A Folding Table, A Jug of Water and Thou Sweating In The Parking Lot

I am reading a book about customer service right now. My intention is to report some observations on the text as a whole at some point. However, I saw an illustration of one of the points made in an early chapter today. The book had noted the veracity of “time flies when you are having fun” pointing out that a well designed wait that is 30 minutes long can actually seem shorter than a poorly designed wait that is only a third as long. Because human perception is involved, you can ruin a relationship with a customer in the latter situation even though you significantly reduced their wait time.

Our campus is in a situation with many strikes against it. Budgets have been cut so staffing is down but enrollment is up adding an additional 1500 student to our commuter campus. Alas, the heretofore un(der) used overflow parking is now inaccessible due to long delayed construction projects.

There wasn’t much to be done about the parking unfortunately, but someone got organized this year and had information tables distributed about the campus with all sorts of hand outs and big coolers of water. There were also large color campus maps that someone slapped up on the sides of buildings so people didn’t have to seek out kiosks to figure out where they were.

I looked around wondering why no one had thought to do this before. People had always volunteered to serve an hour or so on the welcome committee but it was never this organized or welcoming. People stood around smiling, answering questions and engaging people who looked lost. Now there is a table identifiable as a source of information from a distance that is stocked with information—and most importantly after trekking in from that parking space in the hinterlands you stalked for 30 minutes–water to drink.

While I walked around comparing what I was seeing to previous years, I realized that tweaking your customer service up a level or two doesn’t just help your relationship with those you serve. It also sends a message to other employees about the commitment of the organization. Memos about improving service are useful and identify areas for improvement. In this case, there were no memos that went out about how things were going to be done better—it was just done.

I am obviously someone whose business it is to think about improving customer interactions so I notice such things. But I have to believe that others noticed the improvement, how it fit in the context of other recent changes and what it all says about the direction of the organization.

I also had some insight into the issue of providing volunteers with opportunities to feel they are doing important work. I have never really had much desire to volunteer for welcoming slots before. Today when I witnessed the increased effort at hospitality, I had a desire to participate next time around. (Just have to remember not to schedule sending the brochure to the printer, interviewing a ticket office clerk and starting internet sales on this day next time.) In previous years, my impression of the job was that it provided a pleasant first impression of the institution and directions to buildings. With the addition of tables, maps and water jugs, suddenly it seems like an important contribution to relieving anxious new arrivals.

We are planning a volunteer luncheon/training in a few weeks so perhaps I am in a receptive mindset on the subject. We have been thinking about how to design the volunteering experience so people have a greater feeling of doing something of value. We have been discussing increasing volunteers’ scope of responsibility and authority. I believe we also have to consider if these duties will allow them to feel they are providing a service patrons find valuable. Though certainly, people volunteer for different reasons and more authority may be a bigger motivator than being useful.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


1 thought on “A Folding Table, A Jug of Water and Thou Sweating In The Parking Lot”

  1. This is a great topic Joe and I hope you are able to come up with some new methods for increasing volunteer ownership and effectiveness. My in-laws are retired but live full time as volunteer naturalists but before they retired, they were involved in volunteer work at zoos for decades.

    They have great insights on what makes a useful volunteer program and how to keep people involved, effective, and provide a feeling of ownership. After years of keeping after them, I finally convinced them to start writing a blog about their experiences and I hope they begin diving into what their life as volunteers – along with the interaction with organizational employees and patrons – has entailed (the good and the bad).

    I hope you follow up on this topic in a few months.


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