I grew up in a small town in Wyoming, population: 8,000. My grandfather owned a farm that was over 1,000 acres, I knew kids that rode horses to school, and there were gun racks (with loaded 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 a drive-thru window. Yes, a drive-thru to the liquor store—because you wouldn’t want to strain yourself buying a bottle of Jack Daniels or burn any calories hefting your 24 pack of Bud Light.
One such liquor store had a bowling alley attached to it. You read that right; the bowling alley was attached to the liquor store not the other way around. Opening the door to this place sent a plume of cigarette smoke out into the air. Music permeated from within—usually country, but occasionally an 80’s hair metal band would be the selection. The scent of alcohol clouded the establishment, mixed with the aroma of stale nacho chips and hot dog flavored water. You would occasionally hear the sound of a bowling ball crashing into pins at the end of the lane, but mostly drunk laughter filled the air.
I lived near this liquor store/bowling alley from the time I was in third grade, until I left for college. After this description, you can imagine my mother’s horror when I told her I was working in a bowling alley to pay my way through college. Fortunately, the atmosphere of where I worked was completely opposite of that mentioned above. I decided to make the most of the situation and learn something about business while I worked there. As it turns out, I ended up discovering things that I didn’t even learn in management classes at the university. Following are five business lessons I learned working in a bowling alley.
1. The customer is always right your customer. I’ve worked in customer service long enough to know that the customer can be, and oftentimes is, wrong. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still be treated with respect. And, as my customer, I still have the responsibility to help solve any problems they may be experiencing, and work to build relationships with them.
2. Similarly, your customer always needs to leave happy. Someone who has a great experience may tell two or three friends. Someone who has a bad experience (that didn’t get resolved to their liking) will tell anyone who will listen. With technology and social media the way it is, thousands can be made aware of your establishment’s terrible service within a few moments of it happening, especially if you do a bad job of creating service resolution.
3. Free is a derogatory term. Upselling is always better than discounting, or even worse, giving something away for free. I have yet to see a promotion that used the word “FREE” turn into a real money-maker. I’ve written about this before, so I won’t expound here. More information on this topic can be found in my previously published post, "The F-word and Other Derogatory Terms."
4. Systems support success. You must have adequate systems put together to help support you in taking care of your customers. You would be amazed at how many places don’t really have systems put together, but just do things because that is how they have always been done. For example, because of the set up of the front desk in the bowling alley, we often had issues with several groups of people “rushing” the employees. When I asked why we didn't run things differently I was told, "this is how we have always done it. With time we created a system that allowed a better flow of line and almost functioned like a drive-thru, where a customer would get shoes from one employee, “order” with another, and pay with a third. We found that this process reduced our time to put people on lanes by more than twenty percent.
5. The value of a regular. There has been extensive research done around the value of a customer. I speak from experience based on a “study” we did right there at the bowling alley. We had a young man who started coming in weekly on Mondays. He was different from a lot of our regulars. Mostly because he loved to invite people to come and do what he loved to do. Each week, his group included about thirty people. Thirty bowlers every week for fifty-two weeks works out to 1,560 visitors a year. Based on our numbers, his group made up about twenty percent of the Monday night revenue every week. Imagine what could happen to lose a customer like that. When I asked Brian about why he kept coming, he insisted that it was because of the great customer service. He explained that we were always friendly to his group, found out what their needs were, delivered as he had requested, and often times did a little something to exceed expectations.
THE BIG REVEAL
Customer Service plays an important role in any business. When employees have the right mindset, systems, and understanding of the value of a customer, those things can be properly aligned with a company’s goals. The results can be more effective than any marketing promotion. This stands true even in bowling alleys attached to liquor stores.