I’m Sorry; It’s Just Our Policy


You probably wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but I belong to a gym.

It’s not the fanciest gym on the planet, but it’s reasonably nice and the only gym in town that also has an indoor and outdoor pool. And a big glass water dispenser at the front desk with lemons in it. I’m a sucker for a nice water dispenser. My husband and I joined the gym years ago, stopped for awhile, and then rejoined with our children.

I don’t use it as often as I should, one of the main reasons being it closes at around 8:30pm, which is about the time I feel like working out. I know I could just get up early and go work out before the day starts, but the “get up early” part of that plan prevents me from executing it.

stairsPlus, they keep the women’s dressing rooms upstairs. Upstairs. As in, you have to climb the stairs to get to them. I realize how foolish this sounds, complaining about climbing up steps at a gym, but if you’ve ever walked out of a class on legs that feel like jello, the last thing you want to do is climb two flights of stairs to get to the dressing room. I think an escalator would be nice, but that’s just me.

And, to top it all off, it isn’t cheap. The gym is a little pricey; they know if you want to take a dip in the pool after your workout, they are the only game in town.

Yes, I like my gym, but, I just wasn’t using it enough to get my money’s worth from it, so I went in to cancel my membership. As I mentioned, I’d done it before and rejoined later when life wasn’t quite so hectic. Our gym membership fees are automatically deducted at the first of each month, so on August 3rd, I walked into the office to cancel. I knew it was too late to cancel August, but figured the cancellation would take effect at the end of the month.

Boy, was I wrong.

contractAfter complimenting me on the fact that I was a Long Time Member, the nice gym employee informed me that the gym needs a solid 30 days to cancel, which would mean my membership would be in effect until October 1 and they would deduct yet another month’s fees from my account.

Mind you, it was August 3rd.

When I pointed this fact out to the nice gym employee, that, considering it was only the 3rd day of August, it was a tiny bit absurd to make me maintain my membership until October 1st. After all, as he so accurately pointed out, I was a Long Time Member and had given the gym years and years of membership fees, and it’s not as though I wouldn’t return at a later date.

The nice gym employee listened patiently as I talked and said he understood. He said that he was very very sorry and that he recognized I was a Long Time Member and sure thanked me for it, but when it came to the 30 days cancellation period, there was nothing he could do about. It was simply…wait for it…gym policy.

Now, at this point, I could have ranted and raved and jumped up and down on his desk, shouting that if they ever wanted my business in the future, they would make my cancellation effective September 1, but I didn’t. I simply signed the papers and walked out, knowing full well I would never, ever join that gym again. Ever.

And it got me thinking about policies. And how stupid they are.

Yes, I said stupid.

Because a policy should be nothing more than a guideline; a blueprint to help business owners and those who work for them handle situations. They should not be carved in stone nor unbreakable.

nordstromTake Nordstrom’s, for example. For years, their employee handbook consisted of a card containing only a few words:

“Welcome to Nordstrom

We’re glad to have you with our company. Our number one goal is to provide 

outstanding customer service. Set both your personal and professional goals high. 

We have great confidence in your ability to achieve them. 

Nordstrom Rules:

Rule #1: Use best judgement in all situations. 

There will be no additional rules. 

Please feel free to ask your department manager, store manager, or division general manager any question at any time.”

How great is this? The only rule is there is no rule; the only policy is there is no policy. An employee’s best judgement determines the course of action.

dmvPolicies can make or break a business, because policies determine the outcome. A list of rules treats you like a number; a faceless, soulless number. It’s like the feeling you get when you visit the DMV and find that you are number 93 and they are serving customer number 22.

A list of rules doesn’t take into account your relationship with a business. It doesn’t factor in future business. It doesn’t incorporate compassion or the human element; it is simply a list of Do’s and Do Nots. Mostly Do Nots.

And policies are waved about like a flag, almost as if a business is proud of its unyielding ways, and it always surprises me when a business stands on a policy and allows a customer to walk away angry. (It also surprises me when a business talks smack about a customer on social media, but we’ll save that for another column.)

“Im sorry, but it’s our policy. There’s nothing I can do.”

There is ALWAYS something you can do; the real question is whether you want to do it. Or not. You know it and the customer knows it. So throw policy out the window and just Do the Right Thing.

As for me, I know that my doughnut eating ways mean I must put effort into exercise, so I’ll be joining another gym September 1–one with a policy geared toward the customer.

And hopefully one with a big glass water dispenser at the front desk with lemons in it.

Image credits: Gym by Casa Velas Hotel, Endless Stairs by RomainBihore, CONTRACT by Steve Snodgrass, Nordstrom in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania by Fan of Retail, 404 by antigone78

  • Michael Andrew Broughton

    don’t like your gym’s policies? then you shouldn’t have agreed to abide by them in the first place. sad day for you.

  • MarvinB7

    What’s with the hate? I like the article. Is there a moratorium on dissenting opinion to the majority?

  • Eric

    Dear PP, I hope you will seriously consider refunding the subscription fees all these good folks who are paying to read the material you post on your website.

    Oh, wait. Never mind.

  • John R

    It’s pretty generous compared to some. Actually I instantly related this tale to some of my photography work. I occasionally do some ‘green screen’ event photography and if I’ve learned anything it’s to expect the unexpected and then accommodate it. There isn’t anything to be gained by being inflexible, in fact adapting to the environment improves your product. Just because there is a policy does not mean it’s the best policy

  • morcy

    first timelapse now this !

  • Troy Frericks

    All gyms have their policies on the same contract that protects them from your/Cheri’s lawsuit when you have a heart attack. Gyms have this policy to prevent people from using their services on-again-off-again… ie, taking the summer off without proper planning. It encourages a consistent cash flow. The “30” day number was chosen on purpose. It’s not “27” on purpose. You were a customer that was leaving, and asking for an exception to the policy in direct contradiction for the reason of having the policy on the contract you signed. If you wanted an exception, go back to that gym, and PRIOR to signing a new contract with them, ask them to waive the first month’s fee as they got that when you terminated. Bet you’d find some flexibility there.

    To relate this post to photography, you’ll find bad customers in photography just like you do in the gym business. Some customers just can’t be reasonable and will complain about the contract they signed, no matter how reasonable you are… they’ll ask for the world, even at times when you have have no further direct benefit to the business. Be polite (as in the post), and when the customer asks you to sign away your copyright, smile and educate them about the policy they signed. Even “complement them for being a good customer”… Maybe, just maybe, they won’t name your business when they run off to some web site and create an off-topic rant about their difficulty living up to the terms they agreed to.

  • Juan Alvarez

    Bam !! .. you are great men.
    Agree with you in all comments!.

  • kendon

    i want that 60 seconds of my live back. most worthless article ever.

  • Suz

    The article is written with a humorous tone…not at all whiny. It’s supposed to make people think. Maybe you’ll remember it the next time you are provided with poor or inflexible customer service, especially if it’s from a business you’ve been a longtime customer of.

  • Libby Stack

    And this has what to do with cameras or photography? Blather is for facebook.

  • cyrus

    And this is related to photography in some fashion?

  • Tom Waugh

    C’mon Michael. The links to photography in this article are tenuous to say the least.

  • pgb0517

    So we can divide the responders into two categories: Those who can read the article like thoughtful adults and find some principles that can be applied not only to photography but to every other business on the planet; and those who scan it for words beginning with the letters p-h-o-t-o and, finding none, proceed to trash both the author and the Web site.

  • Damian Chavez

    Not every post is going to be helpful or interesting to every visitor. Take what advice you can from the article and move on.

  • lidocaineus

    I’m not taking an opinion on this article either way for certain reasons, but don’t generalize so broadly. Some people are ok with this post because they can take information away from it. Others are complaining for various reasons. That doesn’t mean they’re trashing it, and it also doesn’t mean only “thoughtful adults” are taking things away from it.

  • John Mueller

    Paul, I can tell you have a lot of experience under your belt and I viewed your website and see some amazing work especially with live action sports.

    So can you send me all your unedited RAW images of professional athletes? No? Is that because you have a policy/rule which says that’s not something you do?

    Call it a policy, a rule, a guideline or a standard, all businesses use a contract or have a set of parameters they operate their business within. Without them there would be chaos, image theft, customer greed and no business at all.

    True this article wasn’t geared toward the amateur, but as a professional with a successful business, I totally see its relevance. I would have preferred the article to have been written from the viewpoint of a successful photographer to provide a more relevant perspective.

  • Victor

    Hi Michael and Cheri;

    When I look at how you categorize all of the PP posts as noted in your “Archive” section above, I struggle to understand where this one would fit. Misc? If so, then perhaps a different writing style that up front indicates the post is geared to small business owners (if that’s the case) would help address some of the loyal PP reader angst. That topic list could also help determine whether or not the blog post, as written, is even something your PP readers would recognize and relate to. In any case, I have enjoyed Cheri’s past posts which have been a hit. This one may just have been a miss. Thanks.

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for the feedback, Victor :)

  • Rabi Abonour

    I’m going to take a bit of a middle ground here: On one hand, it is totally fair to argue that that customer service is important, and to assume that readers will be able to figure out the link to photography without you spelling it out; on the other hand, I don’t think it is unreasonable to say this piece is a little rambling.

  • Jonathan Maniago

    Not a single mention of anything related to photography, but I do have similar frustrations with “no photography” policies of a few places.

  • Vin Weathermon

    The article is just not complete; she hadn’t finished tying it back to how a photographer’s policy ought to be customer focused. The article could have applied to just about any customer facing business.

  • Keith Willoughby

    Here’s a list

    1) They both have customers who need to be satisfied if the business wishes to keep them.

    You’re welcome.

  • Michael McBroom

    The Y I used to belong to here in Houston has the same policy. Your story is a replay of what happened to me when I went to resign. I agree, policies are guidelines, not laws. But for a mindless bureaucracy they become laws (or rules) that one can safely hid behind. And leave us not misunderstand, said policy’s primary intention is to suck one last payment out of you before you finally say bu-bye.

    Perhaps even here we shouldn’t be so hidebound in our policies, such that we feel compelled to give the author grief for not posting a photography-related article. ;-)

  • Sterling

    I assume that you agreed to this gym’s terms by signing a contract when you joined. Instead of railing about company policies, how about writing about consumer responsibility and paying attention to what you agree to? Or do you believe it is good company policy to just let contracts be broken whenever either party feels like it?

  • Matthew Wagg

    Sorry, you’re who?
    Come on dude, get off your pedestal. Your s**t stinks just like the rest of us.

  • Matthew Wagg

    I enjoyed that article. Usually Cheri’s articles aren’t to my taste but this one resonated with me. I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘sorry but its our policy’ too many times. Each time I’ve always said policy isn’t law.

  • Renato Murakami

    Man, people can be real assholes on the comments section here too huh?
    Hello people, it’s not like you’re paying to read this. Don’t like it, skip it.
    It’s far easier than going into the comments and writting something crass or offensive.
    Don’t be bothered by it Cherry, some people do appreciate posts that are not directly related to photography but could make people think about it in a broader sense.
    People with business in photography, or people that have been refused to take pics with the exact same “excuse”. Or just photographers who went through the same experience in other places.

  • Alexander Petricca

    Very thoughtful post applicable to any business owner. Good job and well written.

  • hail___hail

    I’m with Paul here…the comments on an article on this site should ideally be full of intelligent conversation concerning the article’s topic. The fact that all the comments are about whether the article belongs here in the first place, means the article didn’t belong here in the first place.

    Whatever. Petty. Next article.

  • Rob S

    this cuts both ways. As an example if you have a company policy that you absolutely will not shoot with anyone under 18 it can be a potent defense if you are falsely accused of some inappropriate actions toward a minor. Or if you absolutely insist on a model release without exception and someone claims you didnt have a release. Courts look at things like policies and they look at how you enforce your policies. If you have a history of ignoring policies the courts will be more inclined to believe you did again. If you have a history of rigid adherence they are more likely to believe you continued to be rigid.

  • Horatiu

    I agree, this article is interesting, states a good example, BUT DOESN’T BELONG HERE. Thank you.

  • Zos Xavius

    I came here expecting an article on photography. Instead I got some stupid rant about some gym’s absurd policy. I really don’t see how this applies to taking pictures in any way.

  • Troy Frericks

    I must say, the blog really did excite the audience into responding, and the vast majority were without name calling. Quite unusual for a lot of web sites. I just might hang out here more often. Thank you.

  • Bo

    What i’ve noticed after i’ve checked on the name of the author of this article is that was the first post i’ve ever read from this author (and i come here some times a day..) and why i’ve came here is because i was wondering why this kind of post on a photography blog… after reading some comment i felt less lonely.
    Even some find some connection with photography business, a little more effort to write in this way (comparing other business to photography business) is at least the minimum the author could do.

  • D

    They “tricked” you into reading it? Really?

  • D

    Provided you don’t have any ability to extrapolate.

  • David

    Policy is policy…always gotta read the fine print!

  • D

    All the trees are keeping you from noticing the forest.

    It’s discussing how creating a set of policies that are clearly against the client’s best interests is a terrible idea if you want to retain that client. That’s entirely related to the business of photography, unless you’ve got a business model that doesn’t involve interacting with others.

    Sure, it doesn’t really /mention/ photography, but she most likely figured that most folks would be able to extrapolate from one example to the other without having their hand held.

    Also, there’s nothing wishy-washy at the end, nor is there anything about “well, policies can either hurt your business or do good for your business!” Not sure what article you read, but it wasn’t this one.

    This is wishy-washy? “And policies are waved about like a flag, almost as if a business is
    proud of its unyielding ways, and it always surprises me when a business
    stands on a policy and allows a customer to walk away angry.” “There is ALWAYS something you can do; the real question is whether you
    want to do it. Or not. You know it and the customer knows it. So throw
    policy out the window and just Do the Right Thing.”

  • D

    Good client/customer relations.

  • AgreementsUsedToMatter

    The problem with the article, or rather the sentiments expressed therein, is that a growing number of people feel that policies never apply to them. You are the center of your universe. Unfortunately (for you), you are not the center of everyone else’s. Every life event you experience should not necessitate that everyone around you, regardless of whether or not their business models can withstand hundreds, thousands or millions like you, has to break the rules for you. You read the agreement. You still signed up. You are not a delicate or unique snowflake. Your problems or reasons are not unique. You signed on the dotted line and, as such, you should own up to the responsibilities inherent in committing yourself in that way. Frankly, your article comes across as the sad and whiny ramblings of someone who shows very little self awareness and personal responsibility.

  • lidocaineus

    The problem it seems most people have with this article is that it’s barely tied into the overarching theme; basically a post written in parallel to a common theme can be quite effective in getting a point across, but the satisfaction comes from the writer tying it back in effectively. For most people, it seems this didn’t happen, and the article just never came back around full circle.

  • Keith Bernhardt

    I always wonder when people say “it’s our policy” they immediately preface it with “I’m sorry but…”