Several years ago I was chatting with my friend Andrea, who was in the process of opening a brewery and was hired to manage the taproom. This would include all front of house operations, including bartenders, servers, and the hospitality element of the business. Andrea was building her orientation and training program, so naturally I asked her about her guest experience philosophy and what would go into her training.
“My philosophy can be summed up like this: treat your guests like aliens visiting from another planet.” She said this quite matter-of-fact, and I knew she wasn’t joking, but I had no idea what she meant. “Treat them like aliens?” I had to learn more.
“Treat them aliens. Because in many ways, they are. They are coming into an environment that is completely unfamiliar, almost like an entirely different planet. They don’t know our customs, they don’t use our currency, they barely speak our language, and they don’t have nearly the knowledge and awareness that we have of what goes on within these walls. This is our domain, and they may as well be visiting from another planet. We need to make sure they have the best experience possible while on our planet, and it’s up to us to give them everything they need.”
Now this made perfect sense. While some of her explanation was certainly more figurative than literal, she made so many good points. A first-time visitor doesn’t even know where the bathroom is, so how should they be expected to know everything else about your business?
I often talk about anticipating guests’ needs as one of the most effective ways to exceed expectations. When you anticipate guests’ needs, you combine your proficiency of the business with your awareness of the guest in front of you. This can include making suggestions based on how old their children are, advising which attractions might be closed for the day if it looks like that may cause frustration later in their visit, or politely informing a guest of the location of the elevator or ramp as they try to carry an occupied wheelchair or stroller up a flight of stairs (I wish I was making this one up). It could include how to load a game card, how to reload a game card, what time your food service ends, any specials available for that day, if a large group is coming in later, or that you can’t jump in the trampoline arena if you’ve been to the bar.
When you treat your guests like aliens visiting from another planet, you anticipate their needs, and you never make assumptions that they know how your attractions work, what your rules and policies are, or how to upgrade their ticket to an annual pass. Sure, some guests are better informed than others, especially those who visit regularly, but you cannot assume that every guest has the same knowledge that you have. If you ask probing questions, such as if they have visited before or if they know what they’d like to buy, you can sift out the first-timers from the veterans.
So when is the best time to greet your aliens? Right when their spaceship lands, of course. From the moment they arrive they are in a critical and sensitive state, and the first few moments can make or break their visit to your planet.
Oh – and what happens when your aliens get upset? That’s when things escalate.
Greet your guests right when they arrive. Walk them through what they need to know. Don’t let them figure it out for themselves. Pretend like your guests are aliens visiting from another planet and see to it that they know everything they need to know to have the best experience.