I am a former employee of ICON Health and Fitness's Customer Service department. Please note that this article is not intended to deface, attack, or even undermine any operation within or associated with ICON Health and Fitness Inc and related businesses. This article has been created as a means to inform the public.
Working for ICON Health and Fitness has been both a rewarding and unpleasant experience. By rewarding, I mean that it has opened my eyes to the malignant evils and flaws plaguing the modern workplace and corporate America, something I hope to help change in the future. As the late Steve Jobs said, "Build a life. Don't live one, build one." Also, I am thankful for the numerous relationships I have been able to build with my fellow employees that I never would have met were it not for this job. I promised myself that when I was free of this company I would clear my betrayed conscience and speak out. Once again, please understand that what I write is not meant to harm or belittle anyone.
ICON Health and Fitness Inc is the mother company of exercise equipment names such as: NordicTrack, ProForm, FreeMotion, Epic, HealthRider, iFIT, Gold's Gym Exercise Equipment, Image, Weslo, Weider, Altra and more. The company is privately owned and under the heavy influence of the estates of CEO Scott Watterson and his family. In fact, if you ask anyone inside the company; being a part of, or a friend to the Watterson family is the only way to easily climb the corporate ladder. Just ask his nephew, Chase Watterson: a current student at Utah State University in his mid-twenties and he's already a director over marketing for iFIT; or Tony Ritchie: a recently added member of the Watterson clan and manager over ICON's Customer Service department, who was given the job not even a year ago after marrying Scott Watterson's sister. Mr Ritchie is primarily responsible for some of the dramatic changes recently made to the service that you, our customers, have been receiving, which I will delve into later on.
As the "Number One Leader in Fitness Innovation," ICON Health and Fitness is THE key player in home exercise equipment and is currently trying to get a steady foothold into the commercial exercise equipment industry as well with their latest FreeMotion commercial exercise machines. If you own any of ICON's exercise equipment, you will notice 'MADE IN CHINE--ASSEMBLED IN THE U.S.' printed on the serial number decal that you have to break your back to look for whenever you call into ICON's Customer Service. Upon further inspection, one may also notice the cheaply made plastic and shotty welding that he/she should have taken notice of when buying the machine. Within the past two decades or so, ICON has done the majority of their manufacturing through the lowest bidding vendors they can find in countries such as China and Taiwan. Quite fitting, since the majority of the Watterson family speaks fluent Mandarin. Also keep in mind that the frames on some machines from cheaper name brands such as Gold's Gym and Weslo are actually not ICON-made, but purchased by the company off-the-shelf at or around $10 a pop from cheap manufacturers entirely separate from ICON. If you own any Gold's Gym, Weslo, Weider, or cheaply-priced ProForm or FreeMotion exercise machines and your equipment fails on you, do not expect ICON to send anyone out to fix it. There's a reason why these models only have 90-day manufacturer's warranties. From personal experience and after dealing with hundreds of customers who have purchased these cheaper units, these machines are designed to become a coat rack in 3 months time. It is the common belief of product designers/developers inside ICON that each customer will, at some point, leave their machine to sit and collect dust; as was explained to me by an anonymous source who was with the company for over twelve years. Assumptions such as these are where you get the brief life expectancy for these machines, especially the cheaper models. You should have known this when you picked the unit up from Wal-Mart for only $100-$300, figuratively speaking. If you are within the date to return one of these cheaper models, pack it up and take it back for a full refund as soon as you can; otherwise you will not see a dime of what you paid for it and you will be left with a useless pile of scrap metal and plastic. The same can be said for other ICON products, no matter how expensive. The evidence is in the manufacturing. It doesn't matter if you've paid $50 or $3000, the chances of seeing problems with your machine are not in your favor. If none of the plastics are damaged during the shipping process, you're lucky. Even the commercial-grade FreeMotion machines built for gym facilities and heavy public use are of a quality that is less than satisfactory. At ICON's facilities, I used to test-run a FreeMotion commercial elliptical 4 days a week during my lunch breaks and after about 3 weeks the fan was broken, the right pedal was clicking incessantly, the touch-screen calibration was off, and the difference in resistance between levels 4-10 was non-existent. A month later, I switched over to an elliptical from Life Fitness at my local gym and haven't had a problem with that machine since. The product quality here is definitely lacking.
When calling in to ICON's Customer Service department to report a problem with your machine, understand that the operator you are speaking to is under the gun at all times. As of March 2013, management over Customer Service started having training sessions every Friday from 12:00-2:00pm Mountain Time, as many of you are well aware. Among the first of these trainings was a particular session when management explained to us that we would no longer be able to freely setup service for our customers. Since then, every Customer Service agent has been required to "push back" every time a customer under warranty calls in asking for a technician to come out and service their machine. Push back is a term lightly used on the call floor; what it really means is that if you are under warranty, each phone operator will refuse to send out a service technician for you until you are willing to open up your machine and try to diagnose the issue yourself with the operator blindly assisting you over the phone. Some machines, such as stationary exercise bikes, cannot be opened without the use of tools not commonly found in the average customer's toolbox. In this case, the operators are forced to instruct the customer to go and purchase the tool needed from their local hardware store, bike shop, etc. when our technician's readily have these tools on-hand. If and when the problem has been diagnosed, the operator will send out whatever parts may be needed (this is of minimal cost to ICON since the parts are so cheap to produce) and then ask that you, the customer, install/replace the parts yourself. Though you may have been promised service after troubleshooting with the operator, understand this is not the operator trying to pull the wool over your eyes. Whenever setting up service, the operator must first have it approved by a team leader or a tech op. Tech ops are a team of Customer Service employees assigned to answer and assist regular phone operators with troubleshooting questions, however, this team will soon be dissolved and disbanded, as was decided by Tony Ritchie less than 2 weeks ago. Team leaders, or "Call Floor Supervisors" as we commonly call them when speaking with our customer's, are constantly under the gun as well by CS's upper management and have had the fear of God put in them, so to speak, when it comes to approving service. If you have purchased your machine for a price over $900 and have never had a visit from a technician before, or if you purchased your machine from ***'s Sporting Goods (ICON is on the fence of losing ***'s Sporting right now), Sears, and now Sports Authority (Sears and SA are ICON's highest retailers at the moment); the operators and team leads may be more lenient with setting up a service order for you, but you have to keep pushing!
Now you may ask, "What is all the fuss over sending out a service technician? Does it not specifically say in the warranty terms of the user's manual that in-home service is guaranteed?" ICON Health and Fitness contracts with third-party service companies such as DSTM (also known as Go Configure, terrible TERRIBLE service!), North Coast Fitness Tech, Assembly Experts Inc, Exertech, and many more; both local and non-local. Every time a service order is placed, it costs the company around $85, not including taxes and trip charges to send out a technician. Since the service orders have to be sent from ICON to the service company then down through the service company to the technician, the operator will 'guarantee' the technician will be contacting you within 3 to 5 business days if an order is placed. That's not including the time you will spend waiting for your parts to arrive. Always push push push for upgraded shipping when speaking with the operator (parts in-stock are guaranteed within 7-10 business days of being shipped, but this is not always the case). Though they themselves cannot approve this, they can speak with their team leads and usually generate something in your favor, though the shortest shipping time frame they can adjust to is 2-3 business days through UPS Blue Label (they will NOT and CANNOT under any circumstance provide overnight shipping). Also, pray that the parts you need are not out of stock (if it is a flagrantly seen issue with a certain model, they probably will be out of stock), otherwise you will be waiting weeks or even months before you will see these parts delivered to your doorstep. Now with cheaper models priced under $450, $85 is usually less than what it costs the company to actually make the machine, which is why they will do everything they can to not send service on these machines, no matter what is states in the warranty terms. Even if you ask for a supervisor and put up the biggest fight you possibly can, it's still in the better interest of the company to not send service out for this cheap of a model as opposed to you returning the machine; that is if you're still within the time-frame of returning the unit.
The manner in which the Customer Service call floor is managed is a travesty, but is a common sight among large companies worldwide. It is commonplace for the upper management of ICON to provide false promises and information to their customers, their employees, AND EVEN THEIR FELLOW BUSINESS ASSOCIATES! On one particularly sickening occasion, corporate representatives from the Academy Sports + Outdoors store franchise paid the call floor a visit on a day when we were heavily understaffed (ICON's Customer Service Work Force Management is ran by a computer program. Our employee schedules have always been a bit ludicrous). The inbound call *** had skyrocketed past a whopping 120 held customer calls with some customers waiting as long as 2 hours to speak with an operator. Our productivity level had dived below 10% and our supervisors had informed us that we could not take our scheduled breaks until the *** was substantially lowered (they had taken away our breaks several times during the busy season). When the representatives from Academy stopped by, our management had manually changed the numbers on the large monitor hanging over the call floor. Our productivity was now shown in the 80%-90% range with around 30 customer calls waiting in the ***, and stayed that way until the Academy reps had left the building. Had they have taken a closer look at stats on any of the operators' computers, they would have seen a completely different set of numbers. This is not the first nor the last time such falsehoods have occurred. I have seen representatives from ***'s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, and many others come through the call floor and every time the numbers on that monitor always take a drastic change. Clearly business ethics is not a part of the ICON agenda.
The Customer Service call floor and ICON's headquarters are located in Logan, Utah where the company has one of the highest turnover rates in the state. When it comes to the priorities of ICON's Customer Service department, the customer is always placed at a lowly third, with the well being of the company first (of course), their relations with their retailers in second, and the lives of their lower employees in dead last. When the majority of the call floor spoke up against some of the new changes put in place by our newer management, Tony Ritchie and the rest of upper management simply told our team leads, "If they don't like it, tell them to look for another job." Employees in the Customer Service department are constantly reminded of just how easily they can be replaced. With Utah State University's campus located just a few miles east of the compound, fresh employees are always easy to come by while seasoned and knowledgeable employees are an underappreciated and expendable asset. Scott Watterson himself made this fact known during an 'employee appreciation' party in the late 1990's where he ended the celebration with a confronting lecture where he reminded employees where the door was and just how easily they could be replaced. So please understand when you call in about your machine: the operators are exhausted and clinging to their job security and the supervisors are stressed to the point of collapse. The real people to blame for your troubles WILL NOT TALK TO YOU! They hide behind the operators and supervisors who have recently been stripped of most of their resources to help you, the customer. I am hopeful that things will take a much needed turn for better with upper management's most recent addition: Keith Jones, the new call floor manager's assistant. I helped Keith get acquainted with some of the systems we use in customer service and he shows a lot of potential to do some good.
If you truly want or are in need of some form of exercise (I personally cannot go a day without it), avoid buying anything produced by ICON Health and Fitness. You would be better off running outside or putting your money towards a gym membership. If you absolutely must have exercise equipment in your home, look into spending a little extra money on a commercial grade machine from competing companies such as Soul, PreCor, Life Fitness, or Cybex. These machines are built to last and are of a much finer quality than what you will find at ICON.
Location: Logan, Utah
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