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OCTOBER 27TH 2016

12 Tips for Keeping Customer Service Upstanding in Icy Conditions


BY PHILIP ATKINS

ice rink, total quality management, customer service

With the Ice Rink at the Natural History museum going live for the 11th time it has become ever more important to us, working in partnership with our clients, to look at the customer service offering and how we keep raising the guest experience.


It is a project we hold dearly to our hearts with a huge amount of fun and staff and guest satisfaction over the years married with a commercial success for our clients, IMG.

Equally it is a unique long term project delivery with it being the longest live and busiest of all the outside rinks in London. Service levels have to be maintained through a 9 week run taking in cold weather and the social pressures of the Christmas season.

So what have we learnt are the most important things to ensuring an exceptional guest experience at a visitor attraction? 

Here are 12 things, to match our years of support at the rink, to think about:

 

1. Total quality management. 

Treat staff how you want guests to be treated! There is no point in expecting staff to miraculously give exceptional service if the way they are they treated doesn’t reflect this. They have to be treated with the same respect that we expect them to treat guests. Simple things at the rink include providing all the staff with waterproof jackets, fleeces, hats and gloves so they are always warm and arranging a 50% discount at the café on site so they are not having to utilise their breaks simply getting to and back from other outlets
 

2. Flexibility. 

We also expect their flexibility in making the operation successful and this again has to be mirrored with us flexing the rota and team as best we can, while being clear as to how they can request changes, to accommodate their social plans.

3. Set standards high and clear

Every aspect of service delivery has to be clearly defined for the team. Where there is greyness in how the operation runs it causes staff anxiety and a pushing of boundaries as they work out what they are and what they aren’t allowed to. Simple things such as timekeeping, uniform, breaks, use of mobile phones, and reporting lines cannot be left to chance and we need to make sure staff are clear how we expect them to look and behave.

 

 

4. Empathy driven service

One of the greatest driving forces to a guest enjoying their visit is the ability of the rink staff to put themselves in the shoes (or skate boots!) of the visitor.

When a visitor comes to the ice rink they are both excited and anxious about their skate ahead. Excited about the fun to be had but anxious about how it will all work and, as often many of the visitors have very limited skating experience, their ability to skate and how often they will fall over.

The large number of parents with young children at the rink also means many a worry about the welfare and the safety of their children, and if they are having fun, as well as their own skating ability.

We have to consistently drive an empathy of the way guests are feeling in to our team especially when 4 weeks into the run and the initial newness and excitement of working at the rink can turn to familiarity and complacency. Simple things such as answering a query which may seem really obvious with a smile, and answering a question they have heard for the 50th time in the same courteous and open manner they answered it the first time.

 

5. Apologise first resolve second

When working at a public attraction there are some times situations that go wrong which we cannot control, with the weather being the largest variable. When skaters come off the rink and it has been cold and raining, they have fallen over a couple of times and they are soaked through sometimes all they need is either an opportunity to vent or a supporting voice saying how much of a hero they are for going out there and giving it a go.

We cannot necessarily resolve the situation but what we can do is make them feel appreciated and again empathetic to their situation. It may just be laughing with them at the slightly absurd situation or otherwise just saying we know how it feels, apologising that it hasn’t been the best weather for it and suggesting they pop up to the café for a hot chocolate or glass of wine and a bit of warmth.

 

6. Mi casa es su casa

For guests to be treated really well we want the staff to view them as guests to their own home. To do this we need toallow the team to view the rink operation as their home and give them ownership over how the operation is run.

This includes listening to their thoughts on how systems and operations can be improved and giving them a suitable forum to air their concerns. They are the people most experienced in how service runs and we can learn huge amounts of efficiencies and service improvements through their engagement.

With staff taking ownership they can be encouraged and supported to treat guests to the rink like guests to their own home. This could be through greeting them with a smile, getting down at their level and helping them put their skates on or simply, with so many international guests, speaking in the guest’s own language.

 

7. Knowledge is power to drive happy customers

When people come to a visitorattraction they expect the staff to be the font of all knowledge. This is both on direct and indirect information and the more the staff are in tune with this the better the guest experience. At the Natural History Museum rink, for example, this includes information about the rink itself but also about the museum opening times, public transport links and good places to eat in the surrounding area.

 

 

8. Right people, right time

The maxim of hire on attitude, train the skill could not be more relevant. The work taken in its rawest form could be seen as low skilled labour with staff taking shoes and exchanging them for skates. It is however a staff member’s attitude with an ability to empathise and interact with guests, agenuine care for people, and a desire to gain the most out of the experience through having a positive impact on hundreds of guests visit to the rink which will make a great staff member.

Through group interviews and highly structured full day assessments prior to hiring we are able to ascertain the rapport and general demeanour of staff. While a big investment the ability to handpick the right staff from the beginning provides great service and saves money and headaches during the run.


9. Feedback and praise

In any element of staff supply it is so important to feed back to staff giving them the belief that when they do a good job, and go above and beyond, that it is recognised and appreciated. It is often simply this recognition, rather than any reward, that drives further exceptional service moments and genuine smiles.

Equally when feedback is not perfect providing them with corrective coaching so they know it is not acceptable and they get the chance and encouragement to improve.

At the rink we capture feedback from guests and also have a very active mystery shopper programme so we can evaluate and feedback to staff. There is also an opportunity every week for staff to nominate one of their colleagues for an award of an extra half day’s pay for a service moment they have given a guest.

 

10. Troubleshoot problems before you need to.

As golfing legend Gary Player once said “the more I practise the luckier I get” and this rings true with customer service operations. We have to plan for all eventualities so the team know how to handle situations which may not ever happen, for example: extreme weather, power outage, severe injury on the rink, transport strikes and mass staff illness.

If contingency plans are in place and known the team can quickly react and actually make a good customer experience out of a very difficult situation.

Do note the “known” aspect is the bit often overlooked with plans drawn up by management before the live date then safely stored in a folder no operatives know about when the site is live. Do make sure staff are educated and involved in what to do in an emergency situation.

11. Take pride and keep it unique

Whatever the price level of the entry fee or service being provided you can still aim to be the best in your field: we all want to believe that what we do and where we work is exceptional and unique.

This has to be reflected in all communication with staff and equally enforced through capturing photos, press articles and feedback from the rink showing our pride and care for the whole project and service delivered. With Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and other social network channels it is easy for this pride to be shown and the unique service offering to be driven home.

 

12. Big goal and small details that matter

When everything is taken into consideration it is the small incremental changes that make the difference leading to the big goal. Our company wide big goal is to Enable Amazing Experiences for our clients, partners and team. With this as a driving ambition we can look for those small incremental changes that will improve the experience of our team, our clients and rink guests.

 

Small details such as lockable storage for the staff room, ensuring skates are taken from the less prominent boxes first so the ones stored on the middle row and at eye-height are saved from continual use and kept sharp, to providing skate sessions to guests so they can learn the basics and be more confident on the ice, to staff wearing language badges are all little incremental things that all add up to the big goal.