WE are seriously in love with the word ‘transaction.’ For starters, it’s printed on the top of every receipt and every point of sale screen. And, when we reflect on our day, it’s usually in terms of the number of transactions that have been completed. The transactional mindset is at the core of every customer service role, yet it does very little to help team members deliver exceptional service to the guests that visit our attractions.

Imagine what it would be like if you employed a team of people with a heart for customer service; a team who looked at their roles as opportunities for interacting with customers, treating each new customer in the queue as a person who they can form a human interaction with. Not looking at it as just a static role where repetitive phrases are used for every customer in line, like “next please, next please, next please,” and so on. This is possible, which is why we’ll spend some time in this article exploring some of the things that you can do to open up the interactions between team members and guests.

Elitch Gardens and Theme Park on July 27, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood)

Create an atmosphere like home

“Make yourself at home.” It’s what we tell our guests when they visit. Not because they are intruding, instead, because they are being hosted. As a party host, you do your utmost to make sure your guests feel comfortable, have what they need and enjoy themselves. It would be great if this very principle could be applied when delivering guest service. The attractions industry is somewhat different to many others. The people visiting are not customers, passengers or patients, they are guests. And the first step to developing a meaningful interaction is to treat them like guests.

To avoid confusing this any further, the best place to start would be to apply some of the key actions that you would take with a guest in your home. Each of these can be brought into any service touchpoint that will instantly elevate the transaction to an interaction:

  • Greet them
  • Make them welcome
  • Offer them something
  • Check-in on them
  • Keep the place tidy

Image courtesy Leolandia, Italy

Get the signature service standards right

This is really customer service 1-0-1. I’ll try to steer clear of the basics of smiling and eye contact at the risk of coming across dated and instead look at what is usually overlooked when it comes to the basics.

There are a few key points here. Firstly, many attractions have customer service guidelines, rather than standards. The service guidelines are often implied to be standards but are not enforced, or are left open to interpretation. If an attraction is to pride itself on their interactions, then these interactions need to be standards. Secondly, as each attraction is unique, these standards really need to be ‘signature’ to the attraction. Often called the ‘Disney magic,’ how are your team members’ interactions going to be different to those of other leisure businesses?

Finally, it’s not about covering the basics, it’s about making sure that team members truly look beyond the importance of customer service basics (like smiling and eye contact) and understand the impact of these basics. For example, communication falls into three categories (which I will expand into a fourth):

  • Verbal communication (language and words)
  • Vocal communication (pitch, pacing, pauses, volume, tone)
  • Visual communication (gestures, posture and facial expressions)
  • Visual communication (grooming (image) and presentation (uniform))

Understanding how these four methods work and how to use them appropriately to make the interaction more meaningful, is time well spent, rather than just knowing how we communicate verbally, vocally and visually.

Don’t just ‘manage conflict’

Your team members will be faced with difficult situations in their role at some point. Firstly, we need to move beyond considering every difficult situation as a form of conflict. Secondly, when conflict does arise it can also be managed poorly. It would be great to think that providing exceptional guest service means there would be no need for conflict management, but it is the way team members deal with conflict situations that reflects their ability to deliver exceptional service.

So yes, it’s possible to deliver exceptional service in times of conflict. While traditional steps to manage conflict can be useful, they are often taught robotically, so they are used robotically when required.

Some of the key actions to consider here are:

  • Avoid the natural temptation to react towards a guest’s problem
  • Use attributes rather than taught skills to deal with difficult situations
  • Be able to assess both the severity and consequences of a guest’s situation
  • Connect with the key emotions that guest’s experience in times of difficulty

Commit to service recovery

On the back of what’s already been discussed in relation to conflict management, many attractions don’t actively practice a commitment to service recovery (including not understanding what service recovery is). The best way to define a service recovery commitment is to never lose a guest due to a product or service failure. In other words, do whatever it takes to keep the customer. This doesn’t mean to just give in, or negate due process; it means to do something that at the very least keeps a guest relationship ongoing in a positive manner.

Recovery can be used after conflict, but it can also be used before conflict has a chance to arise. The term ‘recovery’ means to literally regain possession or control of something that is lost. A transaction is something that can easily be lost or forgotten, but when your team are having interactions, the stakes are a lot higher which is why this commitment is necessary.

Some ways to get started on this commitment are to:

  • Formally give your team permission to do whatever it takes to recover a guest
  • Be aware of ways to recover guests both proactively and reactively
  • Don’t get caught up with the perceived cost of recovery
  • If recovery isn’t possible, leave it open for the guest to come back another time


Chris Smoje is a customer service speaker, trainer and facilitator and founder of the DIME™ Customer Service approach. Chris works with organisations and their people to develop a common interest and excitement about delivering exceptional customer service results.