Linda Profaizer

Editor’s Note: The following column was written by Linda Profaizer.

It’s once again time to test your preparedness for your first guests of the season. There is so much to think about: Have we changed all of our advertising and marketing messages to reflect the 2011 season? Have we completed our purchases for the store? What are the completion times for our upgrades, painting, landscaping, etc.? Are we fully staffed and have we properly trained the staff or do we have a plan in place to train our staff? Do we have a plan for any emergencies – you can never be too well prepared!

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but a start. As you all know, providing service and value is more important than ever in a tough, tight and competitive market. Excellent guest service is not an expense, but an investment. Statistics show that guests reward exceptional service with loyalty and increased spending.

Operating standards and service levels should be established for every exposure of your park to your guest. Many of you probably have your own checklist or lists of what to consider prior to the next season. One of the helpful ways to assess if you are ready to open is to establish a chart described by Scandinavian Airlines as “moments of truth” – when guests are made aware of the quality of service you deliver and sets your guests expectation level. Don’t over promise in your marketing efforts and then under deliver with the actual experience.

Take a look at your own park and establish those “moments of truth” or points of contact that your guests may have with your park. I call it a Cycle of Service chart. Many happen prior to actually getting to your park for the first time. Repeat customers are affected by those points of contact once at your park, but let’s start from the viewpoint of a first-time guest. You many have additional or different points of contact than those shown, but this will give you a start.

Contact with your park or first impressions of your park begin prior to visiting your park, which includes everything you do to promote your park and what others say. Importantly, whatever that first impression is, it will have some measure of influence on that customer’s opinion of every single activity and service in your facility from that moment on.

Contact #1. Word of Mouth – now includes what is said about you on the Internet. Take a look at some of the rating websites to see what people are saying about you; what’s on Facebook and Twitter?

Contact #2. Face-to-Face at Shows – it may sound funny, but how are you dressed – what colors are you wearing? The truth is that most of us form quick first impressions and often subliminally decide whether we like people, feel good about them, or want to do business with them in the first few seconds of contact. It all happens unconsciously and intuitively. Ron Willingham who wrote, “Hey – I’m the Customer,” says that people form 11 impressions of us in the first 7 seconds of contact. How does your booth look – professional, welcoming?

Contact #3. Website/Online Data – is your website up-to-date? An ARVC survey showed that a surprising 47% of parks with websites update them only once a year which is better than the 4% that don’t update their websites at all (kind of the “if you build it they will come” approach). Also don’t forget to update any listings or ads you may have on your state or national websites. It seems like a lot to do, but recently we went to a park that said they accepted pets online only to find that they had changed their policy and no longer allowed them.

Contact #4. Advertising/Brochures – are you showing recent photos? Still have all amenities mentioned?

Contact #5. Social Media – what’s your strategy? Do you have a plan in place so that you can keep up with this throughout the year? If you don’t have anyone to do this, can you hire it out?

Contact #6. Making Reservations – whether online or via the phone, is it easy and relatively quick? Does the person answering the phone have a pleasant, welcoming voice and does that person know the layout of the park, the sites, the types of RVs and what there is to see and do. This may be an opportunity to sell up to another site or to extend a guest’s stay based on what there is to see and do in the area.

Now, the RVer has decided to become a guest at your park based on all or part of the above. Remember the first time a person makes the determination to stay at your park it take a minimum of 7 exposures to your park for them to make that decision. Take a tour of your park and review all the points of contact at your park.

Contact #7. Road to Your Park/Entrance – what’s the condition of the road to get to your park? Does your landscaping look well maintained? Have you thought about sprucing up your park with some new landscaping (it’s one of the least expensive improvements you can make to your park)?

Contact #8. Signage – Does your sign need a fresh paint job? If it’s a lighted sign, do all the lights work?

Contact #9. Registration – Is the area inviting or does it look like a paper mess with lots of “stuff” sitting around? Is the person or persons in the registration area friendly, knowledgeable, competent?Have you reviewed the registration process to make it as streamlined as possible?

Contact #10. Roads in the Park – have you made all needed repairs to the roads? Is your signage in the park easily seen and understood?

Contact #11. Sites – is broken concrete repaired? Are sites without ruts and gravel added where needed? Does each site have a picnic table (if provided), fire ring? Hookups in good working order?

Contact #12: All Facilities Provided – are your restrooms in good repair, paint fresh, lighting adequate? Is everything in good working order? If you have a pool, people will expect to be able to use it, as they will with all amenities offered.

Contact #13. Check-Out – is it an easy process? Here’s an opportunity to ask your guest if they had a good time; anything that could be better; fill out that online survey; ask them to come back.

You could break down all of the above points into many more, but this is a start. What’s important is that you try to consider as many points of contact that you can so that your guests have a great experience at your park. Make it a stress-free and relaxing time.

Anything in your park that doesn’t say, “We care for each and every guest” really says, “We want your money, but not you.” If, in doing your guest service checkup, you find unsafe conditions, broken laundry equipment, dirty swimming pools, bowed picnic tables, these are all part of the vocabulary of not caring. Operating standards and service levels should be established to all of the above, but that’s for another time.

Linda Profaizer, a Colorado resident and immediate past president of ARVC, can be contacted at lprofaizer27@gmail.com. Having stepped away from her ARVC position at the end of 2010, she welcomes help along the way to give her some ideas on topics of importance to campground owners for upcoming columns.