Appreciated and Motivated: Staff Training Tips from Mini-Golf and Go-Kart Facilities

The success of almost business can usually be traced to providing great customer service, which fosters a high level of customer satisfaction.  In turn, ensuring this can be linked to motivated employees.  Too often, however, businesses assume that offering more money is the best way to motivate employees.  While there is no doubt that compensation is an important element, the reality is that there are many ways to inspire and motivate your staff.  This is true even in businesses like mini-golf and go-kart operations where teams are often small in number and consist of part-time students or other young people working full time for the summer season.  Despite the challenges inherent in directing such teams, here’s how some owners and managers make sure their employees deliver the service needed to keep guests coming back.
“It’s tough to keep kids these days motivated and focused on what’s important for business – like customer service,” said Annette Manual the general manager of The Track Family Recreation Center in Destin, Fla.  “It can be tough for them to spend their summers out in the heat working because they have so many other things to focus on at that point in their lives.  I used to be a teacher and I know how important summers can be to kids and so we try to make it as rewarding and fun as possible.  It starts from the owners and managers on down that we want to get the job done, but also have fun doing it.”
Manuel explained, “We have incentive plans for our kids.  And, we also let them make their own schedules.  They can take time off if they have things like band camp or family vacations.  It not only gives them some flexibility, but empowers them.  Plus, we take them places like canoeing, bowling and on an end-of-season trip.  In addition, we have a little score sheet that we keep.  They get negative points for being late, customer complaints and things like that.  And, they get positive points for things like volunteering for a shift or if they do a great job we give them awards.  Then at the end of the season, if they are in the neutral or positive point zones, we take a whole day and take them to another amusement park and let them enjoy themselves.  We also do other things, for example, on payday we buy lunch and have it catered.”
She also noted that setting expectations is important. “We have a very brief staff meeting every morning and go over basic standards about being polite to our guests and remind employees that without those customers they wouldn’t have a paycheck.  Then we talk about the cleanliness of the park, safety and things like that.”
Others also use team gatherings to instill the right attitude.  “We have about 40 staff and use staff meetings to keep them focused on what we want them to do,” said Julie Tyrol, the manager at Somers Golf Center in Somers, Conn.
Smart hiring is also important.  As Tyrol noted, “We have a great group of kids who come back year after year from high school and into college.”
Part of building a motivated, quality staff is finding those who share a passion for what you are offering, like mini-golf and carting.  “Our track is not the rental type, but actually a race track for 5 to 95-year-olds to come with their own karts and race,” said Steve Duffy, the proprietor of Sprint Kart Speedway in Davenport, Iowa.  “I have been the operator of the track for over 25 years and raced there myself as a teen, and I’m now in my 60s.  I get pleasure from seeing young kids come here with not just their parents, but with grandparents as well to participate and watch.  The joy we get as a provider is to see all of them enjoying themselves. We all share the love of it. Our folks have been involved in a major part of their lives in go-karting and participating in a track atmosphere, so they have a certain commitment.”
“We are family owned and operated,” said Candace Rieken, one of the owners of Delaware Speedway in Delaware, Iowa.  “For staffing, we try and keep it to people we have known for years who have raced and have an appreciation for the sport.  So we know what to expect from our staff and end up having fewer problems.”
Size, though, often dictates the approach management takes to building a quality staff.  “We have a staff of about 130,” said Larry Stottlemyer, the owner of Adventure World USA in New Market, Md.
He said that as his operation grew, he adapted his approach to attracting and retaining the right staff.  “We’ve been at this since 1980 when we started with a small park and then expanded in 2005.  We were suddenly dealing with more kids than we had before and the nature of things change when you put that many kids together.  So we eventually hired an outside firm to help.  They recommended a range of things.  For example they suggested that we recognize an employee once a week and reward them with a gift certificate.  We recognize them in front of other staff and guests by announcing the award.  And, we always try to find somebody who has not been rewarded the week before – otherwise the same exemplary employees would keep winning.  But you have to find a specific reason you can cite to pat them on the back for doing a great job.”
He added, “Plus, the way we interview and hire has made a big difference.  We don’t have a long interview, but it does test their basic intelligence and the way they answer gives us a sense of their fundamental people skills.”
The experts say don’t expect anything unless you set expectations.  This often starts with leading by example.  “We are providing an experience and entertainment so meeting customer needs is important,” said Andy Finke, the owner of Jet Karting in Sheridan, Ill.  “I try to lead by example. They can see how I interact with guests and they know I expect the same level of effort and professionalism from them.”
So, great customer service is really an attitude as much as it is a skill or knowing the business, starting with being proactive. “Often this is their first job and they are learning how to deal with people in this setting,” said Kevin Towry, the general manager at Ellens Amusement Center in Cedar Hill, Texas.  “I let them know that they shouldn’t wait for customers to engage them. We greet them and make them feel welcome. We need to be helpful.”
And just as staff needs to be mentored, coached, directed and motivated, managers and owners need to constantly remind themselves that they drive the whole process. When a manager or owner is onsite they have the power to change the outlook of employees.  Words, body language and demeanor and facial expressions shape how your employees act.  Employees need to feel valued and appreciated just as much as they need to be compensated.  And, while the customer is always right, you need to support staff and back them up.  There should be no ambiguity.  You have hired them to perform certain tasks and they need to feel supported.
What will work for you depends on a number of factors, including the nature of your staff – for example, part or full time – the size of your team, and their average age.  Nonetheless, knowing and applying the basics is always good.  The best part for owners and managers is that much of what creates a quality staff doesn’t cost dollars, only effort and care. –

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