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Friday, April 27, 2007

Customer Service: The Inexpensive Upgrade

When preparing notes for my last employee meeting, I wanted less of reviewing policy, and more of a theme that my staff could reflect upon. Then it struck me: I was so accustomed to working in a movie theater, that I almost forgot what it was like to go to one.

In an attempt to regain customer consciousness, I visited a competing theater. There was a long line at the box office and after finally making it to the front, there was no smile or warm greeting to convey an unsaid thank you for my patience. The attendant at the concession stand had no line, but possessed an attitude of annoyance, like I was pestering him by placing an order. My pretzel bites were hard and the focus on the film was soft.

All of my complaints were results of poor customer service. Not just the manor of how you interact with patrons, customer service encompasses every aspect of your daily operations. From the accuracy and articulation of your recording, to the temperature of your auditoriums, customer service is the unseen entity that gives your theater its image. The bad experience I had at the competing theater was good for my meeting.

"Sure, you get to eat popcorn every time you work," I said to my staff. "You make it, sling it and sweep it." I wanted my staff to remember what made the movie going experience so fun, and to keep in mind that the popcorn to our customers is a treat, something to look forward to. The meeting then became a pep talk, "Let's neatly fill the bags with as much popcorn as you can, and always scoop from the top, so no one gets any crumbs. Let's give people the best popcorn in town!"

As corny as that sounds, motivating your staff is critical to customer service. You can have ear bleeding digital surround sound and seats modeled after those on Air Force One, but if you have cold cheese for your nachos and the ladies' room has no toilet paper, you're lacking good customer service. Especially with all the other entertainment options available to consumers. Superb customer service gains repeat business.

To ensure your customer service machine operates smoothly, keep yourself in the center of it.

A staff is only as motivated, friendly and competent as the manager who leads it. You are the model that your employees follow. You set the standard of service for your theater. I always tell my assistants that they should be able to do everything ten times better and faster than a floor staff member. A higher state of service exists when managers act as both coach and teammate, taking part in the work that the whole team needs to accomplish.

Working as a team is but one way to keep your staff happy. Remind your staff that you value their work by giving verbal pats on the back. "You did a great job of moving that line quickly." Make "thank you" a part of your daily repertoire and acknowledge your employees' efforts. While these ideas are not revelatory, you will notice results if your continually implement them. Happy employees are friendlier and care more about the needs of your patrons, which creates an ideal customer service environment. Happy customers means less complaints and that equals less stress for your staff.

Theater managers have the dual burden of operating both an entertainment venue and a food service enterprise, the former showcasing a product that is out of your hands. While you have no control over a film's quality, you have total control over the quality of customer service. "The movie was awful," a customer recently said to me, "but the popcorn was terrific!"

Tracy Janis
District Manager, Dipson Theatres