I tell my management team and our part-time staff that the real purpose of my job is to help them be excellent in their jobs. Everything that we do as a management team is ultimately focused on ensuring that our front-line staff and their supervisors are put in a position to be successful. After all, the event day personnel are the ones that are face to face with our customers, our season ticket holders, our sponsors’ constituents. If they fail to execute, then the entire enterprise is a failure.
That mindset has always kept me interested and focused on staff training and development. I am in a constant search to find ways that we can better prepare our staff to meet the challenges and expectations that we have for them. They come to us with a variety of backgrounds and a spectrum of skills. And from this vast diversity, we seek to get uniform, high quality results. Then there is the other bit where we are limited on the amount of time and money we can spend on preparing them (training them) to do the job and the bit where they only do the job a few times a year (in my case the average staff member works about 17 events annually). Oh, and there is quite a lot of turnover. No matter how good you are, the event day personnel come and go (and go, and go).
So that’s the big puzzle. How do you take a transient labor force with a variety of skill and experience level, train them efficiently and then mobilize them periodically and expect them to deliver world-class service and experiences to your guests who have paid hundreds and thousands of dollars to attend the event? After more than 26 years of working at this, I have made some progress but I do not think I will ever figure it all out. But how I do love the challenge.
It is now June, and we at AT&T Stadium are preparing for the next season of events. We operate all year long, but the NFL season is the natural start of our event year. So the months of July and August are when we do a lot of event day staff training and ready for the coming 12 months of football, concerts, motor sports, corporate events, and everything else.
June is a chance for us to evaluate our training programs and make adjustments. This is our shot to again try and find that magic formula that will help us create that world-class service workforce. As I took inventory of our training programs, I came to realize that we had a big piece missing. And my guess is that most venue managers probably have the same piece missing from their trainings as well.
While we are diligent about teaching our staff the ins-and-outs of ushering, security, ticket taking, guest services, and the like, we have failed to teach them how to interact with our guests. Sure, we give them some guidelines—“Be helpful, smile, answer questions, be attentive.” But we don’t go much deeper. Why not? These staff members will spend almost 100 percent of their time interacting with our guests. Why don’t we spend more training time showing them what we want them to do and what we do not want them to do? Well, I intend on doing just that.
I have just finished creating a new training module entitled, “Communicating Effectively with Guests.” My academic background (albeit long, long ago) is in speech communication. So this topic is familiar waters for me. But the challenge was finding out what elements of communication skills training were best applicable in a venue setting, especially given the time constraints for the actual training session.
I arrived at a program that will take about 30 minutes to deliver. The communication training is built around the concepts of EMPATHY, EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES, and PHRASES THAT “WIN THE DAY.” The empathy component seeks to get the staff members to approach situations from the guest’s point of view. Far too often, we need to deal with staff who have been a little heavy handed or who have intervened in a situation only to inflame it. My hope is that we can stress the need to “put yourself in the guest’s shoes” and let that inform your interaction. The effective communication strategies component imparts some human psychology that affects communication. These are not haughty academic ideas. They are simple concepts like “Don’t tell people what to do; instead give them choices,” and “Don’t make threats; express appreciation and seek cooperation.” The last part, entitled Phrases that “Win the Day,” consists of carefully scripted responses to some typical guest interactions. The idea here is to arm the staff with some specific things to say that will get maximum results. The expectation is that the staff members will also use their experiences and this communications training to build their own phrases that “Win the Day.”
I’ve been in this business long enough to know that a training session will not ensure success. Training only becomes effective if there is systematic reinforcement of the training materials and active encouragement of the application of the training content. To that end, I have created a piece called the “Two Minute Drill” that serves as a training reminder/reinforce that we can implement on event day. Since we are an NFL stadium, we use a lot of football-themed things. Like the two-minute drill in football that is designed to elegantly use a limited amount of time to get the maximum yardage possible, the training version of the two-minute drill uses a couple of minutes from the supervisor’s crew briefing to refresh and reinforce the training content. The training program will be delivered as part of the staff training starting in July. Then at an event in October or November, we will roll out the “Two Minute Drill” piece on “Communicating Effectively with Guests.” We’ll see how it all goes.
If you are interested in receiving a copy of the “Communicating Effectively with Guests” training materials, I am willing to share. You can contact me at email@example.com, and I will email it to you. I only ask for two things in return: No 1—If you have any feedback, corrections, or suggestions to my materials that I send you, then you are obligated to write or call me and share it with me. No. 2—If you have something that you have created and are willing to share, then send something to me. We must never take credit for someone else’s work, but we should be open to being inspired by it.
(Image: Amy Wagliardo/Creative Commons)