferred to a supervisor precisely zero times. Each time I was told that the supervisor was busy and would call me back if I left my number, which I did. Although I appreciate the uninterrupted diligence displayed by your industrious supervisors, I have suspicions that they are not always engrossed in Bally-related work. I did a fair amount of contemplating on the matter and have come up with several distractions your mid-level management staff might just be preoccupying themselves with while not issuing my refund: 1) Gathering intel about global terror cells to report back to the U.S. government in accordance with their covert employment as secret agents, while holding a steady job at your support center just to have a harmless answer to, "So what do you do?" 2) Fighting crime as part of an underground, intergalactic coalition of moderatelyexperienced college graduates trying to move up the corporate ladder by adding to their résumés some part-time volunteer work in the field of superhuman vigilantism. 3) Congregating as a semi-organized illegal collective in which members engage in voluntary violent behavior against each other in adherence to a set of agreed-upon rules in order to free themselves of the monotony of their materialist American lives. 4) Being Power Rangers. If I were a high-ranking executive at your corporation, I would be very much concerned by such diversions and would take immediate action to ensure my employees' lifestyle choices don't interfere with the efficiency with which we screw our customers. You should ask yourself, "Why did my supervisors choose to work at a Bally call center instead of, say, a suicide hotline?" Clearly the answer is in the gym membership discount, and it is rather obvious that they're using their giant biceps for more than just navigating between Microsoft Outlook and their Internet Explorer 6 Facebook windows. Please look into this. As an aside, I've noticed on your website that you are an equal opportunity employer. If you have any anthropomorphic turtle managers in your office, this brings up a fifth possibility of having a case of the Ninja Turtles. They enjoy pizza and, like striking union workers, are often accompanied by a colossal rat (in this case, a non-inflatable one), so they’re fairly easy to spot.

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The Ethics Embargo
If you have read this far, thank you. You have the attention span of the spoon-bending bald kid from The Matrix, and that's impressive. Throughout this letter (novel?), I've kept a more or less sarcastic tone, channeling my dissatisfaction with your customer service into humor so that hopefully you would be entertained enough to listen to everything I had to say instead of tearing my letter up and moving on (which may very well have happened to this document by now ). However, I must take a moment to get pretty serious. Since I'm already writing you this extensive missive outlining my objections, it would be unfair of me to ignore the very issue that I believe has brought us here: a poor case of business ethics. If your company had simply allowed me to cancel my account without issue, I would leave Bally with nothing but the best to say; I’d tell my friends, "The service was great, I'm just lazy." In fact, if I ever decided to start a new gym membership, Bally would probably have been the very first gym on my list. Instead, you have disgusted me to the point that I have written you a letter that is slowly beginning to rival the Harry Potter books in length, a letter I fully intend to distribute to as many people as I possibly can. That way, everyone can draw their own conclusions on whether this is the quality of service they'd like to receive, and I’m fairly sure that the feedback won’t be immensely positive. The 19 bucks you were so adamant about having don't seem like quite so much anymore, do they? Part of having good business ethics is treating your customers with a level of respect that transcends merely greeting them at the door and inviting them to Pilates. If you think of them simply as a source of revenue, then your business will inevitably crash and burn. People don't like getting used, people don't like getting tricked, and people most certainly do not like getting screwed. So if you want people to come to your gyms, sign up for long term memberships, and actually be content with their decision, then perhaps you should stop treating them like piggy banks and start treating them like, I don't know, people? I've been a member of your gym for three years, despite not having gone a single time in the past 12 months. This is not because I didn't enjoy your service, but because I would be very naive to believe that I can attend a gym for more than two weeks at a time. I paid you your money regardless, and when my contract was up, I decided I wanted to cancel my service and move on with my life. Sure, you can argue that had I followed the procedure, everything would have been fine, and I would have been happy.

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My counter-argument is that your procedure is bullshit. Besides tunneling me through a network of dial pad presses that has a better likelihood of connecting me to the First Lady of Vatican City than it does to a human Bally operator, you have made it so unnecessarily and unreasonably difficult to leave your service, that there's only one conclusion to be drawn: that yours is a process systematically designed to prolong memberships that your customers don't want to prolong, to take money that your customers don't want to and DON'T HAVE TO give you, and to tell every single person that ever left your company, "don't let the door hit you on the way out."

Closing Comments
Before I wrap things up, you may be wondering why I took the time to write this rather wordy letter instead of simply typing up a paragraph about my position and hoping to get a refund. Quite frankly, this isn't about the refund or the cancellation. What this is really about is the fact that, as someone pursuing a career in Marketing, I become absolutely irate whenever I encounter poor customer service. Despite the fact that I personally will probably never step foot in your establishments again, there are still plenty of people who will, and I'm willing to bet that a good 95% of the ones you disappoint won't write you a letter about it. Just kidding, of course. All of them will, because that’s the only way to cancel. According to a recent article by Get Satisfaction (getsatisfaction.com) titled, "Fastest Way to Lose Customers," 68% of the customers who leave a company do so "because of the treatment they received." This is regardless of how effective your personal trainers are, or with what efficiency your machines run, or how steep your New Year's Resolution sale discounts are; if you don't take care of your clientele, your clientele won't take care of you. Allow me to be your human testament to this fact.

Sincerely,
Max Elbert
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Contact/Info

TL;DR
1) I am dissatisfied with your company’s cancellation and refund policies. 2) I would like assurance (in writing) that my account has been cancelled. 3) I would like to be given a refund in the amount of $19.44. This covers: $19.00 I was billed for, despite explicitly stating BEFORE the beginning of the month that I wasn’t interested in using your service at all going forward. $0.44 for postage that I wouldn’t have to purchase had I just used a fax machine or e-mail to cancel my membership with you instead of mailing you a letter. 4) I insist that this refund be issued in the form of a check, so that I can show people that you’ve made a conscious effort to change your ways. 5) I request that you reform your policies regarding both cancellation and refunds to stop requiring that letters be mailed to you for either purpose. 6) I want you to make your support staff, as well as your supervisors, easier to reach. Having to press 20 keys to talk to a human is a bit ridiculous to me. 7) Finally, and most importantly, I urge you to seriously reconsider your entire business ethics approach. This is not what customer service should look like.

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