Creating a robust guest services program for your sport event venue requires buy in and support from the very top levels of the organization and is executed by the front- of- house staff on the ground. Creating an effective guest services program for a sports complex or event venue is done by clearly defining the service promise and then specifying the individual contributions each team member is responsible for to deliver on that promise. As discussed in the previous post, the Statement of Common Purposes is a powerful tool for defining expectations across the organization and to the clients. The next step to developing an exceptional guest services program in a sports event venue is to define the desired personal characteristics the organization seeks in its employees and emphasize them.
Guest Services is dynamic because it is based on human interaction. It is impossible to write a guest services handbook that will address every situation staff is likely to encounter during an event.
Therefore, rather than training staff on what to do, we train staff on how to think.
This is accomplished by focusing on personal characteristics that form a toolbox for staff to deliver on service expectations. This focus on personal traits begins in the hiring process. It is important to hire staff who actually possess the traits the organization values. The importance of those traits and the associated vocabulary should be a part of the interview process. For example, in my organization we highly value the concept of accountability. We define this as being “responsible for your actions and conduct.” We specifically emphasize the importance of seeing a task through to completion. In support of this concept of accountability, we ask all applicants (at any level) the interview question,
“What does accountability mean to you?”
Once hired, we reinforce staff with the belief that they were hired because they possessed the personal characteristics our sport event venue values and because of this, we fully trust them to represent the company on all fronts. The valued personal traits should be explicitly defined and discussed as part of the training material throughout the on- boarding process and continuing education. The dynamic between employee and employer in an athletic complex is a relationship that must be based on trust. As such, it is important to address the expectations the organization has of the staff AND express what the staff can expect from management. Do not assume we all share the same understanding of these characteristics and be sure to articulate why these traits are valuable and how possessing them benefit the venue. Finally, use scenarios and real life examples as part of the training material that challenge staff to use these personal characteristics as the internal resource for solving the service challenge presented to them.
Some of the best training opportunities for front- of- house staff in an event venue come on the job. Guest service managers should value the pre- event briefing as a training opportunity as well as a time to reinforce expected behaviors. During the event, visiting with staff on post and talking through scenarios in context is a great learning opportunity and rapport building environment. The post- event debrief is another great training opportunity as managers can celebrate successes with the guest services team, acknowledge/ reinforce desired behavior with a reward system and openly discuss guest services challenges and opportunities that arose during the event. Plan and prepare for these training opportunities in advance of the event to maximize time and effectiveness. Preparation is critical as you may be fighting distraction and fatigue around the event shift.
When mistakes are made… and there will be missteps in every event… use them as a learning opportunity for the individual. These learning opportunities can also be shared with the team, provided nobody is embarrassed or singled out. If the mistake was well- intentioned and consistent with training and policy, support the process and course correct on the decision. Also remember, that guest services in an event environment is a series of interactions. When something goes wrong, encourage the idea of service recovery with the staff and consider each “issue” an opportunity to improve the event experience for that guest.
Staff in front- of- house positions must feel supported by the sports complex’s management team. Staff must be trained on the specific scenarios that trigger escalation. As much as staff is empowered to make decisions, they must recognize the things that merit higher level approval or that could result in serious consequence. As such, staff should feel comfortable seeking support and feedback for any situation they come across, regardless of whether it hits a trigger point or not. Staff who do not feel supported will become gun- shy when making decisions and toxic in attitude.
Building a solid guest services program is more critical than ever. Event attendees have options when consuming events or training at sports complexes. Patrons are more selective and have greater expectations of the live event experience. Front- of- House staff play the most critical role in delivering on the organizations’ service promise. Events and venues that fail to deliver on a service promise will receive critical feedback that is immediate and visible. This puts greater pressure on staff to exceed customer expectations to avoid personal embarrassment and potential financial consequence to the organization.
About the Author:
Cameron Ungar, President of Stylehawk Event Services has been managing, booking and scheduling sport event venues and public assembly facilities for more than a decade. He has worked in university, municipal and private venues and has an impressive track record of developing organizational structure, building powerful operations teams and driving significant event revenue. He is an active member of the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM) and is an Adjunct Professor in the Sports Management Graduate Program at the University of San Francisco.