Training frontline teams can entail everything from CPR to cleaning toilets, and the list of things we need to cover seems to get longer every year. While we often focus on prevention and emergency response – you know, the important risk management things! – the things that make our facilities memorable (in both good and bad ways) are often the experience our guests have while they are with us.   

We live in a world of “Safety First,” which is the best way to ensure our guests have a great experience, and it also means we can teach our teams to operate with a “Service Second” attitude. By building on your team’s experiences, providing basic guidelines, and making service part of your daily conversations, you’ll quickly find your time doing things that promote guest retention and positive experiences for guests and team members.   

Child playing in poolBuild on What Your Team Already Knows 

Your team comes to you with a variety of experiences. We can lean into a few universal experiences as managers to help our team better understand what service means and what it looks like in action.  

  • Chances are, if you ask your team about the golden rule, they’ll tell you something like “treat others how you want to be treated.” It’s one of the world’s most culturally universal ethical tenets, and having it is always a great place to start talking about how we can better serve our guests. You can take it a step further and demonstrate or role play with your team different scenarios; demonstrate enforcing facility policies or rules in different tones of voice, show them how to get down on the same level as the children in their lessons, and teach them to respond to every question with empathy and kindness (even if it’s the 32nd time they’ve been asked today). 
  • Your team knows that we like to spend time with people we like, and the same goes for the places we hang out. Talk to your team about where they like to spend time and why they like to go there. Be ready to prompt them a little: focus on consistent things (the rules never change), easy things (keeping lines at the front gate or concessions moving quickly), and fun things! Tie it back into the golden rule – how does the way that we treat people affect consistency, easiness, and fun?
  • The local grocery store in my husband’s tiny hometown is like the pre-Wal-Mart version of a superstore: they have everything from a deli counter to wax rings to clean your toilet and fishing bait. They capitalized on something that guides our daily actions: one stop is always better than two! I’m not saying our facilities can be everything to everyone – that’s certainly not the case. I am saying that if we give our teams the opportunity to answer questions in person or on the phone by talking to a single person, it’s almost always a better experience for the guest. Think about how you can help arm your team with the resources they need to answer questions or empower them to handle guest concerns in a single conversation rather than transferring them to multiple people. 
  • Although teenagers aren’t always the cleanest people (we used to say that our kids were fans of the “floset” – you know, using the floor as a closet?), they can generally agree that they don’t like looking at trash. Talk to your team about where facility guests might see trash in the facility, and begin the conversation around picking up trash that you see – from the time you get out of your car to come in through every single trip around the deck. One exercise I love to do with my team is to show them little things that make the facility appear cleaner by taking pictures of your facility in different states: rescue tubes hung nicely in the office instead of thrown on the deck, locker doors closed instead of left open, deck chairs or concessions tables lined up nicely instead of scattered about. Your facility may be spotless in every other way, but these little things can make it appear otherwise!
  • Finally, we’ve all been a guest Talk to your team about some of their experiences as a guest – not even as a “customer” but as a guest in someone’s house. Talk about how the host or hostess made them feel: welcome, important, special, or like they’ve been waiting all day for you to arrive. 


Build Service into Your Culture Water Aerobics Activity

One of the things we’ve all learned while serving our communities is that what we say (and how we say it) matters. Consider starting with the language you use when referring to the people who come to your facility: instead of patrons or customers, think about using the terms guest or (where applicable) members. As much as it is for the people visiting, it also automatically changes our perception of the people we serve.  

Our body language also counts, which generally starts with the look on our faces. Early in my career, I had an office on the pool deck, and almost every guest had to walk by my office windows to get to the pool. What people saw when I thought no one was looking was often described as “intense” – deep in thought or extremely serious. That also meant I sometimes looked unapproachable: my “resting smile” needed work! I’m not saying people need to smile more – that’s not it! I am saying that learning to hold our faces in a relaxed way can make us appear more friendly, even if we aren’t aware that they’re watching! 

One of the things that we teach in lifeguard training classes is how to rephrase rule enforcement positively. Instead of saying “NO RUNNING,” we teach our guards to say, “walk, please.” Instead of saying “NO DIVING,” we encourage guards to redirect to a safer place to drive or a safer activity. Use examples of conversations your team has and work through ways to approach it positively – even if they have to say “no”! 

Show your team that, for facility guests, perception is reality. We’ve all been there: a guest sees a one-second snapshot of your guards passing information during rotation, and suddenly they’re complaining that the guards aren’t paying attention. Help your team understand that someone is always watching, and what they see in that single moment is, for them, reality. Need a way to demonstrate? Have one member of your team stand leaning on the counter, and have another member of your team stand nearby holding a rag and a bottle of cleaner. Ask your team which one of them is working harder – the one leaning, or the one holding the cleaning supplies? Even though neither of them is cleaning, it APPEARS that one is busier than the other. You can do the same thing by having guards stand on the deck in a circle talking to one another versus having them stand (still talking to one another) while watching the pool. These are easy ways to give them a visual representation and see things from the guest’s perspective.  

Speaking of seeing things from the guest’s perspective, create a culture where your team experiences the facility as a guest: have them take their shoes off in the locker room, get in the pool and see what the guest sees when they swim to the gutter or walk in the zero-depth, float on their back and look up at the ceiling, or even share what they see when they walk in from the parking lot.  


Bring It All Together to Make Guest Service a Behavior – Not a Task! 

One of the easiest ways to ensure service is a behavior is to make it tangible. Teach your team how to put that Service Second attitude into play daily. 

  1. The Golden Rule. In addition to treating others how you would want to be treated, remind your team that they don’t choose WHO they serve – only choose HOW they serve. In other words, it doesn’t matter what attitude the guest approaches you with; it matters that you always respond in a consistent, professional manner. 
  2. Own Every Space, All the Time. Just like we like to share the wins and positive feedback we get, we also have to share every mistake and mess. No matter where your team is in the facility, have them take ownership to help keep it clean and report anything that needs attention that they can’t immediately fix. 
  3. Never Lose a Guest. Remember that one-stop-shop idea we talked about above? Encourage your team to handle every situation they possibly can. Banish “I don’t know” and “It’s not my job” from your team’s vocabulary (although “Let me find out” and “I’ll get someone who can help you with that” are okay!). And – whenever possible – allow your team to follow up personally when they help a guest in need.
  4. Meet & Greet Every Guest. Remember that we have a lot of young team members who are still learning how to interact with people – especially people older than them. Teach them to look people in the eyes when they talk to them. Set a standard of greeting guests within a certain amount of time (maybe within 10 seconds of entering the front desk area) and verbally acknowledging all guests within a certain distance (five feet is always a good place to start. . .ask long as you make sure everyone knows how far five feet really is!).

Guest Service for Aquatic Teams, picture of lifeguard teamSome Final Thoughts 

Of course, creating great experiences only works if your team feels empowered to provide great service. Does your team trust that when they pass a guest to another part of your program (like from the front desk to swim lessons) that the guest will get the same great experience? Do they know that you’ll support them if they make a decision? 

One of the best ways to provide great service is to make sure that your team also feels important and like they have a great experience as part of your team. Much like the “happy wife-happy life” saying, happy, engaged team members create happy, engaging experiences that, in turn, make your team happy and keep them engaged!  

Finally, it’s important to remember that gone are the days when the public pool was the only game in town: community pools, public and private waterparks, YMCAs or JCCs, country clubs, swim clubs, and fitness centers; there are so many options in our communities as consumer expectations move from a “goods and services” mindset to having an experience that creates positive memories. When we create those experiences – those “rich sensations” they describe in The Experience of Economy – we not only have a higher percentage of guests returning or re-registering, but we also build the opportunity to increase the value of the services we provide.