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:
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?