Even in an industry as young as ours, it seems like an age-old question: Do certifications meet the needs of our trainers and members? This question has many layers, which include (but are not limited to) the standards behind the certifications, the degree to which certification exams prepare trainers to deal with members of varied needs, whether certification is a beginning or an end to the educational needs of trainers, and whether certification can substitute for just plain old good customer service.

The articles in this issue provide a good perspective ofthe widely held beliefs that 1) certification is not a substitute for continuing education, and 2) that not all certifying organizations indeed provide the training and testing that is needed to ensure that trainers can safely and effectively work with members.The articles also help fitness center operators ensure whether their trainers are up to speed. However, what is not discussed in this issue is that certification is a staple; it is on a par with your building, equipment and classes. You can “build it and some will come,” but all will not come, and many will not stay without good old customer service.

Let me give you a recent personal example of what I’m talking about. Three months ago, I moved toa beautiful gated city in Southern California’s Inland Empire. This city is served by one fitness facility. Picture: Old two-story building with low ceilings and rooms connected by long hallways; carpet throughout dating from the ’70s with holes worn through in the heavily treaded areas; equipment that I had all but forgotten about; locker rooms with empty, rusted hot tubs. I’ll stop there. The nearest alternate multipurpose fitness center is 15 miles away — much farther than the 5- to 7-mile radius that we all know most individuals are willing to travel to a fitness center.

This fitness center is pretty much the only game in town to serve an active community. I joined,but not easily. The manager, one of two individuals able to sign me up, seemed rude and less than interested in my desire to join, so I waited until I could deal with someone more pleasant. Three days after joining, I showed up to attend a group exercise class. No instructor showed. The manager was summoned; he looked into the room, turned around, walked out and never returned to explain that class was cancelled. One month after joining, I phoned to change the credit card EFT billing, as was personally arranged between me and the individual who signed me up. After providing the information, I was phoned and told that the manager refused. In my protest to the manager, he hung up on me. Hey, I’m willing to be a member of a dump, but I’m not willing to be a member of a dump where I’m treated poorly. Whether it’s customer service provided by the training or management staff, bad service is still bad service.

This may seem to be an extreme example, but is it? In October, I sat on a panel titled “Upcoming Innovations that will Change the Face of the Club Industry.” After a healthy discussion about what it is that will help clubs appeal to the 90 percent of the population that doesn’t work out, it seemed clear that a fun atmosphere in which members feel that they are being catered to (i.e., friendly service, meeting their goals, etc.) is rare. I posed this question to the audience: “How many of you can say that after providing a fitness evaluation to your members upon initially joining, that you actually follow up on a continual basis to see that their goals are being met?” Not one hand was raised.

Michael Scott Scudder, a well-known industry management consultant who also sat on the panel, mentioned that there are three fitness facilities in the city where he lives. And of those three facilities, he refuses to be a member of any of them, as they do not provide the service he expects. If two industry veterans feel this away about their local fitness centers, can you imagine what consumers feel? This should be a wake-up call for us all.

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