Give Customers Satisfaction

A question related to customer service has historically occupied a place on interview questions in park and recreation departments across the country. So why does it appear now as though customer service is being rediscovered? The new face, or rather, new name of customer service in the parks and recreation industry, is customer satisfaction. With additional players challenging parks and recreation departments for the market share of the recreation and leisure pie, new approaches to customer service are required.

Moving Past The Cattle-Herding Mindset

In years past, a parks department’s programs and facilities were the only means of recreation and leisure activities in a community. Customer service was not the primary focus, nor was it thought of as an area that needed training and development. Since there were no alternative service providers in and around a park district, customers dissatisfied with a program or overall experience had little recourse other than attempting to recover all or part of any money paid and voicing their displeasure.

Adding to this formula of bad customer service is that many programs and facilities were subsidized heavily by a parks and recreation department. The sustainability of a program or facility rested more in the taxes brought in by the local government than what fees were collected for room rentals and programs. Most parks and recreation departments thought and acted like a public service and less like a business. I liken it to the general population’s experience with the Department of Motor Vehicles, where the lines were long, and it never seemed like anyone ever cared (a cattle-herding mentality).

Again, the bureau was the only game in town so there was not much pressure to improve the service. When you think of the strengths of the larger, private fitness chains, phrases like “clean, modern facility,” “friendly and well-trained staff,” and “up-to-date classes with many opportunities to attend” come to mind. Their survival rests solely on your satisfaction with their product.

Look To Employees

Several key markers–financial and social–suggest a more aggressive approach is needed in developing a modern customer-service policy in the parks and recreation industry. With tax reform and budget shortfalls now commonplace, a department’s first line of defense and support is its employees. When the cost for renting a picnic shelter or participating in an after-school program increases, the public although educated as to why this is occurring, will still expect more.

While you may not be able to give the public added features for the extra dollars, you can upgrade customer service at little or no cost. Socially, customers are more educated and savvy than ever; they know what good customer service is, and they demand it. They also know there are other service providers out there, and shop around for the best deal. Cost can sometimes be overcome by quality customer service. Every customer, experience and dollar counts in the effort to provide sustainable quality recreation and leisure opportunities.

They Should Walk Away Smiling

What is this new way of thinking and servicing our customers? They expect to be handled in the same manner as our counterparts in the recreation and leisure industry. Think of your last experience at a private health club or commercial recreation business and how you were treated. Besides the constant sales pitch, the employees have a strong understanding about the activities offered and portray a pleasant demeanor. Additionally, the facilities and equipment are usually clean and in great working condition.

Employees in this work environment are customer-focused and realize their livelihood depends on the quality of your experience. This idea is not radical, but one that needs to be championed by all for it to work. It’s making sure the customer walks away satisfied, and feeling good about the experience. Every encounter with the public is a customer-service opportunity. The difference is making the customer feel the experience is less like a service (e.g., the DMV), and more like a one-on-one encounter where needs have merit, are being listened to, and will be addressed. Fundamentally, it is thinking like a business.

Expectations For Employees

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