Five More Things I Learned About Customer Service in a Bowling Alley
I wrote in my last post about growing up in a small town in Wyoming. I knew kids that rode horses to school, and there were gun racks (with guns in them) in most of the pickup trucks parked in the parking lot at my high school. In my small town, there are also several liquor stores with drive-thru windows.
One such liquor store had a bowling alley attached to it. I lived near this liquor store/bowling alley from the time I was a child until I left for college. I found myself working in one such bowling alley to pay my college tuition. As it turns out, I ended up discovering things that I didn’t even learn in management classes at the university. Following are five more business lessons I learned working in a bowling alley.
Make it easy for the customer to understand. People don’t like convoluted offers. A customer will try something maybe two or three times before they give up because something is too complicated. We had a weekly special at the bowling alley that offered $.50 games and shoes after a $5.00 cover charge. But our customers only heard the part about fifty cent games, then were disappointed when they found out they had to pay more. A wise employee began telling customers that it was $6.00 for the first game and shoes, then $.50 for every game after. This worked really well, until an even wiser employee began promoting the offer as three games for $7. With that, talk of the five dollar cover charge went away. Everyone just wanted the "Seven Dollar Special."
Best Ways to Grow Business. The best way to grow business is to keep your current customers. The second best way to grow your business is to get your customers to purchase more frequently. The third best way to grow your business is to get your customers to spend more on each visit. You’ll notice that none of these three include coupons, discounts, special offers, and giving away stuff for free. The fourth and fifth best ways to grow business involve finding new customers either inside or outside of your current market area. It is interesting that in many industries (bowling alleys included), these last two and less effective methods are where most of the marketing budget is spent.
It takes time. It can take time to build a solid customer base. Real-life education has taught me that giving away your product (coupons, discounts, etc.) only sets you back. Often the mentality becomes that the only way to catch up again is to run another special offer. I’ve seen this happen in other industries as well, not just in the bowling alley. In order to make this a reality, measurement becomes crucial. We found that we could measure customer satisfaction and tie it directly to our revenue. When satisfaction scores dropped, revenue declined within a couple of weeks. Similarly, our highest revenue weeks can be linked to times that we were receiving our best satisfaction scores. During the time I worked at the bowling alley we offered a promotion that for a long time didn’t generate much revenue. Our management team decided that the best way to make it more effective was through improved customer service. The positive result was easy to see as a we were able to double the revenue year-over-year. But, it took us six months to measure and verify that the increase in sales was linked to better customer service. Good thing we didn’t give in and start couponing in the middle of our campaign.
Train, train, train. Training is not a one-time event, it is a process. And the best customer service providers never stop learning. Also, take the time to train your customer how your product, systems, and processes work. The bowling industry is similar to the movie theater in that there is elasticity in the pricing. There are adult and child rates for games and for shoes weekdays, weekday nights, weekend days, and weekend nights. Additionally, we ran three different specials each night after 9:00. That is almost twenty different pricing combinations to do one thing--bowl. Training the customer made it less confusing for them, and easier for us to take care of them at the time of purchase.
Smile. The Huffington Post offers eleven reasons you should smile everyday. Reasons include that smiling reduces stress, makes you approachable, and it makes you seem trustworthy. All fantastic attributes of a worthy customer service provider.
THE BIG REVEAL
Customer Service is important in every industry. Opportunities to learn and improve are everywhere, if you are willing to look for them, and then change and grow as you find them. During my time at the bowling alley we increased spending in nearly every revenue stream and set a company-wide record for annual income. I have no doubt that this is largely based on our attention to improved customer service performance.