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The Architects of Service

Too often, when it comes to experiencing bad customer service, we blame it on the frontline people who deliver the service. Often it’s not really their fault. Rather, the blame should be placed on the people responsible for designing the customer service, the architects of service. This includes everything from the design of the customer service procedures to the training programs for staff to the design of the actual physical facility. Yes, the facility’s physical design can either facilitate or hamper a business’ ability to deliver a good and consistent customer experience.

Let’s look at a few examples of the impact of facility design in the location-based entertainment industry. Take pizza. It’s a busy Saturday afternoon. Things are hopping at a popular family entertainment center (FEC). The restaurant is full of families and the LBE is operating at full birthday party capacity. But thing aren’t going well. The wait for pizzas in the restaurant is over thirty-minutes, younger children are fidgety and parents are getting irritated. Some of the parties in the birthday party rooms haven’t been served their pizza. The party hosts are trying to figure out how to keep everyone occupied while they wait, plus the party is running overtime, meaning the next party scheduled for the room wouldn’t be able to get in it on time. What’s the problem? It’s not the kitchen staff, who are well trained and qualified. It’s not the birthday party hosts who are doing the best possible job. The cause of the problem is that there isn’t enough pizza oven capacity to cook the number of pizzas needed. It’s most likely the kitchen designer’s fault, who failed to properly calculate the needed pizza oven capacity for a peak Saturday afternoons. Or perhaps it was the architect’s fault, who made the kitchen too small so the kitchen designer couldn’t fit in large enough pizza ovens.

Since the FEC is busy, things are also busy in the gameroom and at the redemption counter. In fact things are a little crazy at the redemption counter as the guests are five deep in front of it. Only the guests at the counter can see the prizes to make their choices, and even then, when they do, they have to wait quite awhile for one of the two staff behind the counter to get them their prizes. Again, it’s not the staffs’ fault, who are working as efficiently as possible. It’s the interior designer’s or architect’s fault for under sizing the redemption counter. But it’s also the owner’s fault for choosing the wrong software that can only handle one complete redemption counter transaction at a time versus software that allows one staff member to work with three guests simultaneously.

Getting back to birthday parties, new parties are arriving at the entrance and the parents have no idea where to go with their children or what to do. They wander around until they find a staff member who tells them they need to go check in with Sally. But where is Sally? No one seems to know. Talk about a way to get a fun birthday party off to a happy start, especially for the frustrated parents. Here again, it’s not the staff’s fault. We have a total lack of any service design, both the fault of the owner and the facility’s designer. What should have been done? There should be an easy-to-find party and group check-in area just inside the entrance where parties go to meet up with the party host and have their presents collected to later be delivered to the party room so parents don’t have to lug them around with them.

One last example to make the point. This time it’s the ticket counter where you can buy tickets for the different entertainment attractions as well as get your miniature golf clubs and balls. There’s a service problem there, as sometimes guests who want bumper boat tickets end up getting bumper car tickets, only to find out they have a wrong tickets after they walk all the way outside to the bumper boat pond. This really gets some of them ticked off. The same is happening at the bumper cars, where some guests end up with bumper boat tickets. This has been a continually ongoing problem, especially on busy Saturday afternoons. Is it due to incompetent or inattentive staff? That might be your first guess. But to try to solve the problem, management has assigned some of its best staff to work that ticket counter and yet the problem persists. What’s the cause? Again it’s due to the architects of service, this time the architects of the building. They failed to address acoustics in the design. So on a busy Saturday, the sound level at the ticket counter is 95 decibels. That’s really loud, as loud as standing 200’ from a speeding subway train. So what happens? Guest say they want a bumper boat ticket and the staff, not being able to hear well over all the noise, think they said bumper cars, or vice a versa.

Yes, it’s those people who design the service who are often responsible for bad customer service, not the staff. And many times it’s the facility designers, the architects and other designers, who are at fault, as the facility’s design impacts service. Ultimately, it’s the owner’s fault for not hiring designers who truly understand the business and how it needs to be designed and operated to deliver good guest experiences. The design of good guest experiences needs to start at the very beginning of the facility’s design, not after the facility is built. Correcting facility design deficiencies that negatively impact customer service can be expensive at best, and possibly impossible to correct.

Delivering good customer service and guest experiences has to start with the architects of service, both for the design of the physical facility and the business systems and procedures. Frontline staff can only perform within the limitations of those designs.

About Randy White

Randy White is CEO and co-founder of the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning Group. The 31-year-old company, with offices in Kansas City, Missouri, has worked for over 600 clients in 37 countries throughout the world. Projects the company has designed and produced have won seventeen 1st place awards. Randy is considered to be one of the world's foremost authorities on feasibility, brand development, design and production of leisure experience destinations including entertainment, eatertainment, edutainment, agritainment/agritourism, play and leisure facilities.

Randy was featured on the Food Network's Unwrapped television show as an eatertainment expert, quoted as an entertainment/edutainment center expert in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, New York Times and Time magazine and received recognition for family-friendly designs by Pizza Today magazine. One of the company's projects was featured as an example of an edutainment project in the book The Experience Economy. Numerous national newspapers have interviewed him as an expert on shopping center and mall entertainment and retail-tainment.

Randy is a graduate of New York University. Prior to repositioning the company in 1989 to work exclusively in the leisure and learning industry, White Hutchinson was active in the retail/commercial real estate industry as a real estate consultancy specializing in workouts/turnarounds of commercial projects. In the late 1960s to early 1980s, Randy managed a diversified real estate development company that developed, owned and managed over 2.0 million square feet of shopping centers and mixed-use projects and 2,000 acres of residential subdivisions. Randy has held the designations of CSM (Certified Shopping Center Manager) and Certified Retail Property Executive (CRX) from the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC).

He has authored over 150 articles that have been published in over 40 leading entertainment/leisure and early childhood education industry magazines and journals and has been a featured speaker and keynoter at over 40 different conventions and trade groups.

Randy is the editor of his company's Leisure eNewsletter, has a blog and posts on Twitter and Linkedin.

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