1. Know your customers. Because I have established a good rapport with Shirley over the years, she was aware that I would listen to her concerns. I made her feel welcomed and let her know I was available to listen to her. Had I not established my friendship with her, I may not have had the same response from Shirley and it may have simply been another complaint.
  2. Recognize your helpers. We look for opportunities to include Shirley whether it be in a sign to let everyone know that they can be a “Shirley” for us, or to invite her to our annual volunteer recognition event. Given the economic climate, we need all the Shirleys we can get.  
We all have patrons who complain. Many times we’ve heard the same issue hundreds of times and are not listening or we are distracted. But that can cause you to miss a wonderful opportunity to improve your services, as I discovered firsthand.
Like many of you, I get to the facility before it opens and work out with the rest of the guests at 6 a.m.
Throughout the years, I have established a great rapport with many of my patrons and converse regularly about many topics, such as the weather or improvements to the program or facility.
One day one of our patrons, whom I will call “Shirley,” commented on the poor state of our plants in the lobby. Shirley is always a bit feisty and opinionated so I was preparing myself to be blasted a bit. I knew that our foliage was looking a bit dreary ever since our landscape division eliminated our professional service, and we began taking care of it on our own. Either we would water too much or too infrequently. Despite all of our best efforts, we simply did not have green thumbs.
As she was speaking, I began to think about how to better maintain our green areas in the facility. But then I tuned back in to Shirley and heard something that gave me an idea: She always took good care of her plants at home. So when it was my turn to speak, I firmly agreed with the condition of the plants. Then I asked her if she would be interested in helping us and lending us her expertise.  This surprised me — and Shirley. But after a brief pause, she agreed to assist us. She would come in on Friday to start.
Friday came along and, much to my surprise, she had a crew of four people, one of which was a professional florist friend of Shirley’s. They completely transformed our lobby by pruning all existing plants, planting new ones, adding new soil and fertilizer, wiping all the leaves and pulling off all the dead ones.
My feisty little friend also reminded me to inform our staff not to water the plants because she would take care of them. Ever since that day, Shirley comes in on a regular basis to take care of our plants at no cost and they have never looked better.