Give Customers Satisfaction

For a business to sustain and grow, it needs its customers to return and to advertise its services or goods to new customers. To that end, you must engage your customers in a way that ensures their return patronage and that they will speak highly of your business to others. Some philosophies and practices championed by businesses with great customer service stress to employees that they:

· Are friendly, sincere, respectful and attentive.

· Engage the customers by using active listening skills.

· Find a resolution to any issue immediately, without passing the customers onto someone else.

· Are dressed appropriately.

· Have a strong understanding of the job in order to deal with customers in a timely and error-free manner.

· Identify and anticipate the needs of customers.

· Use a customer feedback loop.

· Know how to apologize and adequately compensate customers when something goes wrong.

Rallying The Troops

For a municipality to take its customer service to the next level, it must first convince the staff to agree with the plan. All employees need to be on board and supportive of this new approach. Also, when implementing a new customer-service philosophy, all employees should be well-trained in the techniques as well as its principles. This is the glue that helps the skills and learned behavior stick. Lastly, it is about being creative and flexible. Use as many resources as necessary to obtain the level of service desired and to aid in the staff’s education:

· Model other successful businesses.

· Research books available on the subject.

· Talk with and/or partner with other parks departments that are looking to make the transition, or that are already performing at a high level of customer service.

· Attend or send a starter group of leaders in your organization to customer-service seminars.

· Create evaluations specifically tailored to customer service.

· Bring in a consulting firm with experience and success in this arena.

· Create a system where employees can be rewarded for their efforts.

Not all of the above methods are necessary to improve a department’s customer service. If only one book on the subject is read and the materials are then shared and applied, any result from this will be positive.

In today’s unsteady and challenging economic climate, parks and recreation departments need to be thinking less like the public services of years past and more like the modern businesses of today and tomorrow. The sustainability of our parks, facilities and programs depends on how we develop and foster relationships with our customers. With a good ear and the desire to effect change, we all can play a role in improving the quality of the experience our customers have. Our customers today demand more than service; they want satisfaction and beyond from their recreation and leisure provider.

Steve Yeskulsky is a CPRP currently working in the parks and recreation industry in Sarasota, Fla. He can be reached via e-mail at syeskulsky@verizon.net.

—————————————————-Sidebar———————————————

Is The Customer Always Right?

No, and why this ridiculous notion has ever been passed on is beyond all practical reasoning. Most assuredly, the customer is not always right, and with issues pertaining to policy, it is all right to hold your ground. For arbitrary issues, such as the color of a shelter or whether or not a child had a good time at summer camp, you can still take this archaic belief out of the closet now and again. But just as quickly as you take it out, put it back in, or you’ll find yourself agreeing with a customer in an effort to end the conversation.

When a policy issue arises with a patron (e.g., hours of operation, fees and charges, facility rentals) some of the basic principles of customer service can assist the parks and recreation professional in alleviating the dispute:

· Be an active listener.

· Do not interrupt the customer.

· Explain the policy thoroughly.

· Assure the customer that, although at this time you cannot break with policy, you will bring this topic to your supervisors and follow up with the customer.

· Find alternative solutions, inside or outside your business. For the customer to accept the policy, he or she needs to walk away feeling like a winner.

· Ask for contact information and thank the customer.

All customer-service situations are different, and require different approaches in finding a compromise. The outline above is not an exhaustive list, and serves only as a reference during customer-service issues involving policies.

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