The Importance of Internal Customer Service

You’re committed to Customer Service with your team and yet things are still not going smoothly…

You’re doing things like investing funds in training, modeling for staff, and encouraging staff to always take care of the customer. And yet… the staff is getting burned out and frustrated, customers still call to complain, and the cycle goes on.

What is happening?

Let’s take a look at Internal Customer Service, which is the facet of providing exceptional customer service that is often missed.

How staff interacts with each other, support each other, and do their jobs in ways that make others jobs go smoothly, is vital to the whole customer service cycle.

Here is a definition I really liked, from Micah Solomon in his Forbes.com article:

Internal customer service is when we provide customer service to the people we work with, helping them to do their best to serve external customers and promote the interests of our company.

woman working girl sitting

Let me walk you through some things to consider:

A staff person working at the front desk of a recreation office works hard to provide excellent customer service to a repeat customer who can be difficult, asks for extras, and has had complaints in the past. They carefully take down the rental request details – let’s say it’s for a picnic pavilion – noting for co-workers on the crew at that park all the important details this customer has outlined.

When the parks crew leader gets the information via electronic form, they are instantly irritated by the list of special requests and extra details that were promised to this customer, partly because the front desk staff doesn’t want to “be the bad guy” and say no. The policy states no extra customized set up – you take the pavilion as you find it – so the parks crew is very aware that their co-workers are making extra work for them and setting the customer up for complaints if they refuse to do it.

The customer, happily walking away after making the reservation, will either be:

    1. a) very unhappy when she arrives at the pavilion and finds it not set up to her specifications and yell at the first parks crew member she can find – and/or call the front desk the next day, or
    2. b) be extremely pleased to see her requests were fulfilled and return with even more special requests next time.

The parks crew leader is going to have a few choice words to say to the person in the front office, and there is now a cycle of conflict where co-workers cannot rely on each other, trust each other to do what’s best for all, or generally work together. The front office cannot call and say “hey, I need a really special favor this time” because there is no cohesive feeling or emotional capital in the bank.

Some other examples:

        • Someone uses the last pool pass form and doesn’t copy more
        • Someone leaves a mess in the staff lounge and doesn’t clean it up
        • Someone doesn’t put the kayaks away properly, making extra work for the next day’s crew

Another way of looking at Internal Customer Service: Working with a team of IT staff, we asked them to define their jobs. Since they knew they were sitting in customer service training, their answers very carefully included “the customer.”

        • Keep the website up-to-date and running so the customer can get information
        • Maintain the database and registration system so the customer can register for programs and passes
        • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so customers can have Wi-Fi during meetings and activities

Great! Yes… and, what if we ask these folks to re-word their job definitions based on their work with their co-workers?

      • Keep the website up-to-date and running so fellow staff members can access information and assist customers
      • Maintain the database and registration system so staff can efficiently do their jobs and provide excellent service to customers
      • Monitor and maintain the wireless internet system so staff do not have to troubleshoot and try to fix at the last minute when it goes down during a customer’s activity

Other examples might include:

      • Set up the projector and laptop system in the conference room so the Director can smoothly and professionally make the budget presentation to elected officials
      • Have an efficient system to onboard new staff members with email addresses and system access so new hire employees can be trained and welcomed smoothly

The bottom line is this: we need to treat our co-workers with the same respect, courtesy, kindness, promptness, and thoughtfulness that we provide to customers outside our organization.

When you call a boating outfitter, you expect to have a pleasant phone greeting, a variety of options, and a helpful person to guide you through getting the equipment you need. When you call your own boathouse at the park you work for, do you get the same thing?

This is a much more challenging training situation and requires open conversation, time for team bonding within the staff, training and communication about civility expectations, and consequences if new internal customer service protocols are not respected.

It is well worth the time invested to work through this with your team!

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Advancing Workforce Diversity

 

The National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) has developed a position statement on Social Equity.  

https://www.nrpa.org/our-work/Three-Pillars/social-equity-and-parks-and-recreation/ – .XUBNsrSXcM8.link

Communities are becoming increasingly diverse.  Does your workforce reflect that diversity?  Park and Recreation organizations regularly grapple with this concept.  Still, others are oblivious.  What challenges do you face in your agency or organization for promoting a diverse workforce?    

 When this question was posed to Park and Recreation professionals; respondents cited numerous challenges.  

Current hiring practices are restrictive or are subject to political interference.

There is no identified pipeline to recruit persons of color or people with disabilities for Parks & Recreation jobs.

There were no diverse applicants.

Pay scales cannot compete with fast food restaurants.

Park and Recreation staff expressed frustration and a desire for support and training in recruitment techniques.  On the surface, these are valid excuses.  However, solutions require a strong commitment, research into best practices, analysis and critical thinking. 

When inquiring about recruitment practices that have yielded increased diversity in professional Park and Recreation agency workforces, few solutions or ideas were offered.  Therefore, we should think back to the basic techniques we employ to recruit program participants.  

Personal connections to the people we serve are integral to ensuring social equity.  While the topic of workforce diversity is broad; begin by focusing on part time and seasonal employees.  Seasonal employees are generally older teens and young adults.  Often, they decide to pursue post-secondary education to become Park and Recreation professionals.  Building a diverse workforce is a process that develops over time. 

Helen Ubinas, columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer recently wrote an article featuring four lifeguards in Philadelphia Parks and Recreation.  Their deep commitment, knowledge of their communities and care for the neighborhood youth illustrates the value of hiring people from the neighborhoods.  

There is no quick solution to building a diverse and equitable workforce.  It is an intentional process.  The most important action you can take is to get out of the office and be present in your community and at the activities you offer. Reach out to your program participant families.  Talk to people.  Build relationships.  Creating awareness of seasonal jobs such as camp counselors and lifeguards is an important step.  Ask your teens and young adults if they have ever considered working for your agency. Mention it to their parents or guardians.  Sometimes, they need a little push.  Conversations with prospective staff can yield both perceived and actual obstacles to employment.   What trainings are needed?  Can you provide those trainings at little or no cost?  Winter is the time to think about hiring summer staff for your camps and pools.  Over time, these actions pay off.  Engagement will cultivate community investment. This investment in diversity and equity will significantly enhance your community and programs.    

When our staff reflects the families in our community…we are all richer for the experience.  

Park and Recreation professionals have a responsibility to recruit, train and hire staff that reflects the diversity in their communities.  The most important strategy is to engage with the people we serve.  Residents are a rich resource for feedback and ideas.  Over time, your investment will pay off.  

Warning Signs of Habitual Thriving

by Jeff Witman, CTRS, Retired Professor, York College of PA

  1.  Evidence of strong faith and spiritual involvement.
  2.  Tendency to demonstrate flexibility and to adapt to change.
  3.  Chronic empathy and sensitivity.
  4.  Compulsion to be of service and contribute to society.
  5.  Consistent tendency to say “I get” rather than “I have” to engage in daily activities.
  6.  Persistent presence of a support network.
  7. Repeated amazement at the beauty and possibilities of the world.
  8. Consistent patience and perseverance.
    J Witman blog photo
    “Ikigai”, the Okinawan word for  “why I wake up in the morning,” captures the essence of habitual thriving- purpose.
  9. Rapid response to and recovery from stress.
  10. Passion for values and interests.
  11. Regular identification and communication of feelings.
  12. Repeated episodes of love, gratitude and generosity.
  13. Daily appetite for physical and mental activity.
  14. Persistent sense of humor and frequent laughter and smiles.
  15. Enhanced recognition and application of strengths and skills.
  16. Increased expressions of hope and optimism.

Habits are powerful! They can build us up or tear us down. Once established they defeat resistance. For example, as a habitual daily walker, I have overcome weather, injury and distractions to get at least a 30 minute stroll for 2000+ consecutive days.  On the flip side I have consumed, with very few exceptions, a daily dose of coffee for many years. Habits both influence and are influenced by our choices, including choices regarding pastimes, recreation, leisure and play.

Thriving relates to being not just “not sick” but rather to flourishing, having a sense of being “very well” and enjoying life. The combination of positive habits and experiencing well-being can provide us with a tool Prince Harry recently described as mental fitness – “the key to powerful leadership, productive communities and a purpose-driven self.”

In 2010, Indiana University Professor David Austin shared a list of “12 Warning Signs of Health” which he attributed to A. A. Nathan’s The Art of Recreation Therapy.  I have been tweaking the list ever since with much help from students, clients, colleagues, family and friends. Check out the list above and know there is a strong evidence base for each and all of the items. The classic Harvard Study of Happiness (https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/) and the Blue Zones Project findings about longevity (https://www.bluezones.com/) both support the importance of multiple items from the list.

While achieving all 16 at once may not be realistic, finding and nurturing those items of particular importance to you and to the folks you serve can tap into valuable results. Those of you involved with educating/coaching others regarding leisure and wellness may find them to be an especially productive catalyst for goal setting and affirmations. A participant in the Pathways to Discovery support group I recently led provided an insightful approach to consider as you identify possibilities for change:

Reflect on the potential benefits and take small steps.

The Ghost Town Trail Challenge

Ghost Town Trail Challenge, what’s that? Simply put, you’re tested on your physical and mental ability to hike or run the entire 32 mile stretch of the Ghost Town Trail, which spans from Indiana to Cambria County. Challengers begin their journey at 7:00AM and are encouraged to finish before 8:30PM. The trail maintains a consistent positive grade the entire time, making it no easy task. Challenge? Very much so.

The Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Authority (CCCRA) held the fourth annual Ghost Town Trail Challenge on Saturday June 15th, 2019 as the second event of their 2019 Cambria County Trail Series races.

And this was the best year yet, breaking records across the board. 374 participants came from as far as Dublin, Ireland to take on the challenge. The number of walkers and runners for the full 32 mile challenge tripled from last year, while numbers for the 16-mile challenge and 7.5 mile challenge also gradually increased. 340 individuals completed the challenge which started in Saylor Park, Blairsville and ended in Ebensburg before 7:30PM.

What makes this event so successful?

From a participant perspective, this is a challenge, not a race. This has attracted competitive runners, recreational runners, and every day walkers to participate in this event on the nationally ranked Ghost Town Trail, to see how long they can accomplish their goal. Pre-registered participants by a certain date received premiums such as beer growlers with a coupon for a free fill of Rusted Rail from the Ghost Town Trail, made by local brewer Coal Country Brewing, as well as a high quality t-shirt. All finishers received a ghost “woodallion”, which is exactly as it sounds, a wooden medal shaped like a ghost.

What REALLY makes this event so successful?

Medics and volunteers at the Dilltown Trailhead aid station pose for a photo op while waiting on more runners and walkers to arrive.
Photo by Momentum Photography

Let’s be honest, you can’t do anything right the day of an event without a great crew working behind the scenes. Some volunteers, like participants, came from several hours away, to help with the event. Aid stations with first aid supplies, snacks, meals, and drinks are provided every 5-6 miles along the trail. EMS and First Responders were also located at many of the aid stations, as well as traveling by ATV and bicycle along the trail, to ensure participant safety.

Profits from the Ghost Town Trail Challenge, as well as the other races in the Cambria County Trails Series, go back entirely to the Cambria County Trails. The first event of the 2019 Cambria County Trail Series was the Path of the Flood Historic Races held on May 25th, which attracted over 900 participants to celebrate the 130th anniversary of the Johnstown Flood. The fourth and final event of the Trails Series will be the Jim Mayer Family Fun Run/Walk 5K and 10K on September 7th, also in Johnstown.

Participants jump for joy as they soon approach the mid-way point of the 32 mile challenge.
Photo by Momentum Photography

You can view official race results on UltraSignup. Visit the Cambria County Conservation and Recreation Facebook Page to view photos from volunteer photographers Momentum Photography and This Year Photo Co.

Creating Steps to a Healthier You through WalkWorks

Walking—we do it every day. When we want to get somewhere, we walk. Sure, we may incorporate other modes of transportation into our lives, such as driving a car, riding a bike or using public transit, but we start and end every trip by walking.

We also choose our walking speed. When we have to get somewhere quickly, we speed walk. When we take the dog out or want to experience the outdoors, our pace slows. Walking is one of the simplest and easiest forms of physical activity – it’s free and requires no special equipment or athletic skill.

Yet, in 2017, one quarter of Pennsylvania adults indicated participating in no physical activity in the past month, while more than two thirds of adults were overweight or obese. Walking is an important part of our lives and can improve our overall health. Health benefits of walking include helping to control weight, reducing the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, and enhancing mental well-being.

Why don’t we walk more?

In many locations across Pennsylvania, lack of access to areas where residents can safely walk or bicycle is cited as one of the reasons for poor physical health. Communities and their streets were rarely designed to enable simultaneous, safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders. However, streets designed for all modes of transportation, called Complete Streets, make it easier to cross the street, get to school, walk to shops, or bicycle to work and, therefore, are associated with increased physical activity. Complete Streets not only promotes good health and creates health equity, but it can also stimulate the local economy, improve road safety, reduce the amount of air pollution and improve mobility for children and older individuals.

WalkWorks – What is it?

To encourage walking and help more Pennsylvanians meet the national guidelines which call for adults to get at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week, the Pennsylvania Department of Health developed WalkWorks. WalkWorks seeks to encourage communities to support physical activity by promoting active transportation through the implementation of community-based walking routes and the development of plans or policies related to active transportation. Here are two upcoming opportunities to partner with WalkWorks:

WalkWorks affiliate program

Local community-based organizations interested in improving the health status of their communities can apply to become a WalkWorks affiliate. Joining the 89 walking routes in 21 counties across Pennsylvania, selected community-based partners:

• Identify a walking route and points of interests;

• Engage community stakeholders;

• Collaborate with community organizations; and

• Organize a kick-off celebration.

While a specific date to release the affiliate application has not yet been determined, it is expected to be released in August or September. To see if the application has been released, please visit the WalkWorks website.

Marcus Hook walking route, Delaware County

WalkWorks funding for active transportation plans or policies

Municipalities and similar types of local government organizations interested in enhancing active transportation through plans or policies can apply for WalkWorks funding to develop plans or policies that begin to prioritize active transportation. This funding opportunity, which will open on or around August 1, creates or enhances pedestrian and bicycle connections to common community destinations that allow people to recreate, shop, explore or socialize safely and conveniently. To view the application or apply, please visit the WalkWorks website after August 1.

Whether you are a community resident looking for opportunities to increase your physical activity or a local government official looking to improve the walkability and connectivity of your community, WalkWorks has resources, guides and funding opportunities that can help improve the overall health of your community.

Ways to stay informed with PRPS

PRPS strives to keep our members up to date with the latest parks and recreation news and trends through a variety of communication outlets.  Here are several ways we keep you informed:

  1. The SCOOP – This weekly email newsletter includes the latest news, new members, upcoming education & training announcements, member requests for peer collaboration, Dig It! blog posts, legislative alerts, member news and more. If you want to include something, the deadline is each Monday. You can view past SCOOPs on prps.org under Resources/Publications, and then select Archives. It is a members-only page, so you will need to login to gain access.
  2. Pennsylvania Recreation & Parks – Our semiannual magazine provides articles on playgrounds, aquatics, trails, leadership, unique program ideas, professional development, and current trends. Issues are sent each spring and fall. Our magazine archive can be found at prps.org under Resources/Publications.
  3. Membership Directory and Buyers Guide – This is our largest publication, and features individual and agency members contact information, the buyer’s guide vendor listing, and other professional references. It is printed each spring, and provides advertisers unique and on-going exposure.
  4. Districts and Branch News – The Resource Branch Newsletter is developed by the Park Resource Branch and includes articles from the Resource Operations Workshop and more.  The Aquatics News offers new resources and alerts of certification changes/requirements. Each District sends out news regarding their regional educational workshops and socials.
  5. Website – PRPS.org is updated frequently to reflect current news, resources, professional development opportunities, partnerships, and job center. Be sure to login when you visit, so you can access all of our members-only content, resources, and online directory.
  6. Social Media – Engage with PRPS on the following social media platforms: Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. Facebook is used the most to add events; share related articles, member news and other news. If you are interested in taking over one of our social media accounts for a week, let us know.
  7. Mobile App – Download our popular Conference & Expo app to view the conference schedule or search for exhibitors, speakers, socials, maps, sponsors, and attendees.
  8. Direct Mail – Workshop brochures, publications, postcards, Conference & Expo Guides.
  9. Annual Report – This report highlights the many accomplishments of PRPS, its volunteers and supporters.
  10. Dig It! Blog – Our blog covers a variety of topics including Advocacy, Funding, Leadership, Maintenance, Operations, Personnel, Wellness, Programming, Volunteer, Communication, Internship and Trails. If you would like to be a guest blogger, let me know at eschnellbaugh@prps.org.
  11. Digital Email – Professional development opportunities, legislative alerts, and other important notices are sent through our email distribution list.
  12. Media Kit – Produced at the beginning of the year, this guide includes all advertising and sponsorship opportunities available to vendors and supporters.

As you can see PRPS offers a variety of ways to keep in touch. You can manage your communication preferences when you login to your account at prps.org.  If you are interested in something listed that you are not receiving, or need help finding something on the website let us know.

Have an idea to share?  Please consider volunteering as a guest blogger, social media contributor, or to author a magazine article.  You can receive Professional Service Experience Points (CEU equivalent) toward your professional certification renewal by submitting articles for publication in Pennsylvania Recreation and Parks.

What information and resources would you like to see?  We are always looking for new topics for articles, blog entries, and resources to share with our members. If you have ideas to share and would like to be on the Communications & Marketing Committee, email me at eschnellbaugh@prps.org.

“It is what it is……..”

“It is what it is”………… One of my favorite sayings shared with my previous supervisor. It is that time of the year, when all of the sudden everything is crazy, phones are ringing, schedules need completed, clearances are due, the weather is not cooperating, and there is no water in the pool! Summer is right around the corner……..it is what it is and summer is here!

Are you overwhelmed, overloaded, and overworked? It is what it is, but you need to rejuvenate daily or you won’t make it to July 4th let alone the end of the summer. You can’t put it off until your vacation, or a weekend trip. Real rejuvenation takes place by adding beneficial practices to your life by improving your energy, productivity, and focus, so you can accomplish more in an efficient manner.

How can you rejuvenate daily?

Get outdoors. We all know it, we all read it, but do we all do it? Time outside leads to happiness, less stress and clears the mind. Take a quick walk around your office, a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air go a long way.

Check your soul. Take a few minutes during the day to just shut your eyes, meditate and connect with yourself. Refocus, and redirect your mind to a positive thought or direction.

Get Up. If you are sitting all day, the best way to rejuvenate is give yourself the gift of movement. Get moving, get into action. Sign up for an exercise class, go for a bike ride, or take a walk. Keep it simple, but keep at it and make it a daily routine.

Get to Sleep. This is usually one of the easiest ways to rejuvenate, as the percentage of individuals getting more than 7.5 hours per night decreases, causing many health concerns. You will notice increase energy, better focus, and a better diet if you increase those zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’s.

Action steps to increasing the time for get outdoors, check your soul, get up and get to sleep: Time management/ organization and my personal favorite, turn off the TV. Time management is actually taking the time to analyze what you do with your time during the day. Try making a graph of every fifteen minutes and what you personally are working on, you will be amazed at the changes you will be able to make to allow for more time to accomplish the rejuvenation techniques. Lastly, decrease all screen time. It is what it is, so turn on your app that tracks your time on the screen, you will be again astounded at the potential everyday changes leading to a new you!