Goals and challenges
When it comes to training lifeguards, many aquatics supervisors stop at rescue skills. But considering that lifeguards often serve as the face of their facility, Aquatic Coordinators Samantha Fallon and Nick Cuevas took things to a new level with focused customer-service training.

“With thousands of guests visiting the facility, customer service is always a top priority,” say Fallon and Cuevas. “Our young lifeguard staff is well versed in communicating with the public and handling difficult and sometimes stressful situations.”

A good example of this customer service training in action is how Silliman handled a capacity situation at its most popular indoor waterpark. The 32,000-square-foot-facility could only comfortably accommodate 500 people at a time. So once it reached that capacity, waiting guests received a numbered paper ticket much like one would in a deli line. But this system led to a logistical nightmare that left some frustrated swimmers enduring wait times of more than two hours. So Fallon and Cuevas put their heads together and came up with a cost-effective solution that cut wait times to 45 minutes or less. What’s more, the solution focuses on customer service and makes it easier for guests to know when their slot is available.

How they did it
To create this system, the team used waitlist.me, a restaurant-style reservation system. Now, when the waterpark reaches capacity, lifeguards use tablets to enter guest information such as phone and email into the waitlist.me system. The software then generates an estimated wait time via text message with a link to a public wait list page, so visitors can see their place in line. When it’s the guest’s turn to enter the park, they receive a text or phone message. And if a guest loses interest, they can remove themselves from the list, freeing space for the next visitors.

“With thousands of guests visiting the facility, customer service is always a top priority,” Fallon and Cuevas say. But the true innovation takes place in the background — not just with the waitlist process, but with all activities at Silliman. Fallon, who worked for Disney, conducts the same customer-service training she received at the world-renowned themepark. Topics include:

• How to enforce rules politely and with confidence• Dealing with difficult guests
• How to read tones in speech, body language and other nonverbal communication

Each inservice training also features a “Customer Service Tip of the Week.” The pair says this type of instruction takes Silliman’s training to the next level.

“Our training program is unique, since we offer these young individuals the chance to enhance their leadership, communication, organization and public speaking skills,” they say.

Staffers can take advantage of other opportunities to help them with their personal development. Silliman’s lifeguards can work with the aquatics coordinator to create new training agendas and even lead team training. Similarly, they can suggest topics for training.

“This approach makes our training very effective, since everyone is involved in the process as a team effort,” Fallon and Cuevas say.

Silliman also supports guards with an internal employee website that offers alternative ways to take training; an employee referral program that rewards staff with gift cards; a variety of recognitions/rewards for guards who go above and beyond; and a yearly milestone program that recognizes years of service with different colored whistles, gift cards and prizes.

All of this leads to a staff that’s not just confident in its training, but also is “one team, one dream.”

“We believe in learning by doing and spend a majority of our time with the team using a hands-on approach,” say Fallon and Cuevas. “We take pride in the fact that we have an open line of communication and sense of trust with our team, both on and off the clock.”