In business, the goal is to keep the customer happy. It’s especially important in this day and age when the immediacy of social media reviews can have a major impact on your bottom line. Four bowling centers in different parts of the country share their top tips on how they give customers a great experience at their facilities and keep them coming back for more.
At Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center in Clayton, N.C., Owners Pondra and Eddie Byrd attributed their facility’s success to a long-time habit of treating customers like family. The couple have been in business for 22 years and their 45,000-square-foot facility is a fixture in the community. People are inclined to schedule varied functions there and will do so year after year. “We cater a lot of youth league, Little League, athletic association, end of season parties and events of that nature,” said Pondra. Rainbow Lanes provides on-site catering for these occasions and has been known to fulfill off-site catering requests as well. When functions take place at the Fun Center, attendees will sometimes bowl, sometimes not. “It’s just a mix. I just booked an upcoming family reunion for a customer and attendees plan to bowl. But we also handle an annual group dinner for this same customer at Christmas and the affair never includes bowling.” Another good source of revenue for the Byrds are the corporate entities who frequently hold team-building exercises onsite.
Rainbow Lanes’ customers have been known to post Yelp and Google reviews, in addition to leaving comments on the facility’s website. “Most of the reviews are very good. If there’s a problem and they leave contact information, we reach out to them. If they don’t leave us contact information, if they leave us a bad review, we’ll issue an apology, a response to the review and please contact so and so, so we can get this matter sorted out to your satisfaction,” said Pondra. The Byrds’ daughter routinely keeps an eye on incoming reviews.
At Sparta Lanes in Sparta, N.J., General Manager Tom Semiz firmly believes in taking the time to interact with customers as a way to boost their overall experience at the center. It is something he is always stressing to his staff at the 32-lane facility. “At some point while they’re bowling, I usually have somebody, if not myself, go down there and make sure everybody is okay. See if there is anything we can do for them rather than just have them come into the center and give them a lane. It’s got to be more than hello, goodbye and no other real interaction with them. Obviously when it’s really busy, it’s hard to get to everybody but I’m a big believer in being interactive with my customers and talking with them.” When customers get to know staff, and have a rapport with them, they’re likely to want to come back and play again.
Facebook and Google are the usual source for reviews on Sparta Lanes, with infrequent ones appearing on Yelp. “One thing I’ve noticed is if somebody does have a bad experience – and it does happen on occasion – they are the ones who are going to write a review,” said Semiz. Fortunately, Facebook and Google reviews pop up on his phone so he can be pro-active. “I’m generally very good at answering reviews, either way – whether they’re good or bad. I can’t say I actually see them all but when I do see them, I try my best to answer them. Try to find out what happened so I can try to make it better.”
When asked to share top tips for ensuring customers have a great experience at his bowling center, John Brekke, owner of Huckleberry Lanes in Sandpoint, Idaho, answered without hesitation. “I think the biggest key for a great experience, aside from friendly employees, is a clean facility.” He employs quite a large staff at his 16-lane, 17,000-square-foot operation who attend to the ongoing details of keeping things spit-spot all day long. Then it is the night crew’s duty to finesse the bowling center for the next day’s business. Huckleberry Lanes gets positive comments on its cleanliness all the time as customers truly appreciate it.
Huckleberry Lanes employs the credit card processing system Square which includes a handy customer feedback feature. “Anybody who uses a card to process a transaction gets a short survey on their phone or in their email and we rely pretty heavily on that for feedback,” Brekke said. Direct verbal remarks are common as well. “In the case of a positive verbal comment, our response is always an immediate thank you. There’s usually not much time for anything other than that. Anything that has been posted online or submitted electronically gets a direct response with a thank you for taking the time to fill out a survey and give us your feedback,” he added. Should a negative comment occur, Huckleberry Lanes reaches out in a way to either correct the situation or improve matters so the same thing doesn’t happen again.
It’s all about customer service at Pickwick Bowl in Burbank, Calif. “That’s the way to ensure customers have a great experience,” explained Darin Mathewson, vice president of operations. “From the food service to the bar area to the front desk to the great shoes, easy access to the bowling balls and just getting people in the lanes as quickly as possible – that’s what matters.”
Conveniently, the 24-lane facility has an app that makes it easy for management to gain customer feedback. “When customers log onto our WiFi, the app gives us the opportunity as they’re leaving to reach out and says thank you for coming to Pickwick Bowl, we just wanted to find out how your experience was and if you had any reviews for us,” he explained. Reviews are sent directly to Mathewson’s phone, giving him the ability to reach right back out and be pro-active should a negative comment appear. “You can’t make everybody happy, I’ll be honest. But we try and I would say that probably nine times out of ten, you can satisfy people by just reaching out quickly enough,” he concluded.
Is the Customer Always Right?
What if a Staff Member Feels Threatened?
“I will never tell you that the customer is always right,” said Pondra Byrd, co-owner of Rainbow Lanes Family Fun Center in Clayton, N.C. However, she does remind staff that the customer is who keeps them getting paid each week. “Our philosophy – and we’ve got it posted where our customers as well as our staff can see it – is that our customers should never be made to feel that they are bothering you by expecting excellent customer service. That is something that we emphasize here,” she added. If there is an issue with a customer that an employee can’t surmount, she prefers they go up the chain of command in order to resolve it.
“I don’t feel the customer is always right,” said Tom Semiz, general manager of Sparta Lanes in Sparta, N.J. If a situation where an employee feels threatened or uncomfortable dealing with a customer ever does crop up, his mostly young adult staff tends to seek out management for a solution. “Young adults don’t really understand being threatened. They don’t understand what to do. So, it’s generally handed off to [me] or another senior staff member who is on duty if I’m not here.”
“The customer always needs to be treated as if they’re right whether they are or not. Don’t undervalue your staff and their opinions. But always treat the customer as if they are right,” said John Brekke, owner of Huckleberry Lanes in Sandpoint, Idaho. Diplomacy is the name of the game. It rarely happens but if an employee does feel threatened, Brekke’s solution is to remove them from the situation and replace them with a senior staff member who is capable of de-escalating matters.
“It’s not whether the customer is always right. It’s whether we can turn a moment of misery into a moment of magic,” said Darin Mathewson, vice president of operations at Pickwick Bowl in Burbank, Calif. It is always the goal of the center to appease the customer in the situation whenever possible. If a situation where an employee truly feels threatened does pop up – a very rare occurrence – Mathewson said there is always the option of calling their hometown police department, who responds within minutes.