This 24 Hour Fitness facility is pretty new in north Boulder, having been open only a few months. As with any of these types of facilities, they have a fairly large, aggressive sales staff, since gyms make the most money off of sales to new members. (Of course, they hope these members don't use the facility so they can oversubscribe their asset base.)
When Gina showed her free guest pass, the salesman began giving his pitch. He asked if she was currently a health club member, to which she replied that she was and that she wasn't interested in joining 24 Hour Fitness. He then told her that she would have to leave!
He explained that they only give out those guest passes to those that are willing to go through the sales pitch. Gina pointed out that the pass said nothing about that, but that didn't seem to matter to him. Since she wanted to attend the class with her (now very embarrassed) friend, Gina agreed to listen to his pitch after the class, since it was about to begin. She ultimately just walked out after the class.
The whole thing just left a very bad taste in her mouth for 24 Hour Fitness. Do you think she's going to recommend that anyone else join that gym? Rather, she's probably going to go out of her way to tell potential members to avoid it.
Would it have been very difficult for the salesperson to say, "We normally provide those guest passes for those that may be interested in joining. However, please enjoy your visit today and make sure to tell your friends what you think?" The incremental cost of allowing her to visit was effectively zero. The incremental cost of trying to apply a rule that should not even have been in place (if you're going to have a rule, state it on the pass) was creating an annoyed, but well-networked, active health club member that knows a lot of other health club members. Seriously dumb.
How's this for a different approach? My friend David (his blog Bluerant is here) markets a kids' TV show called Big Green Rabbit. He saw that some fans posted a video from the show on their blog, so he sent them a little thank you package. Here is their response. What do you think that package cost BGR, maybe $20, including shipping? What do you think the value of that family's BGR evangelism is worth?
Businesses are built one delighted customer at a time. They can be torn down quickly by a handful of people with negative feelings.