Magazine article Parks & Recreation

How to Build a Culture of Guest Service Excellence

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

How to Build a Culture of Guest Service Excellence

Article excerpt

This quote resonates because it is precisely what park and recreation agencies do: Bring people together. And yet, despite our efforts to build stronger communities, park and recreation agencies are facing more challenges to their existence than ever before. Listening to feedback from agencies around the country, three common refrains consistently rise to the top: low budgets to serve a great number of people; competition from other public, private and nonprofit providers; and the growing number of choices available to customers - real, digital, virtual and augmented.

As every agency leadership grapples with these challenges, they continue to ask: How can we survive, yet alone thrive, with limited resources, everincreasing competition and greater demands on users' time?

Today, the only sustainable advantage an agency has is its people. There will always be a newer park, a swankier facility, a cooler event or a cheaper program, but there will never be a replacement for a positive and memorable customer experience.

So, how can agencies build a better customer experience? Following are some ways an agency can build a culture of guest service excellence, attract and retain talented employees, build loyal customers and, thus, ensure longterm sustainability:

1 Center Organizational Focus on Customer Service and Staff Training

All agencies recognize the importance of serving and helping external customers (i.e., the users, community members) and almost all agencies invest some resources accordingly. However, fewer provide the same impetus to nurturing and serving their internal customers: their staff.

I have always believed the most important person is the customer, but the most important customer is your staff. Disney offers the perfect example: In Orlando, there is a myriad of theme parks that offer similar rides, entertainment, characters and food, yet there is only one Disney. Disney Parks consistently have the highest visitation numbers and guest satisfaction ratings, even though its average ticket price is higher than other parks.

The secret to the consistently "magical" guest experience that differentiates Disney from the others is a culture that prides itself on training and celebrating its people. Starting with the initial onboarding process, called Traditions, Disney's Cast Members (staff) are trained with a consistent philosophy focused on guest service excellence and values-based leadership.

How does the magic of Disney translate to park and recreation agencies? Gold Medal agencies, such as Carmel-Clay Parks and Recreation in Indiana, Chicago Park District in Illinois and Westerville Parks and Recreation in Ohio, are examples of agencies that are looking to emulate the Disney-like culture of guest service focus by embarking on multiyear customer service training and staff development processes. Starting with onboarding processes followed by ongoing training for all full-time, part-time and seasonal staff, measuring performance and iterating based on those, these agencies have realized that surviving and thriving is not about the parks, programs or place, but rather about the people.

San Diego County implemented a countywide initiative, called HEART (helpfulness, expertise, attentiveness, respect and timeliness), that's focused on providing exceptional customer service. This is embedded throughout the organization with visible signs that every employee has bought into it, and it is reinforced throughout the facility (as seen in the picture at right).

2 Use Data and Technology to Enhance the Customer Experience

As much as customer service is perceived as a feel-good soft skill, sustained excellence in customer service is as much about excellent service as it is about measuring and tracking performance and constantly improving behaviors based on that.

By merging data and technology, agencies are better able to improve the customer experience and feedback, as well as improve engagement among community members who might otherwise not be heard. …

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