Arm The Front Lines

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Goodluz

Photo: © Can Stock Photo Inc. / Goodluz

There is perhaps nothing as fundamental for parks and recreation organizations as customer service. Let’s face it, those who give only minimum attention to this aspect will soon suffer the consequences. 

Interestingly, engaging an organization’s front-line staff to deliver on this customer strategy has never been more difficult to implement, especially during periods when sales or participation numbers decline. 

Putting power, resources, and trust in the hands of front-line personnel allows managers to deal with other situations that arise on a daily basis, to address customer problems, to anticipate unarticulated needs, and to drive customer-facing innovation. However, there is no single philosophy that holds all of the answers for every agency. The best advice is to combine effective best practices from diverse organizations to succeed in building a front line-focused organization. Nurturing leadership to make real-time judgment calls is a proven best practice. Here’s a five-step process for achieving this extra edge for success: 

Step 1: Make communication easy.

To ensure that front-line personnel are heard, create procedures that allow their voices to reach the top management, meaning you. Paradoxically, empowering personnel starts with top management, which allows upward communication. Management needs to listen closely to what employees are saying so they can succeed in aligning the culture, training, work processes, and reward systems. 

Step 2: Empower front-line people.

Create a culture that allows employees to think on their own. While entry-level employees need to understand the customer strategy, they also need simple problem-solving frameworks that are used throughout the organization to promote cross-hierarchical dialogue. Personnel should be allowed to deviate from the book in order to achieve the best possible outcome. Such flexibility empowers employees to fix minor issues before they become more of a headache. It also helps employees develop a deeper connection to the success of the organization. 

Step 3: Embrace trial and error.

Nothing works better than this time-tested philosophy. Allow personnel some latitude in trying different approaches to solving common problems. Giving them resources to experiment may create more efficient ways in doing business. 

Step 4: Create a barrier-free work environment.

Nearly every organization has embedded assumptions about roles and power. To give employees an extra edge, allow them to expeditiously serve customers and not have to wait for senior staff members to make decisions. For example, dealing with customer complaints sometimes includes filling out numerous forms and waiting for a top-down response. Bypassing that barrier allows simple complaints to be dealt with in a more efficient way, improving a user’s experience. 

Step 5: Invest in training for everyone.

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