Customer Service in the 00's

Wednesday, June 30, 2004 8:35 AM
I actually think this conversation deserves its own topic. I would love to hear other opinions.

There is a difference between average customer service and great customer service. Unfortunately, I rarely even get average service at most places anymore. I have been in plenty of customer service training problems and at each one I always tell the presenter the same thing.

"You have the easiest job in the world. If you train someone to present average customer service you have won. Why? Because we so rarely even get the basics that when we do these days we are delighted and actually think it was great service."

I actually make a point of filling out comment cards or writing letters when I get the basics these days because I want companies to know they are at least getting something right.

There have been a lot of studies that say people are more interested than just pay when it comes to their jobs...but those studies are almost always done on people in full time positions that are on career paths. Thus they answer benefits, opportunity for promotion, appreciation from supervisors, etc. Those studies aren't done on high school and college kids in summer jobs.

I think that in these days most kids going to work at a Cedar Point are trying to save money for school, a car, etc. They want to make as much money as possible. While there are some that want to go to work a rollercoaster, most employees at parks are not enthusiasts themselves so they don't work there just for the thrill of it.

I hire the young adult crowd for part time positions. If I did a survey of what other agencies pay these same types of employees you would find just about every one of them in the $7 range...give or take. I pay my employees $9 to start. I convinced my boss, and his boss, that we are perceived to be in a high class area where people expect a certain level of service. With that extra couple of bucks an hour I have the flexibility to hire who I want to instead of settling with whoever shows up. It does make a difference.

I know how many employees a park hires. Don't tell me they can't afford to pay more. They choose not to pay more. They have made a conscious decision that your interactions with the staff are not as important as your interactions on a ride. If the Six Flags tenure at Geauga Lake taught us all anything...it is that the overall experience (including staff interaction) does matter.

For $50 a ticket I better get..at the very least..average customer service. Frankly it should be great service but I think we have all lowered our expectations in the past 15-20 years and the majority of service providers keep lowering them. I mean really; how many of you are HAPPY these days when you get what you ordered at a fast food restaurant? That is how bad it has become. We are thrilled when they get orders right. That is sad.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 9:44 AM
You and I might be the only two entering this debate wahoo ;)

But here's my two cents: it's again a matter of profit. There are so many choices these days, and everything is so price driven that the return customers and the added income from good customer service pales in comparison to teh added income and return customers from cheaper operations (resulting in less pay to employees and less happy employees) and the return and greater income from efficient operations without "wasting" time on customer service. I realize that doesn't always apply to amusement parks (maybe to platform ops) but if I'm at a Boston Market (not sure how many of you frequent those), I'm happier if the person just whips up my order right and quick and gets me back out the door ASAP than I am if they take forever, but have a nice conversation with me. This exact situation almost made me stop visiting my local Boston Market, but luckily the "guilty" woman has become a much more efficient worker and it does't take me 10 minutes to get my Boston Market and get out the door so I still have some semblance of a lunch break left (which wouldn't even be a concern if it wasn't for the profit desires of my company making my being away from work for 1:15, as opposed to 1:00, a problem).

If it wasn't for the cost competition (thank you Wal Mart) Mom and Pop stores that defined the "customer service" that most people would expect in a perfect would could exist. And if your efforts in customer service showed any kind of return, either on the company, or on your own person (a little attaboy from your manager or something) maybe there'd be some sort of inspiration. But these days, if you're a low-wage worker (and even if you're a career-worker) you don't get attaboys for good customer service you get "keep doing it that way or else" and you don't see any kind of impact on the company bottom line because you can be nice as you know how, but if Wal Mart's $1.50 less, you can be sure that customer's going to Wal Mart.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 10:12 AM
I wouldn't say people are always driven by money. If I'm debating on which Italian place to eat at; let's say Olive Garden or Macacroni Grill. I choose Macaroni Grill because I'm going to get better service. Target and Walmart almost always have the same prices (if they don't then someone isn't doing their price comparisons right.) I choose to go to Walmart because they are more efficient at what they do and employees are nice.

People go to places depending on what they want. You go to Boston Market because you want a hot meal realatively fast. People go to amusement parks to have fun. When you have fun you smile :)

If you don't get a "Kudos" for doing your job every now and then, then sadly you have a not to employee friendly boss (AKA: According to my recent college classes a "B" style boss...a thing of the past. Now a days bosses are being trained to be much more employee friendly "A" style. Which is a also a team style.) The business that employees are going to be happy do get some form of "Kudos" wether it be verbal, praise, money, etc. Some people prefer money, some don't need money as a form of praise. Everyone is different.

Is pretty simple to find out why certain stores have high turn over ratios and some keep their employees for ever. Most stores, amusement parks, food chains, etc. KNOW there employees aren't going to be living there for ever and make a carreer there. That doesn't give them the excuse to be lackluster though. I can think of quite a few employees at GL, CP, and many other amusement parks that do give it their all. Heck, one I know on this board gives it his all and is already moving up at GL. But even if employees dont' want to move up. They applied for the job, and they MUST do their job. If they don't want to, then go work somewhere else that requires no personalitly or skill.

An amusement park shouldn't be forced to pay more just to get a happy employee. They should look at the area and see what kind of average pay there is yes (hence the really big pay cuts acrose the board at GL when CF came in.) Set up a good training program. Train the managers well. And train the employees constantly. It will all show through to the guest in the end.

A find example of what when wrong (besides SFWoA) is SFKK. They are spending A LOT of $$ on the above training tactics on their employees this year, to provide overall customer satisfaction and service.

Holiday World pretty much has this down to a science. And WDW has the training for employees down to a perfection...It's the happiest place on Earth ;)

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 10:25 AM
I will say this, I dont think pay matters as much as some may think. A kid will be just as bored working at the front of a que line when making $7/hour as when they are making $9/hour. Imo™ where the difference comes in, and I have said this before, is in management. If someone has a manager above them telling them they need to be more friendly, need to stop goofing off on the ride platform than they will do it. And if said manager is practicing what they preach the employees will follow. *** Edited 6/30/2004 2:37:49 PM UTC by eightdotthree***
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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 10:34 AM
Thats funny, that funny old guy that passes out shopping carts and smiles is there to make the company seem like they are doing good. When in reality they hire illegal workers for small wages, undercut local businesses to run them out, they discriminate against women, the list goes on and on.

And I have never had a problem at Target or wal mart cs.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 10:37 AM
I agree with Matt (there's a rarity), it's not always about money. I tripled my income in four years and broke six figures earlier this year. I subsequently quit because all that money didn't do a damn thing to feed the soul. I'm much happier not answering to The Man and writing my book on my own terms. That's the career money.

However, I was a teenager and a college student at one point as well, not even ten years ago. The environment of the job and the people I worked with meant more than the pay. My first real radio job, I kid you not, paid .50 over minimum wage (not counting appearances). You know what? I loved it. To this day it's one of the best memories of any job I've ever had.

It's my opinion, with the people I've managed in various capacities, including teenagers, that if you treat them well and give them clear expectations, they will do what you ask. If they don't, you replace them. It starts with how you train them.

Brett's assertion that good customer service isn't good for the bottom line, especially in a hospitality industry like the amusement industry, is complete nonsense. Come on, we've all been to Holiday World. Raven and Legend might be good rides, but who the hell is going to drive to the middle of nowhere just because of coasters?

Unchecked capital expenditures didn't keep people coming back to Six Flags parks. Why do you suppose that is?

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 10:45 AM
"that if you treat them well and give them clear expectations, they will do what you ask. If they don't, you replace them. It starts with how you train them."

That sums up my thoughts right there.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 11:51 AM
If customer service dictates your bottom line, explain why the Giant Eagle which has great customer service, clean asiles and easy, available parking, not to mention a gas station in the parking lot gets less business than the overcrowded, park-at-the-end-of-the-earth, dirty, Wal Mart Superstore which has no employee presence, open and spilled food all over the place and no gas in the parking lot?

(my bet would be that Wal Mart's 25-50% cheaper)

What bug did I drive up your butt Jeff? Or have I just expanded all of my free opinions and must now submit them for approval before posting? Perhaps another $5 on my membership would help cure that one?

In light of Jeremy's post (after mine) I will say this - my comments are more about the public at large. I personally value customer service more (I go to the Giant Eagle in the above example and my Target/Wal Mart experience is the same as Jeremy's) but based on what I've seen with the explosion of big box stores in the main "shopping area" nearest to me, most of the public out there values their dollars more than how they're treated. *** Edited 6/30/2004 4:01:10 PM UTC by Impulse-ive***

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 11:52 AM

RollerCoasterGod said:
Target and Walmart almost always have the same prices (if they don't then someone isn't doing their price comparisons right.) I choose to go to Walmart because they are more efficient at what they do and employees are nice.

Thing must be vastly different in the midle west than here on the East Coast. Walmart consistantly undercuts Target (if only by a few cents) and is closest to my house. However, I will drive out of my way to go to Target because the Walmart is so crappy. The store is cluttered and poorly lighted and it is damn near impossible to get any competent help in the store. So I say F-it and go to Target. Sure it costs me more (if not in prices, then in time), but I feel the service @ Walmart is pretty much intolerable.

And that is the basic point that those in hospitality oriented industries (such as hotels and amusement parks) need to get. Sure, it costss money to properly staff a business. I do not contest that at all. However, it has been shown in many studies that it (generally) costs a business about 10 times as much money to attract a *new* customer as it does to retain a *current* customer. The smart business owner will understand that in order to grow a business, yes, you must attract new people, but at the same time, you must continue to appeal to your established base....especially when there are equivalent substitutes for your product.

People in general, and Americans in particular, tend to be very loyal to brands. There are some people who will only buy GM cars. Why? Because they had a good experience with them and see no reason to change. That's the rub. Most people wont run away from you unless they have a reason. Feeling crapped on is a pretty good reason...and that is mostly avoidable.

Showing a positive attitude in your "front line" workers is something I would think would be a no-brainer to management. Sadly, this is just not the case. Now one of two things is going to happen. One: People will vote with their feet and go to the places where they feel they are treated better (see CP v. SFWoA). Or two, people will just resign themselves to this 'new reality'. Personally, I go for #1. Lady 'T' gets on me a lot, because I am so quick to withhold my business when I feel unappreciated. But with so many other options, why should I *not* expect to be cared for? (Un)Common Courtesy is all I ask for. If you cant do that, please take the advice of Mr. Hat "You can just go to hell....You go to hell and you die!"

lata, jeremy

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 11:59 AM
I didn't say it was always about the money, but companies like to use that excuse when explaining low wages. And the money often times limits your potential employees to begin with. I can't tell you how many times I'd have someone at a job fair ask about a summer job only to walk away immediately after hearing the wage.

Jeff, you had an interest in radio so it is no wonder you didn't care what you got paid. I wanted to work at Disney so bad that it didn't matter that I had to eat on credit cards because of the low pay and the cost of housing.

Treating them well will certainly help you retain staff members. Many parks have a good retention rate from summer to summer. But, I don't think parks like Cedar Point would be spending the money they do to recruit overseas if American kids were breaking down the doors to work there. Disney doesn't do the College Program for good will. They do it to help staff the parks, particularly with low paid individuals.

And, I can assure you that Cedar Point and other parks keep the "bad apples" on longer than they should many times out of despair. In many cases towards the end of the year it gets to the point where you staff a stand or ride with a rude person vs not staffing it at all. They keep them on b/c they cannot refill the vacancies. Firing people was much easier back in the day because there were several people itching to take your spot. Not anymore.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 11:59 AM
Stands and applauds...:)

Argh, wahoo jumped in the middle....

Jeremy, are you running for President yet? ;)

*** Edited 6/30/2004 4:00:54 PM UTC by rollergator***

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 1:02 PM
I'm with Gator. (applause)


Thing must be vastly different in the midle west than here on the East Coast. Walmart consistantly undercuts Target (if only by a few cents) and is closest to my house. However, I will drive out of my way to go to Target because the Walmart is so crappy. The store is cluttered and poorly lighted and it is damn near impossible to get any competent help in the store. So I say F-it and go to Target.

It's like you took the words right out of my head on that part. The only difference is that everywhere I've lived in the past 5 years, Target is either more easily accessable or right next door to Wal-Mart. What kind of fool wades through the stupidity that is Wal-Mart when Target is a viable option?

(sorry for the mini Wal-Mart rant - but, for the most part I tend to agree with Jeremy)

Continuing on topic:

Maybe this is the republican in me coming out, but...

So far the conversation feels to me very sided toward the poor working schlub and how if they get paid and treated better, then the good work they are capable of will follow. I disagree entirely. Workers do what they do - they just seek the highest paying position they are qualified for.

In most cases in the hospitality/service industry (parks, hotels, restaraunts) - especially at the customer level, we're not talking skilled labor. This means you're not necessarily attracting a *better* worker, just an available one. Paying them more or less isn't going to make them better with your customer.

What happened to earning pay and position increases as incentive for better performance? If you give it all away at the start what's the incentive to work hard or do well at your job?

I personally sympathize (to a degree) with the middle/upper managment who must deal with these workers who expect everything handed to them at hiring.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 1:11 PM
Well, many parks do have the hourly bonus that cannot be collected until an agreed upon end of contract date has been met. Again, I think that helps retain employees you already have because they see that amount building throughout the summer.

But, I don't think that hourly bonus has much impact on recruiting the employee to begin with. And, that is where parks are having more difficult times. With the exception of ride operator, you can work most any amusement park-type job in your hometown. Retail clerk, food service employee, lifeguard, custodian, etc most people can do on just about any corner.

Oh, and I agree with just about everything that has been said about Wal-Mart. Target is to Wal-Mart what Wal-Mart used to be to K-Mart. And, why do they put in 50 cash registers if they are only going to use 5 of them? What was the point?

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 1:25 PM

eightdotthree said:
Thats funny, that funny old guy that passes out shopping carts and smiles is there to make the company seem like they are doing good. When in reality they hire illegal workers for small wages...

Walmart gets a little too much blame for that whole thing. The illegal workers didn't work for Walmart, they worked for a 3rd party contractor who hired and paid the workers to work in the Walmart stores. Walmart paid this company, not the workers directly.

my 2 cents on that :) *** Edited 6/30/2004 5:25:38 PM UTC by CoasterCameron***

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 1:25 PM
I'm in line with Jeff and 8.3. It starts with the managers, the general managers, the district managers, all the way to the VP of operations for a company, and higher yet. Setting a good example at the top will help immensely. Then take the time to properly train your new hire and be very explicit about what is expected. Don't just throw a new hire to whomever may be working that day, that's foolish.
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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 2:01 PM

Thing must be vastly different in the midle west than here on the East Coast. Walmart consistantly undercuts Target (if only by a few cents) and is closest to my house. However, I will drive out of my way to go to Target because the Walmart is so crappy. The store is cluttered and poorly lighted and it is damn near impossible to get any competent help in the store. So I say F-it and go to Target.

It varries alot by area as well even in the east. The two Walmarts in York PA I try to avoid unless there is no other alternative. IF I do decide to go to Walmart... I drive to the Walmart in Gettysburg (40 minutes away). Better service (15 registers, most open... not 30 registers and 2 open), friendly (or at least no hostile) employees, competent (or at least semi intelligent) employees, cleaner store, and even better clientel.

In August, the Gettysburg Walmart has their "back to school sales". Judging by the employees and many of the customers in the York stores, they should be having their "Back to Reform School Sales".

Yeah... I know... 40 minutes to Wally World in Gettysburg when there is one 10 minutes away is nuts... but hey... always can use it as an excuse to make a quick visit to the battlefield.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 2:27 PM
And, why do they put in 50 cash registers if they are only going to use 5 of them? What was the point?

I was just having this discussion with my wife last night... but it's not just Wal-Mart; Target also has this problem.

As far as customer service, Target pwns Wal-Mart, but we still go to Wal-Mart occasionally for groceries. It's too cheap to ignore, even though you end up waiting in line for 45 minutes.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 2:35 PM
Walmart, Target, Home Depot, Lows...

All have 30+ registers with only 3 open.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 2:40 PM

Jeff said:
Come on, we've all been to Holiday World. Raven and Legend might be good rides, but who the hell is going to drive to the middle of nowhere just because of coasters?

I will basically go anywhere (even to the middle of nowhere) just to ride some good coasters, but for me, service is EVERYTHING!

I just got back from Six Flags America, and it had to be the worst service I have ever encountered anywhere in my life. I think the rides and theming were great there, and much better than what I had expected. I would love to go back there again, but I don't think I ever will because of the staff there. That says a lot.

People do not make stands enough about the things that bother them. I ask for managers, or walk out of stores if I am not treated right. I worked retail for many years (prior to college and professional work), and was not paid all that well. But you know what, I treated people well. When a customer treated me poorly, I would kill them with kindness. I never ignored customers or blew them off, as a peon, or as a manager. When are busineses going to learn that the customer is what keeps the business alive?

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Wednesday, June 30, 2004 3:12 PM
Wahoo Skipper asked about Wal-Mart...

...why do they put in 50 cash registers if they are only going to use 5 of them? What was the point?

Why does Six Flags install three trains if they are only going to run one?

At the risk of allowing this thread degenerate into a Wal-Mart bashing session, my experience with that company is almost universally bad: even in their newest, nicest stores, they almost never have what I am looking for, and I am convinced that their stores are "intelligence sinks." I think they have figured out some way to shave off IQ points and use brainpower to run the lights or something. I also find that they play "high-low" a lot with their prices. Look real close at some of their pricing and notice that while they have low prices to bring you in, on a lot of staple items their price is sky-high.

I'm so happy I live in a region that has Meijer.

Of course the money matters, both for consumers and for workers. But it is far from the only thing that matters. I could make a whole lot more money doing a job that I hate...I imagine most of us could. But there comes a point where there are more important considerations.

--Dave Althoff, Jr.

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