Given the relative brevity of ski season, properly managing the guest experience each and every day is critical to achieving high levels of satisfaction and loyalty. This is far more challenging and important on peak demand days, such as holidays and following major snowstorms. In the 10 winters we have been measuring skier and rider satisfaction and loyalty, we have seen that most resorts’ Net Promoter Scores (NPS) dive during these high demand periods. But many resorts have found ways to mitigate this decline. And that’s key to building future visitation.
Why Satisfaction FALLS
There are at least five reasons for the declines in satisfaction and loyalty that occur during peak demand periods:
1. A higher volume of guests creates crowding and bottlenecks throughout the resort: in the parking lots, the ticketing and lift lines, the rental and retail shops, in lessons, in the food and beverage outlets, and on the slopes. Without a lot of extra effort and staffing, the guest experience deteriorates significantly.
2. The higher cost of lift tickets and lodging during holidays increases guests’ expectations, which are more difficult to meet.
3. The Christmas/New Years, MLK, and Presidents Week holidays attract the most affluent guests of the season. These more affluent guests are more traveled, stay in the finest hotels and resorts, and expect a higher level of service. As such, they are more demanding, and more critical of their visit experience.
4. The crowds tend to create significant stress on resort staff, which degrades the staff’s experience. This, in turn, negatively impacts the guest experience.
5. The Thanksgiving and December holidays fall shortly after seasonal employees are hired, so these employees often have had limited training and experience dealing with the crowds. Many are not ready for prime time.
Evaluate, Plan, and Execute
What can resorts do to prepare for prime time and enhance the guest experience during peak demand periods?
The first step is to study your historical and season-to-date satisfaction and loyalty ratings by week (and by day, if needed) to determine both the magnitude of the problem and those aspects of the guest experience that are most affected. Start with your Likelihood to Recommend Net Promoter Scores, and then review the ratings for each department, outlet, etc. Once you identify the areas most impacted, review the detractors’ comments to reveal the root causes of the problems and help identify specific solutions.
The next step is to develop a written plan to enhance the guest experience during high demand periods. Mammoth Mountain uses a formal plan that it distributes to all employees. The plan covers all departments and outlets, and includes coordination with the local community to increase the number of buses, direct traffic, etc. After each holiday period, Mammoth’s management team conducts a post-mortem on the effectiveness of the plan and updates it, if needed, in preparation for the next peak demand period. Mammoth attributes its success in enhancing the guest experience during peak demand to this planning process.
Specific areas that might be addressed in your plan include:
• providing more of the information your guests need
• focusing on what is most important to your guests
• reducing the bottlenecks and wait times
• enhancing the experience guests have while waiting in lines
• delighting and wowing your guests
• maximizing front line staffing.
Your plan should include a targeted improvement in Likelihood to Recommend Net Promoter Score for each peak demand period.
Provide More Useful Information
If you “walk in the shoes of your guests”—particularly “never-evers” and those visiting your resort for the first time—you will quickly understand how information-starved many of them are. This leads to confusion, frustration, and anxiety, and increases the time it takes to get from the parking lot to the first lift.
To address this, many resorts have enhanced their websites’ FAQs and visitor guides. Some have improved their directional signage, both in the base area and on mountain. Copper Mountain addresses this need for information in several ways, including the use of volunteers who meet and greet arriving guests, answer questions, and provide directions and suggestions. Via email, Copper advises guests with lodging and/or lesson reservations how busy the resort will be, and suggests how to avoid some of the bottlenecks. Others, like Jiminy Peak, have its ambassadors work the ticket lines, providing information and answering guests’ questions.
Focus on What’s Most Important
A guest’s overall visit consists of numerous interactions with the resort’s staff, services, and facilities. These complex interactions may include the resort’s website, pre-arrival communications, arrival, ticketing, rentals, skiing/riding/tubing, lessons, dining, lodging, departure, etc. While it is important to meet or exceed guests’ expectations in all interactions, some interactions are more important than others.
To identify these key drivers, a growing number of resorts—including Boyne Resorts, The Fairbank Group, Killington and Camelback—use advanced statistical analyses of their guest feedback. By focusing on these drivers, particularly those in which the resort is underperforming, resorts can significantly enhance the overall guest experience.
Reduce Bottlenecks and Wait Times
Many guests become Detractors because of bottlenecks and long waits during peak demand periods, particularly in rental shops and F&B outlets. Resorts have responded in a number of ways. Two seasons ago, working with Snow Operating, Bromley assembled a process improvement team that identified three key bottlenecks with a significant impact on guest loyalty. The team then worked on process flow and mapping, got key stakeholders on board with potential changes, and implemented new processes, policies, and procedures in each of these three areas. The result has been a significant increase in NPS during each of the holiday periods.
After tracking rental times for a year, Cranmore revamped its rental shop operation, adopting a more streamlined process in which the guest progresses through only one line and receives more personalized service. These changes raised rental shop ratings by 20-30 points. Crested Butte redesigned its rental shop so that lines do not converge on each other; the improved flow has allowed both staff and guests to move more efficiently through the rental process.
Mammoth measures its rental times on an ongoing basis. If its rental time targets are not being met, the staff is empowered to add resources to reduce the rental times. Bear Creek has reduced its rental lines by having the rental forms completed at ticketing.
Bottlenecks and long wait times also occur regularly in F&B outlets. Centerplate reduces the lines in its resort clients’ food service operations in several ways: adding more points-of-sale, increasing grab-and-go offerings, opening satellite areas, and creating special sales areas for BBQs, coffee/cocoa kiosks, and beverage express areas. Centerplate also encourages guests to make advance reservations using Open Table, Table’s Ready, etc., to help them better manage the tables and reduce waiting. Killington uses email and blogs to encourage its guests to eat early or late, and to suggest “satellite” dining locations guests may not normally think of.
Another practice to reduce lines is to limit employee use of various facilities. Killington restricts employee food discounts at its high-volume cafeterias and restaurants, and asks staff to leave the closest-in parking locations on weekends for guests. To thank its staff for these steps, Killington distributes free snacks.
Enhance the Line Experience
It’s impossible to eliminate waiting lines altogether, but you can make the experience as pleasant as possible. Typically, this is done by distracting those in line. Copper entertains guests by playing trivia and other games, and deploys mascots in busy areas to amuse kids. Killington hires a DJ to spin tunes. At Killington, Jiminy Peak, and others, ambassadors hand out hot chocolate or cookies. Big Sky stations its hotel managers in the lobby with tablet computers so they can update guests on their room status as they wait to check in. In addition, a roaming concierge is available to make dining reservations and otherwise assist guests in planning other activities while they wait for their rooms to be ready.
Delight and Wow Guests
While the number and percentage of Detractors can be reduced by eliminating the defects and deficiencies that occur—including long waits in line—guests become Promoters when they receive a consistently high level of service from visit to visit, across departments during a visit, and when they are delighted by unexpected treatment. Killington has created a number of “wow” experiences, including providing its staff with non-alcoholic beverage cards they may hand out to guests, putting candy canes on cars in the parking lots, encouraging staff to dress in costumes for various holidays, and surprising selected guests who may benefit from being expedited to the front of the line.
Maximize Front Line Staffing
Every guest’s experience is heavily influenced by the treatment and service received from the resort’s front line staff—ambassadors, ticketing, rental, and guest service staff, instructors, ski patrollers, servers, housekeepers, front desk staff, culinary staff, etc. That treatment depends on the availability of staff, their training and skills, and their deployment around the resort. Your front line staff is largely responsible for creating more Promoters and fewer Detractors.
To maximize the impact of front line staff, top resorts hire seasonal staff based on friendliness, enthusiasm and attitude, and then train them in basic hospitality skills. They assign their “service stars” to the key guest-facing positions.
A growing number of companies and resorts, including the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority, Camelback Mountain, Snow Time, Inc., and the Fairbank Group, have created short orientation videos aimed at the Millennial workforce. These videos focus on the importance of guest service. The hospitality training that staff receive is then reinforced throughout the season in team huddles and line-ups. Crested Butte conducts brief, ongoing training sessions that focus on guest service and guest recovery, so that colleagues continue to make delivering a great guest experience a top priority. Many resorts supplement the front line staff with as many volunteer ambassadors/hosts as possible during peak demand periods, be they retirees, college students, or teachers. Killington strategically places ambassadors and greeters in high-traffic locations and further supplements them by shifting administrative staff from their regular positions to support other operational areas. Crested Butte uses a sign-up system in Human Resources that encourages employees who work behind the scenes to help the front line staff in high-impact areas such as rentals/demos, culinary, and valet ski/board check. Both resorts take an “all hands on deck” approach to serving their guests.
Last, but far from least, remember that happy employees make happy guests, and happy guests make happy employees. To most of your guests, your front line staff are the face of your resort. It is critical to support them, give them the tools and resources they need, and recognize their efforts in creating a great guest experience. Resorts typically receive positive comments from guests via post-visit surveys; Bear Creek thanks its front line staff with free pizzas, and Mammoth recognizes outstanding service with its Black Diamond Awards. Having senior managers out and about, working alongside the front line staff when possible, also lends support.At Wachusett Mountain, all employees who work more than 1000 hours during the season receive a skier visit bonus. The busier the ski area is, the larger the bonus.
As Boomers continue to phase out of our audience, we need to attract and retain more skiers and riders, and to encourage more frequent participation. Delivering a great experience every day will aid this effort. The biggest challenge, but also the biggest upside, is to enhance the guest experience during peak demand periods. We will not grow if we under-deliver on days that are most important to our guests.