Does Your Frontline Staff Know How to Make a Decision?

By Cameron Ungar posted 09-24-2018 12:59


Guest services is simple.  Like everything important in life… we learned it in kindergarten…

Treat others the way you wish to be treated.

The Golden Rule is in full effect.  Human interaction is dynamic though and service experiences are subjective.  We all may wish to be treated a little differently which influences our service expectations.  Therefore, the trick to creating an effective guest services program for sport event venue operators is to make sure everybody representing the event venue is calibrated to the same level.

This requires deliberate and explicit communication between management and front- of- house staff. In the first discussion on guest services, we talked about using tools like the Statement of Common Purpose and Visioning Statement to clearly articulate the venue’s service promise.  In the next section, we explored developing personal characteristics that form the toolbox for our staff.  Here, we will provide a strategy for empowering staff to make consistent and appropriate service decisions.

Stylehawk Hires Smart People Too

There is a Steve Jobs GIF floating around the internet that reads, “it doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do; we hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”  This gets shared often because it is wise and because it resonates with both employers and employees. Employees want to be empowered and valued for their contributions to the organization’s success.  Employers need an effective workforce that provides solutions for their business needs. With shared motivation, expectations must be aligned. As such, the role of the guest services manager is to provide front- of- house staff with a framework for making decisions that are consistent throughout the organization.

I refer to this framework as a Decision Matrix.  An empowered staff does not have carte blanche to make decisions across the board.  Rather, they have been trained on the service expectations of the venue, encouraged to use their unique talents to solve problems, supported when unsure and provided with guidelines on how to make consistent decisions.  The Decision Matrix is a short list of prioritized service concepts critical to the effective operation of a sport event venue. When front- of- house staff are faced with nuanced service scenarios they must grade their decision against the prioritized concepts defined in the Decision Matrix.  In every San Diego sport event venue I have operated, I have used the same three service concepts (in this same order) in my Decision Matrix:

  1. Safety
  2. Courtesy
  3. Efficiency

I was first exposed to these service concepts through the Disney Institute Guest Services Training and believe they hold true for most event venues.  It should be said however, that this matrix is organization specific. Different venues may consider different service concepts or different priority levels.  The key, is to make sure everybody is in agreement and interpreting the matrix the same way.

In my Decision Matrix, I consider safety my primary responsibility as an event venue operator.  I must do everything I can to make our guests, participants, staff and contractors as safe as possible in the building.  All decisions then, must consider safety first.

The second priority in this Decision Matrix is courtesy.  I expect my staff to create warm and personal experiences for our guests.  As event venue operators, we have an opportunity to create lifelong memories for our patrons.  We cannot control the outcome on the competition field, but we can ensure that our attendees have an amazing experience.  It costs a lot of money and takes a ton of energy for a family to attend a sport event. As an organization, we must recognize their efforts and treat our guests like the VIPs they are. Afterall, none of us have jobs, if we don’t have guests willing to visit our buildings.

The third priority in the Decision Matrix is efficiency.  The fan experience is better when staff is effective and operational components of the event experience are efficient.  Nobody wants to miss the action on the floor because they are waiting in long lines at the concession stand. We need to make sure we are doing what we can to create seamless experiences for our guests.  With that said, we cannot compromise safety for efficiency. I am also not willing to sacrifice the courteous treatment of our guests in favor of efficiency.

I train my staff on use of the Decision Matrix through example.  Here are a couple of examples I have used:

Example 1:

(Question) Is it ever okay to yell at a guest?

(Answer) Courtesy would tell us no.  It is rude. However, if a patron is doing something to jeopardize his safety (for example, climbing over a rail), shouting may be an appropriate response.

Example 2:

During a busy basketball game, we have long lines to get into the building.  The most efficient way to bring patrons into the building might be for ticket takers to keep their heads down, scan tickets and avoid conversation to push them through the doors quickly.  Because courtesy is a higher priority in the Decision Matrix than efficiency, we will continue to greet each and every guest as they enter the building and provide the appropriate service response (direction to seats, restrooms, etc).  Furthermore, because safety is the highest priority we will continue to make sure we are screening guests appropriately and accurately scan tickets.

I often tell my staff that my role as a guest services manager is to “define the black and white so we can make decisions in the gray.”  By articulating the service promise, developing the personal characteristics in our staff that are highly valued by the organization and by creating a set of prioritized guidelines staff can weigh decisions against, we are establishing a powerful framework for an effective guest services program.

This blog post was originally published here.

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.




04-10-2019 11:27

Ryan- Thanks for reading and for the feedback!  I cringe everytime I hear a front- line staff person say, "sorry, but it's policy" (just happened today in a retail store).  If we all accept that it is bad policy in this particular circumstance, empower staff to make the right decision... or at least give them a mechanism to communicate how, why and when the policy is faulty.

03-03-2019 16:44

This is a fascinating topic that I feel more venues and organizations need to address. What resonated specifically with me was the authors concept of defining the Black and White so that staff can make decisions in the grey. Too often I find that front line employees are only allowed to operate on the Black and White that has been defined, but not encouraged to use those boundaries and the matrix to make decisions within the grey. I firmly believe that this model would result in not only better guest experiences, but in a greater sense of empowerment to the front line employee to treat others as they would want to be treated.