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Customer Service Paradigm for the Ski Industry

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
the teaching experience may be better as you have a comitted group of full time skiers to work with over a long period of time and not a bunch of SPOREs to baby-sit
I'm quoting this without the original name because I want to spark some debate about the importance of customer service in the skiing industry. It would be nice to see discussion from both ski industry workers and the skiing public. Play nice, now.

My take: just the tendency to use derogatory language about the lesson-taking public is irresponsible. Treat your clients/customers well, and they will have a positive experience that will influence their entire vacation.

so you know: SPORE = Stupid People On Rental Equipment

Note to Mods: I intentionally am posting this in general discussion to solicit the comments of non-instructors.
post #2 of 29
I can see your point. But the person who wrote that was probably voicing how they and their colleagues felt. I think people should be allowed to say how they feel, and not be told to not say it because it's not what people want to hear.

Many instructors do end up teaching large numbers of people who never plan to take another lesson. They aren't there to improve and to widen their experience of skiing. They just want to be able to turn the skis and stop. This is a pretty depressing situation for an instructor who puts a lot into their development and into their lessons and so I guess they get jaded and make statements like the one above.

I totally agree, that customer service is paramount and the customers who are paying such a lot of money are entitled to expect it. But who should be giving it? The minimum wage employee? Why?!

I think that people can become very cynical and jaded when their employer demands excellence, but doesn't motivate it, or reward it.
post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 
btw, ant, I don't have your many years of experience, but I am an experienced instructor.
post #4 of 29
First mistake... They are NOT Customers, they are Guests and it is not Customer Service, it is Guest service.

I work at a weird kind of a ski area. Or emphasis is on good Guest Service. We have great terrain, nice lifts, good quality snow, our facilities are still lacking but rome wasn't built in a day and this will be our 4th season. We have gotten all kinds of good word of mouth and great reviews. The secret isn't the great terrain, snow or lifts, our owner and the managers really go out of their way to appreciate each and every employee and we make it clear that the number 1 goal is to be nice and helpful to the Guests.

Its really pretty simple when you get down to it and if you buy into the whole theory. Its pretty nice to smile at a stranger, ask how their day is going, make some small talk and recieve a smile in return.

BTW we do not have any "minimum wage employees" but our seasonal employees in entry level positions are expected to perform the same way.
post #5 of 29
FWIW, I'd prefer to be thought of as a customer than as a guest, if there's a distinction made. I like good rapport but I'm paying for a service and the warm fuzzy is not a higher priority to me than getting value for my money. De-emphasising the notion of the student as a customer paying for a service could be risky. It may satisfy some students but If I spend money for a lesson and feel like I'm getting a guide, a buddy, somone that thinks boostng my ego will improve his tip (things I've experienced) I'm going to be dissatisfied. I have guests in my home. I know what responsibilities to guests are and they are not the same as the responsibilities one has to a customer.
post #6 of 29
I for one am guilty of this attitude, although my phrase of choice is "punter". It is very hard not to let that negative outlook on the guests affect you. People on vacation, as many of our guests tend to be, are fish out of water and resort town locals mock them for it.

Calling guests SPOREs just becasue they don't live the lifestyle that more active skiers are able to, is not fair and it's not cool. Because those people on vacation are the hands that feed. Without those people coming and spending money, guess what? WE WOULD NOT HAVE A JOB AND BE ABLE TO LIVE THE LIFESTYLE WE CHERISH!

It is better to have more time with students and that will definately help them to improve, but just because someone cannot make that investment of time and money does not make them stupid.

Customers or guests or whatever are just looking to have a good time at a sport that we love. If we somehow find a way to ruin that, then we have bigger problems than the public.


-nerd
post #7 of 29
J, you miss my point, I am not an Instructor.

I am part of the mountain operations staff. We are the people that put on the whole thing, the event, the production of getting a mountain open and running for the day. And we make it happen for about 150 days a season.

At my area, you are my guest.
post #8 of 29
Customer service is the quality all business lives or dies by. If you take care of your customers you will be successful, if you don't there is someone else who will.

However, and instructor venting about their day-to-day frustrations doesn't automatically mean they have bad customer service skills. It just means they are dealing with some burn out.
post #9 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by bunion View Post
J, you miss my point, I am not an Instructor.

I am part of the mountain operations staff. We are the people that put on the whole thing, the event, the production of getting a mountain open and running for the day. And we make it happen for about 150 days a season.

At my area, you are my guest.
If "guest" helps you focus on hospitality that's great and I have no quarrel with that. I think on a certain level that's probably about not seeing me as just a wallet to be opened, whereas "customer" may lead to focuing on keeping me spending to the exclusion of other concerns. But please don't forget that I am opening my wallet and what I get for my money matters *as well* as how nice you are to me.
post #10 of 29
"the teaching experience may be better as you have a comitted group of full time skiers to work with over a long period of time and not a bunch of SPOREs to baby-sit"

While the use of SPORE is not especially professional, the sentiment is undeniable. I'm a teacher, not of skiing, but I can attest that it is much more rewarding to work with a student who is focused on learning and wants to get everything they can from you rather than to teach the unmotivated. That's what I read from the quoted statement. It doesn't say anything about what level of service will actually be given to the less involved student, just that it isn't as rewarding. It's natural to feel frustration and is not bad to vent it as long as you remain professional while working with your client/student/customer/guest.
post #11 of 29
(oops - a viewpoint from another instructor - this place is overrun with them you know)

It's all about attitudes and viewpoints. The original comment was taken from the context of a prospective employee looking to choose a working environment. If one was to take the attitude "I don't want to have to work with stupid people" when they were actually working, it would result in an unprofessional experience from the customer/guest viewpoint. It's ok for a prospective employee to make choices based on attitudes and viewpoints, but they'll do a better job with better attitudes based on multiple viewpoints.

When I walk around our base area, I make it a point to look people in the eye and smile. If I spot a guest walking around with "the look" I'll stop and ask if they need help. If I've only got time for one free run, but I'm needed to ride the chair back down with a guest instead - no problem. I pick up trash when I'm walking around, not because it's my job, but because it's disgusting. I can simultaneously have the attitude that it's totally not fair to do "work" (especially other people's work) and not get paid for it and the attitude that every moment spent at the mountain belongs to the mountain and our guests first regardless of whether I'm on the clock or not. As long as the guests only see the latter attitude everything is fine.

Many years ago, I visited Keystone shortly after Purina bought it. It was a little weird at first. EVERYBODY was smiling. Well, at least ALL of the employees were. I think it took me all of 10 minutes to notice that something was different about the place. You know, one or two friendly people is ok, but 10 in a row and you start to suspect a conspiracy or something. At the end of the week, I realized that I had had a most comfortable experience, that the attitude was a good part of the reason why and that it was abundantly clear that the employees had been trained to behave that way.

Most resort employees have at least heard the grumbling about working conditions and the snickering about guest behaviour when they are "behind the scenes". There's nothing wrong with this as long as you can leave those thoughts behind when you return to the front line. However, it's only natural to find it difficult to do this. Some people have difficulty holding multiple attitudes and considering multiple viewpoints simultaneously. This is where the "guest service" training and the attitude that it's not ok to "think bad thoughts" can help result in a better guest/customer experience.

Sometimes I'll make a game out of it with a newbie. On a busy day, go find one person who's come to the resort just to look around. Approach them, start a conversation, welcome them to the resort and offer to answer any questions. The newbies think I'm nuts. But "lookers" stand out like a sore thumb. On a busy day early in the season, it's even more likely that you can find one. They're always hugely impressed that you stopped to talk to them and mostly apologetic for "wasting" your time. And they almost always will ask a question after they've said they don't need any help if you just hang around long enough and listen. Most of the them don't even ski. But they will spread the word about how nice the place is and the paying customers around you notice what you're doing and have a better impression of the resort because of it.

I once was called in to do a makeup private lesson for an unhappy guest. When I got to the desk, Mom was clearly perturbed but feeling better that she was going to get a freebie for her 3 kids. I took one look at the kids and my ADD alarm started screaming. I was told that the problem was that they did not have a fun time in their first lesson and did not learn anything. I asked Mom "Do you want them tired or not when we're done?". With a "yes", I went out and skied their asses off and we all had a great time. When we got back, Mom was a little worried because the kids were all quiet. She asked if they had a good time and their faces just lit up. She went over what they learned and was impressed. She asked if they wanted to go back out or if they were ready to go home. Oh, they wanted to go out, but they were gassed enough to admit it. Mom's incredulous look back at me that said "THAT is what I paid money for, but I did not think you could do it" was just priceless. Mind you that ADD kids are not my favorite cup of tea and I think 3 person privates are a waste of money. But those thoughts were not even in the back of my mind at any time during the lesson.

A ski resort should be run with guest service AND customer service. It's amazing how many resort workers don't know about the power of eye contact and a smile. It's also amazing how many resorts teach guest service as a what to do instead of as an attitude and don't follow up demands with rewards. Customer service is actually pretty easy: do the job right the first time and bend the rules a little to fix it when you don't. I have huge respect for the management that pulls of both well. It's very difficult to do.

SPORES and baby sitting are inevitable parts of the ski instructor experience. But a good pro will focus on the more positive perspectives of the same experiences. When they do, the job becomes more enjoyable and the guests and customers feel better too.
post #12 of 29
As a sometimes customer, I'd say you need to separate the customer service element from seeking an actual "teaching experience" designed to fundamentally lift someone's level of skiing/riding (or golf, or mtb, for that matter). Most people quickly get to a level where they don't really want to get any better at most outdoor lifestyle sports, but do want a quality outdoor experience which, depending on the area, can take many forms.

Smile, physically show energy and enthusiasm, keep them skiing, and show them one or two new things technically and, perhaps, a couple treats terrain-wise for higher level students they wouldn't have likely found at larger areas, and most people will say that's a great lesson and good value for their money. Tell them they need a season-long plan to work on making changes to their skiing or riding that will stick in an enduring way, and that they need to define what goals they want to work towards...to me that's true teaching in that it can lead to a lasting, demonstrable change in performance, but likely not what people want to buy.

For beginner lessons, remembering that many people never WANT to be more than a SPORE -- but do have a right to a really cool outdoor experience for the duration of their lesson -- may actually be a good thing.
post #13 of 29
There's also something to be said for an instructor being able to inspire an unmotivated person, to show them there's more to learn, and how they can have more fun if they advance. I'm sure many of us were the equivalent of unmotivated SPOREs in high school or college, in math, in English, in biology, whatever, and then we had that really inspiring teacher who fired our imagination and motivation. I think it also applies to teaching skiing.

My first season I had a few lessons which were frankly uninspiring -- the instructor seemed to just go through the motions and show us things without real passion. Then I took lessons with some motivated, passionate instructors/skiers (most met through here at Epic) and it suddenly clicked -- that I could learn more, be better, and have more fun. Since then I've looked to improve and have become motivated to learn.

In my case, I'd have to say that it's the passionate instructors who provided the spark. A motivated instructor can do a lot to convert a SPORE into a long-term motivated student.
post #14 of 29
In the years I've set up ski programs for our little school, I have set up lessons for the beginners several times.
Most often I am impressed and blessed by the instructor with my students.
A few occasions, I would like to whack the instructor in the head with my pole and say......"Hey! These are kids! Don't be so scary and intimidating!"

Once I actually went to the office and asked them to cease the lessons and I finished up giving pointers to my students on my own(I'm not qualified). Three kids were in tears, and one of the moms who chapparoned and was a beginner was ready to take her skis off and never ski again.
I made up songs that had a rhythm to them and had words about ski movement.

I do think there is a special talent to teaching young kids. The Spark has to be there or the kids will not grasp it.:

This bears the question:
If you're an instructor and you have a group in tears, do you ask yourself, What am I doing wrong?
This guy didn't he just ranted about how stupid we all were and what a waste of his time it was to even try with us.

All of the kids in my group that day(including the mom) love skiing, NOW!
post #15 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by faisasy View Post
There's also something to be said for an instructor being able to inspire an unmotivated person, to show them there's more to learn, and how they can have more fun if they advance. I'm sure many of us were the equivalent of unmotivated SPOREs in high school or college, in math, in English, in biology, whatever, and then we had that really inspiring teacher who fired our imagination and motivation. I think it also applies to teaching skiing.

My first season I had a few lessons which were frankly uninspiring -- the instructor seemed to just go through the motions and show us things without real passion. Then I took lessons with some motivated, passionate instructors/skiers (most met through here at Epic) and it suddenly clicked -- that I could learn more, be better, and have more fun. Since then I've looked to improve and have become motivated to learn.

In my case, I'd have to say that it's the passionate instructors who provided the spark. A motivated instructor can do a lot to convert a SPORE into a long-term motivated student.
I think you've hit it. The underlying question for me is, "What does it take to become such an instructor," or, said another way, "How is such an instructor made?" I think that the most significant aspect is the underlying motivation of the instructor: why do they want to be an instructor. Frankly, for me, it's become a sharing of my personal passion for skiing and the overall alpine experience. There's always more to learn. The views are amazing. The air crisp and clean. The secret stashes compelling. When I'm guiding a group around the mountain, it's not unusual for an extra guide or two to come along to have fun with us. I view my role as making sure that every skier I'm with enjoys him- or herself--at least to the best of my ability.

I'm not where I want to be as one of those passionate instructors, but that's my focus. And, frankly, one of the more fun challenges is guiding what some would call a "SPORE" in becoming a hooked-on-skiing EpicSki Bear...
post #16 of 29
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
(oops - a viewpoint from another instructor - this place is overrun with them you know)
Well, I originally thought about posting this on the PSIA forum, but since you're about the only that posts there with any regularity.....

Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
It's all about attitudes and viewpoints. The original comment was taken from the context of a prospective employee looking to choose a working environment. If one was to take the attitude "I don't want to have to work with stupid people" when they were actually working, it would result in an unprofessional experience from the customer/guest viewpoint. It's ok for a prospective employee to make choices based on attitudes and viewpoints, but they'll do a better job with better attitudes based on multiple viewpoints.
I believe going into teaching as a possible employment, that it helps to approach it as would any other professional in any other profession. Have a good attitude going in; then it won't be necessary to change it later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
When I walk around our base area, I make it a point to look people in the eye and smile.


Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
If I spot a guest walking around with "the look" I'll stop and ask if they need help. If I've only got time for one free run, but I'm needed to ride the chair back down with a guest instead - no problem. I pick up trash when I'm walking around, not because it's my job, but because it's disgusting. I can simultaneously have the attitude that it's totally not fair to do "work" (especially other people's work) and not get paid for it and the attitude that every moment spent at the mountain belongs to the mountain and our guests first regardless of whether I'm on the clock or not. As long as the guests only see the latter attitude everything is fine.

Many years ago, I visited Keystone shortly after Purina bought it. It was a little weird at first. EVERYBODY was smiling. Well, at least ALL of the employees were. I think it took me all of 10 minutes to notice that something was different about the place. You know, one or two friendly people is ok, but 10 in a row and you start to suspect a conspiracy or something. At the end of the week, I realized that I had had a most comfortable experience, that the attitude was a good part of the reason why and that it was abundantly clear that the employees had been trained to behave that way.

Most resort employees have at least heard the grumbling about working conditions and the snickering about guest behaviour when they are "behind the scenes". There's nothing wrong with this as long as you can leave those thoughts behind when you return to the front line. However, it's only natural to find it difficult to do this. Some people have difficulty holding multiple attitudes and considering multiple viewpoints simultaneously. This is where the "guest service" training and the attitude that it's not ok to "think bad thoughts" can help result in a better guest/customer experience.

Sometimes I'll make a game out of it with a newbie. On a busy day, go find one person who's come to the resort just to look around. Approach them, start a conversation, welcome them to the resort and offer to answer any questions. The newbies think I'm nuts. But "lookers" stand out like a sore thumb. On a busy day early in the season, it's even more likely that you can find one. They're always hugely impressed that you stopped to talk to them and mostly apologetic for "wasting" your time. And they almost always will ask a question after they've said they don't need any help if you just hang around long enough and listen. Most of the them don't even ski. But they will spread the word about how nice the place is and the paying customers around you notice what you're doing and have a better impression of the resort because of it.
That's the way we try to approach things where I work. Guess it's the big corporate approach (some have called it disneyfication, but, how many people have a bad time when spending thousands of dollars on a disney vacation).

Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
.....
Quote:
Originally Posted by therusty View Post
A ski resort should be run with guest service AND customer service. It's amazing how many resort workers don't know about the power of eye contact and a smile. It's also amazing how many resorts teach guest service as a what to do instead of as an attitude and don't follow up demands with rewards. Customer service is actually pretty easy: do the job right the first time and bend the rules a little to fix it when you don't. I have huge respect for the management that pulls of both well. It's very difficult to do.

SPORES and baby sitting are inevitable parts of the ski instructor experience. But a good pro will focus on the more positive perspectives of the same experiences. When they do, the job becomes more enjoyable and the guests and customers feel better too.

post #17 of 29

Customer Service - Ski Industry

Rusty - good thoughts.

I am astounded at times with ski management. The last ski area I taught for had no PR training, no senior or leader to teach how to treat people, what the public wanted, expected, deserved etc. Never a WHY attitude is so important, how to really help people or even how to greet people. I used to go out in the lift ticket line and help people who were looking intensely at trail maps, looked lost etc. This avg. 20 min each AM was very well received by the vast majority of people I contacted. Anyway I could go on forever but just wanted to add that Mgt. oftentimes doesn't have a clue how tdo manage or supervise.

The best managed Ski Resort I have ever dealt with was Northstar at Tahoe, definitely had their #&*# together.
post #18 of 29

You're the ski industry

This has worked for me since I stumbled into the biz 12 years ago at 38. I'm not rich but I get paid to do things I enjoy doing to a ridiculous degree, and my business is continually growing inspite of natural and man made events.

You cannot change people but you can become the brand. Do it right, honestly and the way it ought to be done, and stick to your guns. Not only will people find you but they'll be, for the most part, people who willingly pay your price because they'll know what they're getting is truly what is best for them at that moment. Will there always be SPORES uhh, yeah. But if that throws you off your horse then maybe you weren't meant to ride.
post #19 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by trekchick View Post
This bears the question:
If you're an instructor and you have a group in tears, do you ask yourself, What am I doing wrong?
This guy didn't he just ranted about how stupid we all were and what a waste of his time it was to even try with us.
Uh, no. They don't ask the question because if they were smart enough to ask the question, they'd be smart enough to not get to there in the first place.

There are NO bad ski lesson students. If you think you have a bad student, that's your "red light" signal that you've made a mistake. Ok, maybe if one of my students pulled a gun on me and robbed me, then that would be a bad student. But I don't think that this has happened in the history of the sport.
post #20 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by icanseeformiles(andmiles) View Post
Well, I originally thought about posting this on the PSIA forum, but since you're about the only that posts there with any regularity.....
Guilty as charged.
Quote:
I believe going into teaching as a possible employment, that it helps to approach it as would any other professional in any other profession. Have a good attitude going in; then it won't be necessary to change it later.
Well, you should always walk into a new job with your eyes open to reality. Some resorts will treat newbies like chump change. There's a difference between handling your share of the load, taking the good with the bad and watching the favorite sons get to skim the cream off the top while you slave away. You should always have a good "external" attitude going in, but be a little cautious on the inside until you've figured out the lay of the land. That's where some of these kinds of comments come from - people trying to caution other people.

Quote:
That's the way we try to approach things where I work. Guess it's the big corporate approach (some have called it disneyfication, but, how many people have a bad time when spending thousands of dollars on a disney vacation).
I always thought the "big corporate approach" was the impersonal way to do things. Disney certainly has productionalized service and created a model for others to follow. But not all corporations have figured this out yet. Some squeeze every dollar they can at the expense of service and their long term health.
post #21 of 29
Not every person can earn the label SPORE. That designation is reserved for only a few qualified individuals.
post #22 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by bunion View Post
First mistake... They are NOT Customers, they are Guests and it is not Customer Service, it is Guest service.

I work at a weird kind of a ski area. Or emphasis is on good Guest Service. We have great terrain, nice lifts, good quality snow, our facilities are still lacking but rome wasn't built in a day and this will be our 4th season. We have gotten all kinds of good word of mouth and great reviews. The secret isn't the great terrain, snow or lifts, our owner and the managers really go out of their way to appreciate each and every employee and we make it clear that the number 1 goal is to be nice and helpful to the Guests.

Its really pretty simple when you get down to it and if you buy into the whole theory. Its pretty nice to smile at a stranger, ask how their day is going, make some small talk and recieve a smile in return.

BTW we do not have any "minimum wage employees" but our seasonal employees in entry level positions are expected to perform the same way.
Name that ski area, pls!
post #23 of 29
Interesting discussion.

As far as the customer vs guest label :

When you have guests over your house do you charge them $10 for a stale hotdog on a wilted bun and make them pay $240 for a room to sleep in?

I don't know how the resorts started using the word guest...I think it sounds more friendly of course but we are customers after all.
post #24 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by PaulR View Post
As far as the customer vs guest label :

When you have guests over your house do you charge them $10 for a stale hotdog on a wilted bun and make them pay $240 for a room to sleep in?

I don't know how the resorts started using the word guest...I think it sounds more friendly of course but we are customers after all.
I think "guest" was actually to contrast to "students" many places. The student/teacher relationship has a bunch of baggage, and so I think it makes sense to use different terminology when we're teaching skiing. "Guest" is a little weird, but what word is better? I like "client" (most privates are referred to this way). Others?
post #25 of 29
My thoughts: Guest when they arrive at the resort- Customers when they purchase the lesson and when they come back to ski with me again and again they become a client (also a friend)!!
post #26 of 29
I have no problem with being a student.
post #27 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by jstraw View Post
I have no problem with being a student.
It is not the students' thinking that is the issue. When "teachers" don't understand the best role of the teacher as guide/servant, they get the "attitude" of authority and it all goes downhill. To be clear, the vast majority of solid teachers get this. But, we all know a few who don't...
post #28 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by ssh View Post
It is not the students' thinking that is the issue. When "teachers" don't understand the best role of the teacher as guide/servant, they get the "attitude" of authority and it all goes downhill. To be clear, the vast majority of solid teachers get this. But, we all know a few who don't...
Ah, ok...gotcha. BTW, What's the "I" in PSIA stand for, anyway? Seems like a good word for the role has been in currency for like...ever!
post #29 of 29
Quote:
Originally Posted by ssh View Post
It is not the students' thinking that is the issue. When "teachers" don't understand the best role of the teacher as guide/servant, they get the "attitude" of authority and it all goes downhill. To be clear, the vast majority of solid teachers get this. But, we all know a few who don't...
Sorry, Steve. I am happy to serve. I am not interested in being treated like a servant.

I am more than happy to carry 3 pairs of skis across the base area. I will, if the client/guest/customer can remember where they put them, be glad to go gather up skis and poles and anything else that needs to come along and haul them to where they need to go. I will spend a great deal of time on my knees in front of people adjusting boots, removing extra pairs of socks, pulling the blue jeans that were so carefully tucked in out of the boots, moving buckle ladders (I always carry the appropriate hex key), etc.

But the instant someone gives me the "Pick up my skis, boy!" treatment, I tend to develop some resistance.

I will grant that they have, in some cases, paid the resort an astronomical amount of money for the privilege of skiing with me. Still, there isn't enough money to give them the right to treat me like that.

Having said that, I will also say that such people are extremely rare. Further, people who think so highly of themselves rarely take lessons. Such treatment isn't much of a problem in the ski instruction business, although maybe it happens more often at places like Vail.

But I am a guide, a teacher, a mentor in some limited sense, a coach. I am not a servant. You are my customer, my student, my guest - and even my teacher. I will do what I can to serve you - and yet I am not a servant.

Getting back to the original issue: Ski instructors are in a unique position with regard to the impact their behavior can have on the precious vacation time of individuals and families. The lesson on the first day can make or break an expensive vacation, especially a lesson for beginners. Give them the skills they want and need to start having some fun in the short term structured as a foundation they can build on if they wish, and they will be more than glad they spent the money. They'll be very happy, they won't treat you like a servant, and they'll be back.
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