Thursday, May 23, 2013

Albuquerque: The Aquarium - A Customer Service Tale

Albuquerque Aquarium, New Mexico

Albuquerque's aquarium's not bad.

But what I remember about my recent visit to the aquarium has nothing to do with the aquarium, per se.

It has to do with that great little customer service video called Give 'Em the Pickle, by Bob Ferrell. One of the stories he tells in his video is about when he went to his bank and he had to fill out a deposit slip, but didn't have his pen. The bank had a pen - it was chained to the table. If I recall correctly, Mr. Ferrell ripped the pen off the desk, took it to a bank employee and asked why the bank kept the pen chained to the table. The employee responded that it was to prevent folks from taking the pen. Which infuriated Mr. Ferrell because the message was that his bank presumed all of its customers to be thieves. His premise was, if the customer wants the pen, give 'em the damn pen! It costs virtually nothing. 

How does this relate to the aquarium? Well, you can buy a pass to visit all of the Bio Park sites: the aquarium, the zoo, and the botanical garden. The pass includes the train rides. If you're not a New Mexican resident, the cost is $20. If you're a New Mexican resident, the cost is $15.

Albuquerque Aquarium, New Mexico

Before I went to the Bio Park, I looked at the website for any proof of residency criteria. Finding none, I walked from my motel over to the closest of the three venues - the aquarium - and asked for a resident pass. I was asked for proof of residency. I showed:
  • Alamogordo library card (for which I'd had to show my apartment rental agreement)
  • NMSU-A library card (for which I'd also had to show my apartment rental agreement or a bill sent to my Alamogordo address), and
  • Two additional cards that implied Alamogordo residency 

All were dismissed out of hand. "We don't accept library cards."

So I paid the 20 bucks instead of the 15 bucks and began my looking around, but this was so annoying an experience that I walked over to the administrative offices and said to a woman - I'll call her the manager's assistant - that I'd like to share my feedback:

1. That its practice implies that the Bio Park's patrons are presumed to be liars unless they have proof to the contrary, as neither my word nor my documentation was sufficient. (Proof, by the way, that is not described on the website.)

2. It's also an example of front-line staff not being given the authority to evaluate the data themselves to come to a logical conclusion that someone is a resident, and to issue the discount. Or given guidance that - if there's a doubt, fall on the side of presuming the visitor's honesty.

3. Even if there are people who have documentation that turns out to be false - how many people can this be per year? The park would rather insult residents as presumed liars than let a handful of hucksters have a five-dollar discount?  

I'd like to be able to say that the matter was dealt with in a sparkly manner, but it wasn't. It was minimally OK. There was a lackluster attempt to reduce the price (after getting permission from a higher-up on the phone), and when it looked like it was going to be complicated, I explained I was less interested in a partial refund than I was in management considering a change of approach for the future. In response, the woman suggested I complete a customer feedback card that I could find right outside the door, with assurances that the manager "reads every single one."

I allowed as how I'd already taken the time and trouble to share my feedback face to face, and that, thanks, I didn't think I'd take the additional time to repeat everything. 

My experience is that if front-line staff behave like the ticket takers and the manager's assistant, it's a sign of trouble in the organization's or the department's overall culture. So I don't put too much blame on the front line.

(No charge for this consulting session.)

No comments: