The summer of 2003 I worked at what is commonly known as an “amusement park,” where I was in charge of operating the park’s newest roller coaster. Unfortunately, this new coaster was powered by new technology, and it quickly developed a bad habit of breaking down - sometimes as much as ten times a day.
Now, because the ride was brand new, it was popular. And, because it broke down frequently, the wait to ride it was even longer than normal. This created a situation where we had people waiting two, three, even five hours to ride our thirty second roller coaster. What’s worse is that sometimes these poor souls, some who’d been waiting for the aforementioned three or four hours, would have to be told that they couldn’t even ride it at all, generally because the ride had finally broken down for the last possible time that day.
This combination of hoards of people and incessant mechanical failure, of course, created a somewhat hostile situation. The solution to which, according to the higher-ups, was to send out the lowly ride operators to soothe the crowds. It may come as no surprise, then, that the summer of 2003 was when I learned the most about customer relations and customer satisfaction. Here are some of the most universal lessons I took away from that eventful summer.
1. Customers may always be right, but they don’t always know best
There’s an old saying, “The customer is always right.” This saying is a reference to the fact that as a business we exist to serve the customers, not the other way around. And that’s true. What it doesn’t mean, however, is that the customer knows what’s best for them. In fact, they can sometimes be dead wrong. Unlike you, the customer tends to have no idea how to do your job.
At the park, I had plenty of parents beg me to let their children ride the coaster despite being several inches below the minimum height. This was, of course, incredibly stupid. From my training, I knew that these height requirements were there for safety reasons. A too-short person is in danger of being harmed by the safety restraints, or worse, of falling off the ride. If I had allowed the customer to have their way every time, long lines would be the least of their trouble.
Now this doesn’t mean you don’t listen to the customers and try to abide by their needs or concerns. No, in fact, it means the opposite. Since you know how your job works and the customer doesn’t, it’s important that you use your knowledge to help the customer whenever you can. That’s the purpose of your job. When they ask you to do something stupid, instead of being snarky or, worse, doing that stupid thing, keep in mind that the customer just doesn’t have access to all of the relevant information, and, if possible, explain things as best as you can.
2. Honesty is usually the best policy
It’s not possible to always satisfy your customer. Sometimes things go wrong. And when things go wrong, it’s important to be honest. I had no idea when the ride I worked on was going to come back up after it broke down, but, invariably, nearly every customer wanted to know when it’d be back in operation. After a while, despite having no idea, I’d get tired of explaining why I didn’t know and just give them an estimate based off of past experiences. Of course, no matter how “educated” my guess, I really still had no clue how long it would take. After all, I was a ride operator, not a maintenance worker. So: I was lying. And this was a very bad idea. When my estimate was wrong, the customer was ten times more angry than they would have been if I’d been honest from the get go.
“I don’t know” will always be a better answer than a lie.
3. The end goal is always customer satisfaction
The official policy at the park was that the customer riding the ride should lift his or her own lap bar when they need to get off the ride. My ride, unfortunately, had newer lap bars that were heavier than normal. This created a situation where most customers felt like their lap bars were locked down when they weren’t, and thus they wouldn’t lift them.
The normal solution would be to tell the customers that the bars were in fact unlocked, but since riding this ride was a new experience for nearly every customer, I would have to explain this to nearly every customer. That would have taken up too much time and slowed down the ride for the other customers who had already been standing in line for several hours. So, in the end, despite it not being official policy, it became best practice to lift the bars for them.
This made all the customers happier, even though it made my job just a little more difficult than it should have been. And, at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is always customer satisfaction.