Overcome the 5 Areas of Guest Complaints

Published: World Waterpark magazine – February 2015

By: George Deines

Overcoming The 5 Areas of Guest Complaints

Maximizing the experience of your waterpark’s guests should be of primary importance to you and your team.  After all, waterpark operators exist to provide safe, clean, friendly and fun aquatic experiences for their guests of all ages.  Unfortunately, sometimes the goal to provide a quality experience comes up short, ending in the dreaded guest complaint.  From a slow moving line to enter the park, to a cold order from the waterpark food and beverage stand, to a lack of engagement from a park team member, complaints come in various shapes and sizes and most can be avoided if the proper planning, training and implementation of a quality waterpark operation takes place. This article will use three years’ worth of guest surveys, mystery shopper reports and analysis of employee behaviors to show the reasons guests complain, practical ways to eliminate those complaints, and how to train your park’s staff to be more knowledgeable, efficient and engaged.

Through the analysis of those three years’ worth of survey and reports, I found that waterpark guests typically complain about issues in one of five areas: facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage. While these categories are not hard and fast, they do give great insight into the mind of the waterpark guest and the expectations they have when they get to your park.

Facility issues guest complain about include the appearance and cleanliness of the park, park signage, and the amount of information posted and how consistently staff convey it.  Of course, the cleanliness of restrooms tops the list at any waterpark.  Any operator knows the challenges that come with keeping restrooms clean when you have constant soaking wet traffic coming in and out of them all day long. Whether the floors are wet and dirty, the restrooms smell, or the bathroom supplies have been depleted, operators need to put a highly efficient program in place in order to maintain the restrooms at the highest level.  Ensuring that staff know what “clean” looks like, both in the restrooms and on the park grounds, and the expectations that you have for them, should be a part of your daily cleaning schedule and rotation for on-duty staff, not just a mandate to “go and find something to clean.”  Restrooms should be checked every 20 minutes throughout the day, as well as have a scheduled deep clean and supply stock a few times per day.

Guests also want general park Information to be clearly conveyed a readily available, both at your park, as well as on your park’s website.  Park information such as hours of operation, admissions prices, rules and frequently asked questions should be easily accessible and clearly presented in order to avoid confusion by guests. Placing this information on your website will help provide guests with as much information as possible before their visit which helps to keep their expectations in line when they arrive. Also, park operators should evaluate all park and website signage to ensure consistency from one medium to the other.  The more information your guests have before they visit your park, the less chance you have for a negative encounter once they arrive.

Park rules (or lack thereof), coupons and discounts and weather related issues top the list of why guests complain about policies and procedures. “That’s not a fair severe weather policy,” The coupon doesn’t say that it’s not good today,” and “Why can’t I bring in my own floatation device” frequently top the list of complaints heard regarding these three areas.  Waterpark operators must strive to communicate policies and procedures in a clear and consistent manner, while also ensuring these policies seem fair and reasonable to the guest. Now, that’s easier said than done, but operators need to be diligent in the development of park policies and procedures.  Your park’s weather policy should take into account the time the guest has been in the park, as well as the amount of money they have invested in their visit.  A good experience can turn south quickly if operators don’t accomplish these in their policy. All discounts and coupons should clearly display all conditions in a prominent spot to avoid confusion on how and when guests can redeem them. Lastly, park rules need to be clearly visible, relevant and specific, leaving no gray areas that can be left up to individual interpretation.  Park management and staff need to know the “why” behind each of the rules because guests will surely ask and staff need to be trained to efficiently answer their questions.

Guests complain about their in-park experience because of the different water features a park has (or doesn’t have), the number of amenities and the overall atmosphere.  Whether the sprayground looked bigger on the website, or more shade and tables need to be added, complaints in this category will really help waterpark operators see what areas of their operation need the most improvement. All comments should be documented so that park management can plan for the future in the areas where guests see their park lacking, whether it’s a lack of a water feature, or shade umbrellas.  While guests come to your waterpark for big thrill rides, kid’s areas and capacity holders such as wave pools and lazy rivers, they also love the smaller comforts and conveniences that you can offer like a plethora of seating areas, ample shade and great music playing at a reasonable volume.

Food and beverage issues include the quality, timeliness and price of the food served, as well as the overall quality of service the F&B team members exhibit. Food and beverage can sometimes be the forgotten division within a waterpark operation while operators often get swamped with safety, risk management and “front of the park” admissions.  And, since most waterpark operators don’t have a strong F&B background, they need to ensure they bring on someone with intimate knowledge of food service and menu development to guarantee a successful operation.  Whether it’s paying a little more for higher quality ingredients, or commissioning a food service expert to overhaul your operation, make sure you are training your staff to serve well-cooked and prepared food in a timely manner and with a smile.  Guests will have a much harder time complaining about their F&B experience when their food looks good, tastes good and is served with a smile!

Personnel issues tend to top the list when guests complain.  Through the surveys and shopper reports, complaints about park team members always came down to one of three areas, knowledge (what to do), efficiency (how to do it) and engagement (why it matters).  Whether a team member didn’t know the correct answer to a guest’s question, a guest had to stand in line too long to enter the park, or a guest did not receive a welcoming greeting from a park team member, these three areas will make or break your operation. Knowledge refers to the increased level of awareness and understanding that each waterpark team member has about their position and how it relates to the overall operation of the waterpark. Efficiency deals with team members being capable and competent to increase their job proficiency based on the comprehensive knowledge they now possess.  Knowledge and efficiency come together in team member engagement where they possess motivation to continue their exemplary work ethic to assist in achieving the waterpark’s goals and strive for its future success.  The goal is to take each individual team member and train them as best as possible in what their job requires, how they do it well and why it matters that they do it well.  I like to call this process the “KEE to success!”

Now that we know why guests complain, and have looked at some practical ways to minimize and eliminate those complaints, don’t forget that guest service success all starts at the top. Park leadership has to be involved in the entire hiring & training process for park staff, and they must model the behaviors that they are looking for.  Waterpark leadership should be honest and upfront about the expectations for the various jobs they hire for during interviews and look for applicants that smile, don’t mind cleaning bathrooms, greeting guests, picking up trash and helping provide a great experience for families.   Park leadership must also create buy-in for all staff through training and the implementation of a vision, mission and core values that must be communicated effectively throughout the season. A common goal for all waterpark team members to strive for is to remember that all park guests have value, and should be treated with respect.  Team members should also know the cost and effort that families put into visiting your park and how the amount of money they spend can change their level of expectation. Finally, don’t forget to remind yourself and your team members to stay calm during negative guest encounters.

By evaluating the five key areas in which waterpark guests complain, facility, policies and procedures, experience, personnel and food and beverage, you can hopefully begin the journey of minimizing and eliminating guests’ complaints.  While eliminating complaints altogether might be a “pie in the sky” vision, it will be well worth your time to aim high in order to maximize the waterpark experience for your guests.