It was Friday night of grand opening weekend, and the popularity exceeded even their greatest expectations. The hype was real. It was busy, which meant some guests waiting in line were frustrated, and additional security needed to be called for crowd control support.
Luke Schueler, Founder and COO of Flying Squirrel, was working the front lines that night. One guest, a mother with two kids, along with a baby in her arms and another in a stroller, was looking heated while she waited to get in. Luke approached her with a genuine offer of assistance, to see if there was anything that he could do to make her wait more comfortable. She asked him, “Do you know what it feels like standing in this line with a toddler, two kids, a baby, and a stroller?
Even though Luke couldn’t relate directly, he still wanted to show that he cared. “No,” he responded, “but I completely understand that you would be upset that you haven’t gotten into the park yet.”
What seemed like a sincere acknowledgement of her feelings was not received the way Luke intended. Without saying anything, the guest reached her hand out, extended it over her opposite shoulder, and swiftly slapped Luke across the face. “That’s how it feels.”
About 300 other people saw it happen, and it took Luke a moment for the stinging to subside to realize what exactly he had just experienced.
This type of scenario requires very quick thinking, and your next move is going to be critical to the outcome. Would you attempt to restrain her, thinking that that was just the first strike of many? Call security? Call the police? For Luke, the answer was none of the above. Rather than fighting fire with fire, he knew all eyes were on him, waiting to see how he’d react. And his approach was entirely counterintuitive to what would naturally be the default reflex. And that desire to help her that he had when he walked up to her? Now he knew it was even more important.
Beyond his desire to help this guest, he had the figurative toolkit ready to go. He quickly retrieved admission passes for her and her children to enjoy the park for the evening, along with passes to return at a later date. Some might consider this to be unnecessary compensation for a guest that did nothing to earn it. But for Luke, he told her that he completely understood her frustration and that her visit was on the house.
So what happened? The guest’s face lit up and she broke down in tears of gratitude. She immediately felt remorse for her actions and was so appreciative of Luke’s gesture. The anger that brewed in the moments leading up to her first interaction with Luke had diminished, and she now had an immensely positive connection with the park.
“My job here is to make sure you have a great time and a great experience.” Luke not only turned around the situation, he created a loyal guest. Over the course of her visit, the guest regularly approached Luke to tell her how great of a time she and her kids were having, and after she left that night, she posted positive reviews and told everyone how great of a time she had.
So, what do you do when you get hit in the face? One approach would be to kick the guest out and file a trespass warrant so that they never come back, worried that they might threaten other team members or guests in the future. No one would be faulted for doing that. This guest physically assaulted the owner of the park and should be banned, right?
By taking the approach that Luke took, he saw through the angry guest in front of him and saw an opportunity to do nothing short of making this woman’s life better. Luke’s takeaway from this was, “By making her day, we changed a lot of things in her life.”
There is an important message here. Service recovery isn’t just about complaint resolution. Even though it’s part of your operation and your team should be equipped to resolve issues for the purpose of maintaining satisfaction, this goes so far beyond maintaining status quo. A woman brought four young children to a trampoline park for an evening of fun, and she needed it. It wasn’t just her kids that deserved it; she was treating herself that night as much as she was treating her kids. And she got frustrated because the line was long. Wouldn’t you be? The longer the line, the more the frustration, the greater the rage... the harder the slap. As the stinging subsided and Luke’s face healed, he knew that not only did he make someone’s night better, but he made a whole family better.
Don’t get me wrong – in many cases a hit in the face should lead to an immediate removal from your property. But maybe there are times when you can respond with kindness, and have a greater impact on someone’s life. Make sure to use your best judgment when it comes to your own safety, or the safety of your staff. The way Luke handled this might not be for everyone and certainly not for every circumstance. The key takeaway is that when a guest is angry and upset, the way you respond will make all the difference in the outcome.
Make sure to check out Luke’s interview on The Guest Experience Show to hear this entire story and many other valuable lessons from Flying Squirrel Sports.