Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Customer Care Challenge

One of the exercises on the Customer Care course that all staff and volunteers are supposed to attend concentrates on signage. Laminated A4 signs with negatively worded phrases (such as "Keep off the Grass" or "No Dogs") are handed out to groups who are then faced with the task of giving the same message, but in a more positive way. (For the previous examples, they would be expected to come up with something like "Please stay on the paths" or "Dogs on leads welcome in the car park", for example.)

Now, I can see the sense in this, to a point. It isn't very welcoming to be faced with a plethora of "Thou Shalt Not" signs, and if they can be re-worded to make everyone feel warm and loved whilst still getting our visitors to take their litter home with them and keep their sticky fingers off the ceramics, then great.

The problem is when we come to the great "closed" issue. The customer care team do not like us to use "closed" signs. Too negative. Instead of "closed" our signs are to state when we are open, instead. But given that every property in the organisation has different open days and times, and these vary as to what time of year it is, the confusion this generates is considerable. When visitors arrive at the gates here, there is a big wooden sign that says:

Open :
March weekends only 12-4
4 April - 30 September Weds - Sun 12 - 5
1 October - 29 October Weds - Sun 12 - 4
Open Bank Holiday Mondays and Good Friday
Last admission 30 mins before closing.

Even I am confused, and I know when we're open.

So, in a daring move, I have taken to putting up a "closed" sign on the gates, next to the admission times one, when we are not open. I had hoped it would help me to avoid situations like these. After all, it is far more negative to be asked to leave, I think, than not to have entered the property in the first place.

Now, as last week was so sunny and unseasonably warm, I had even more people than usual wandering down on our closed days and refusing to accept that they shouldn't be there. Myself or McColleague will spot a couple (they always seem to be in pairs) on the bench, or strolling down the drive, and take it in turns to go through the "Excuse me, can I help you? I'm afraid we're closed" spiel. Unfailingly they respond to this information with "Oh yes, we know you're closed, we just wanted to see the house."

(Do other attractions suffer from this? Does the West Midlands Safari Park have to put up with people scaling the fences and saying "Yes, I know you're closed, I just wanted to see the lions close up"? Are people found bobbing about in the Sea Life Centre, cadging a quick free peek at the penguins?)

After pointing out that the gardener is mowing the orchards, the farmer is moving livestock, building works are going on in the courtyard, and no public are allowed on site for health and safety reasons, nine times out of ten they still sit there, blankly. Or agree, totally, make as if to leave, and then ten minutes later I'll find them somewhere else in the gardens. I then have to start the exchange all over again. If only I had some hounds to release. I could release Zed, I suppose, but he is likely to immediately go and shit in the flower bed, which lacks the desired effect. "There," I would have to say, pointing dramatically. "Think on. It will be your picnic rug next, so move."

So, the customer care challenge I have is as follows:

1.How do I word my "closed" sign so that it is quite clear that we are not open, at all, in any way, shape or form and, yes, that does mean you, and no, you can't just have a quick look at the house. Because it is closed. That means you cannot come in. So stay out. That sort of thing.

2. Once I've done the smiling, "I'm sorry we closed, I'm afraid you can't stay here" bit, how do I tell those reluctant departees to get out, without it coming across as a tad on the negative side?


Reg Pither said...

Dear Doris,

Hmmm. Tricky. Ok, I'll just throw this in the pot and see if it boils over. How about, for problem 1, a large, fluorescent sign with the word "Anthrax" in letters of dripping blood? You went down with it yourself not so long back, as I recall, so I'm sure there are a few spores left around the education room (Can't get you for lying then, see. Also, a single, biological word cannot be construed as negative.)
As for 2, that is a little more of a headache. I suggest you sidle over to the intruders, dragging one leg behind you, dribbling, smiling inanely and carrying an axe (a requisition form will no doubt have to be completed first). Simply say to them: "Helloooo. Can I play with you? My friends don't move no more so I'm aaaalllll alone. I want to come home with you, can I, can I, can I, huh?" You are not being negative. You are offering them something. With practice you could get the whole performance down to about 10 seconds in line with your performance indicators).
I hope this is of help,
Yours in...in.....insane?


Doris said...

Hello Reg!

Your ideas do have a certain charm and appeal to my penchant for horror flicks. I'll let you know if they work...

stitchwort said...

Saw a sign in a photo on doddery old fart's *Rest Area 300m* blog the other day - "Shut Happens".

Then for problem 2, you could try the open arms, welcoming smile, and "Have you found Jesus yet? - you're just in time for our praise'n'prayer meeting".

Doris said...

Excellent work, Stitchwort, I like it!

I will be reporting back with which techniques worked best for me.

tea and cake said...

I love these answers above!!!

Mine: 1. fuck off
2. fuck the fuck off

Not sure you'd get away with these, though!

When we moved to west Scotland a few years ago in February, we stopped at a post office/cafe. As we couldn't smell coffee or cake, we asked when they would be open. The woman looked at me as if I was a cretin and said 'May.'

Doris said...

Well, there's a lot to be said for the forthright and frank approach, Tea and Cake. And yours is the most likely to be playing in my head as a matter of course during these encounters.

Robert Swipe said...

How about:

"As part of our ongoing committment to our patrons not leaving the grounds with shit all over their picnic blankets, kindly refrain from being on what is, after all, private property during our get the fuckoutages.
Your compliance is very much appreciated. Now sod off or never mind the dog, *I'll* be taking a dump on your arctic rolls..."

Sort of thing?

L.U.V. on ya,


zak said...

Combine a bright smile with a Hard Stare and say: "Sorry, we're closed." WHatever they say next, unless it's "sorry and goodbye" with immediate departure effect, stand there maintaining smile and stare and repeat at 10-second intervals. "Sorry. We're closed.I'm afraid I have to ask you to leave." After the 4th repetition, ask in bright Joyce Grenfell style if they are having trouble understanding you.If they still haven't moved to depart, headbutt them.

Doris said...

Bob - I believe dumping on Arctic Rolls is quite the thing on certain websites, but would, indeed, prove quite effective in deterring our clientele. Well, most of them. Obviously not those who visit arcticrollpoopyfetishlove.com

Zak - at last! A sensible use for my safety helmet!

Pearlie said...

Good words.