What size shoes?

Customer service is one of the few areas where focusing too much on “efficiency” can be detrimental to your business.

It may seem paradoxical, but it’s true. Customer service is not about the numbers. It’s about the people and the customers’ experience. Sure, it would be quicker to greet all of your customers at the front counter with a simple question “Shoe size?” But the less efficient greeting that encompasses making the person feel comfortable with the pricing structure, the setting, and even the “bowling vernacular,” are all good investments into the customer experience.

In our industry, we typically aim to get each customer to come to our centers for more visits each year. We expend a great deal of energy trying to get people in the door, and as we increase our success in getting people in the business, our focus has to shift to creating repeat customers out of those first-time customers.

In this digital age, we are constantly grabbing the attention of people who never would have considered foregoing a night at the movie theater for a night of bowling. And yet, that is exactly the kind of customer we are fortunate to be able to attract today, thanks to social media. But we have to make sure that these first-time customers who find us through social media can be converted into semi-regular customers.

Our customer service has to evolve to accommodate the first-time customer who has, perhaps, never been in a bowling center. The entire experience can be overwhelming, and our staff must work to make them feel not only welcome, but completely comfortable in this foreign environment.

My longtime friend and colleague Fred Kaplowitz, an industry icon, has been involved in bowling his entire life just like I have. He ran some numbers by me.  He said studies show the following: 68 million people visit our centers on the average of 2.3 times a year. Of those, 1.4 million are sanctioned league bowlers. Another couple million are non-sanctioned league/program or short-season bowlers.

Fred also points out that studies show that 10% of the 68 million bowl more than 15 times in one year. But that leaves an astonishing 60 million people (approximately) who bowl in our centers only a couple times a year!!

What this means is that we have to really hone in on how to get those people to come back an additional few times each year.

Bowling centers have their own distinct vibe and feelings. These casual bowlers often do not understand our pricing, our lingo, the scoring systems, or even how long a game will last. In short, they know very little about our centers.

Our customer service approach must account for the fact that these new-to-bowling customers will likely need a more complete greeting than, “Shoe size?” followed up with “How many games?”

A better approach? Have your staffers try some version of this: “Hello! Welcome to XYZ Lanes. Is this your first time here?” Just that simple introduction will help your customer relax and be able to process the often overwhelming environments at our bowling centers.

Want to take your customer service to the next level? Consider incorporating some, or all, of the following:

  • Explain your pricing options with a visual chart or even an iPad.
  • Talk to the customer about the shoe sizes, and hand out the rental shoes.
  • Direct the customer on how to pick out a bowling ball, and also explain how to find where the balls are located. (Simple explanations can go a long way here!).
  • Point out exactly where their lane is.
  • Assist with automatic scoring, and be sure to have clear directions on how to enter each player’s name. Do not take anything for granted! Your customers may not have any idea how to do the basic things like entering their names. Help them here. It will go faster for you, and the customer will appreciate the extra attention.
  • Be sure to have your food menus on the concourse tables and have a waitress on duty to take orders. Many centers only have waitresses during leagues, but not during open bowling. You will be surprised how much of a difference that makes.

The bottom line here is that the success of our business development program should not be crushed by three simple words: “What size shoes?” We work too hard on our marketing and upkeep for our centers to have new customers turned off by their bowling experience the minute they walk through the doors.

The strength of your marketing program can be determined by the number of customers who walk through your doors each year. But the success of your entire business will be determined by how well your center does customer service – and how well it does in customer retention.