I believe the first step in providing an OUTSTANDING customer experience is a thoroughly trained staff. I believe there are 3 key areas of training: Product Training, Operational Training, and Procedural Training.
PRODUCT TRAINING. Providing an outstanding customer experience requires a staff that is educated about your “product” and can answer questions from your guests. If you are a farm that offers organic food, they should know why your farm has chosen to grow organic and the benefits of eating organic food. If you sell Christmas trees, your staff should be able to correctly identify the different varieties and know enough about them to help the customer make a selection. If you are an Alpaca Farm, your staff should know all the cool things to know about Alpacas. You get the idea.
OPERATIONAL TRAINING. Your staff should also be trained on those details about your operation. This would include things such as the prices for the activities that you offer, when the hayride leaves, how long it takes to get through the corn maze, where the bathrooms are, recommendations for a local restaurant, what kind of things are sold in the gift shop, and all the other frequently asked guest questions about your operation.
PROCEDURAL TRAINING. This is the training that is needed for them to know how to handle certain situations. These procedures are going to insure that incidents get handled in a consistent and customer friendly manner. These are things that should be addressed in the procedural training. Things like what to do if someone can’t find their child, or how to handle a customer complaint, or how to properly address unruly behavior in a tactful yet firm manner, and what to do in the event of a medical issue both large and small.
These training needs should be addressed in your employee orientation as well as in your employee handbooks. If you don’t do employee orientations and/or don’t have an employee handbook – you should really consider making this a standard practice at your venue. This takes the guess work and the inconsistency out of your employee training and will ultimately result in a better experience for your guests.
2. Pleasant Staff
There are some personalities that don’t tend to personify that goal of outstanding customer service. Since we are aware of this, we need to do our absolute best during the hiring process to weed those sour grapes out. Be sure to ask a lot of questions around the customer service area. Ask them how they would handle or have handled certain tough customer complaint issues. Get a feel for if their demeanor is what you want your guests to see as the “face” of your operation.
Unfortunately, the best efforts on the hiring front can sometimes allow someone through who you thought met that criteria but it becomes painfully obvious that they are not that friendly face that you were hoping for. Don’t wait to make a change. Your reputation may depend on it. When this has happened to me in the past, I will transition that person to a job that has the least amount of interaction with the guests such as helping with food prep or handling maintenance tasks.
Put your best people at your key positions. Have someone that is great with your guests? Don’t stick them on parking duties but instead have them greeting customers at your info board or hosting parties or in any of the other high guest interaction areas.
3. Consistent Brand and Message
Your staff is the face of your business. Don’t make your visitors guess at who works for you and who doesn’t. One easy way to do this is with your dress code. Take your professionalism to the next level and require your staff to wear your branded shirts. Make them bright, fun, and easy to pick out of a crowd. Lanyards with the employee name and position are another nice touch. Setup standards on what is allowed for footwear, hats, piercings, etc.
Also, be clear on how you expect your staff to address guests. Would you like them to address them as Sir or Mam? How about how they greet your guests at the entrance line, concessions, gift shop, phone, etc.? This may seem insignificant but the more you are able to provide that consistent branding and messaging, the more your brand becomes that message of outstanding customer experience.
4. Clear Direction
Your guests are there to relax and have fun. Clear signage goes a long way towards making things easy to understand and avoids frustration for your guests. Signage with pricing, activities and their locations, special events, bathrooms, concessions, you name it. Keep your signs neat, professional, and as succinct as possible. Brand or theme your signage to reinforce that consistent brand and messaging.
In our years of doing Agritourism, we have always had large information boards where our guests enter. We would staff these boards with employees that were outgoing, friendly, and excellent with people. We would gather people over to a board in groups of 10 – 20 and do a quick rundown of all that we have to offer along with the procedure to pay and on their way to having a ton of fun. During our busy times we would have 3 or 4 people out greeting and explaining and answering questions while they were in line. We had great feedback on this added human interaction and a significant added bonus was that it really sped up the payment process as the guests already had their questions answered.
5. Tactful Correction
Dealing with rule breakers is tough. This can be even tougher for a teenage employee who is expected to enforce rules on a peer or an adult. Provide them with the necessary tools to make them successful. Role play different scenarios during your employee training so they get comfortable with the concept and process. Give them exact phrasing to use when needed to provide this tactful correction. Make sure they know the exact steps you expect them to take when addressing rule violations and make it clear that they are not to improvise (attempt to throw people out or make them walk back from a hayride or ??).
Always provide a way for them to get “backup” when situations are beyond what they feel they can handle. Addressing these situations with tactfulness and respect will go a long way in keeping your venue safe and efficient without sacrificing that outstanding customer experience.
6. Know When to Bend the Rules
This may seem like a strange one but sometimes providing an outstanding customer experience does require some rules to be bent. For instance, you may have a requirement for a birthday party to have 25 people in order to get the discount. They met the requirement but at the last minute someone got sick and couldn’t make it. Now they are below the minimum. It is times like these when you need to decide if this is a time when a rule can be bent in order to deliver that outstanding customer experience.
Maybe your rule is that no guests are allowed in the office area but you have an elderly guest that is very overheated and that is the only area with a comfortable chair and air conditioning. Or maybe you have a policy of no refunds but 5 minutes into their visit, a family with a child throws up and they need to go home. This is a great opportunity to provide that outstanding customer experience and exceed their expectations.
These types of things that show our guests we truly care about their experience are what will set us apart and keep our guests coming back year after year AND telling everyone they know about your great venue.
7. Make Special Accommodations
This one is similar to bending the rules but addresses things that you don’t have a rule in place for and you are faced with the choice whether to accommodate or not. This might be someone that shows up past their scheduled time and the rest of their group is already out at a remote group campfire site. You have the choice to tell them they have missed their hayride out and they will now need to wait for them to return OR you could have one of your staff safely deliver them to their group site by golf cart or other means.
Maybe you have a special needs guest that would not be able to do some of your activities without added care, attention, and special accommodations. Or maybe a child that gets hurt and instead of just passing them off to their parents and walking away you check with the mom to see if you can get them a free popsicle to make them feel better or a free ticket for the train, or some other way to show you truly care about them having an outstanding customer experience.
8. Resolve Customer Complaints
This one can be tough. We have all had customers that have legitimate complaints and those customers that live life with complaining as their life’s motto. This is another good area to have documented procedures for your staff to follow. Help your cashiers know what they can do and what they can do from a refund perspective.
The key here is to listen and ask questions. If they know you are legitimately concerned and want to make things right, that goes a very long way. I have personally always asked my staff to get me or one of my key managers involved when a complaint comes up as we always take any complaint seriously and we want to address any issues that arise as quickly as possible.
9. Make up for Mistakes
Yes – we all make mistakes. It is going to be how we handle those situations that will determine how our guest will view our customer service. There are those small mistakes such as when an employee prepares the wrong food for a concession order OR those mistakes that make us want to crawl back into bed like having a group of 200 scouts show up with their reservation in hand that somehow fell off your calendar and now you have no group areas left for them.
No matter how big or small our mistake, we have to be humble, apologetic and even take some of the verbally expressed disappointment of our guests but then quickly move on and get creative in how you make it right. Give the guest the options on what it would take to make it right whether that means alternative accommodations, free stuff, free tickets to come back or even a full refund. Our business will live or die by the word of mouth feedback our guests pass on to others.
10. Get Honest Feedback
Nothing helps reveal our blind spots and the areas we are missing the mark of providing an outstanding customer experience like honest feedback. This can sometimes be hard to come by as people don’t want to offend us. A great way to get honest feedback is through an anonymous format. Something that is very effective is a brief 3 question survey that they can fill out and turn in at the gift shop for a free cider apple donut or hot cider. That motivates high participation and allows that anonymous feedback where you typically get the most honest responses.
If you have built up a mailing list, a tool like survey monkey is a great way to get that same anonymous feedback in an electronic form and offer a coupon which may turn into a return visit to your venue.
Providing an outstanding customer experience is a lot of work but the rewards of return visitors, word of mouth referrals, and the smiles on the faces of those that come are well worth it! Which of these 10 things are you doing right and which ones could use some added intentional effort?