Tim Bobko

At the Heritage Park Aquatic Complex in Henderson, Nev., we spend a great deal of time emphasizing the importance of guest service; however, one of my biggest errors was gearing my customer trainings to focus more on the problem than on the person.

One day, an employee came into my office and said she was having difficulty with a patron. The guest was unhappy because there was no bench in the locker room near the showers where she could place her belongings. Despite the staffer's attempt to help, the customer had become very upset and asked to speak with a manager.

I approached the guest and started with an apology, but what happened next was unusual. She began to cry, walked away and sat at a table near the front door of our facility. I followed and apologized again.

Before I could go any further, the guest explained that she had recently lost her husband of more than 50 years and that she had had to move to Henderson to live with her daughter, leaving her home, her community and her friends — and that all she wanted was a bench in the locker room, so her belongings wouldn’t get wet. I could feel her heartbreak and realized in that moment, it had nothing to do with the bench.

As I looked toward the front desk, the staff member signaled she needed to take a break. Reluctantly, I nodded "yes," despite thinking it was an inappropriate time to be asking — especially considering that she had probably heard what the guest had shared with me. However, I continued talking with the customer, assuring her that I would make sure that she had a bench the next time she visited.

As our conversation was ending, the staff member returned and quickly made her way over to us. She was out of breath and had a small coffee and muffin in her hand, which she placed in front of the patron, saying she hoped it would brighten her day. The employee had taken her break to purchase these items with her own money. The small act of kindness was unexpected, but greatly appreciated.

After this incident, we added the following quotes to the back of our staff uniforms: "Be Kind … You Never Know Who’s Fighting a Tough Battle" and "Be Kind … You Could Make Someone’s Day." These sayings help remind our staff and guests that kindness is a critical part of our customer service delivery.

The Lessons

1. Try not to assume the worst in others. We tend to want to see “upset” or “complaining” patrons as bad people; however, often they may have more to share if you take the time to ask.

2. Get to know the guests. It’s not always convenient to stop and converse, especially at busy facilities. But it helps build better relationships and can make all the difference in delivering exceptional vs. just good customer service.

3. Be kind. Even when it feels like an angry customer doesn’t deserve it, show kindness. We often change our demeanor based on another’s behavior, instead of mirroring for them the positivity we hope to see. Encourage your staff to also exhibit kindness. It goes a long way!