The landscape of the mountain resort industry is changing, both in terms of the business operations and what it takes to lead resorts. The Summit Series kicked off this fall with a mission to connect 10 current industry leaders with 10 next-generation leaders and continue the mentor-mentee dialogue SAM started three years ago. The aim: assist the development of the mountain resort industry’s next generation of leaders.
Here, we share the entire transcript from the group call on the all-important topic of guest experience. The mentors sharing their knowledge during this discussion are Carolyn Stimpson, COO at Wachusett Mountain, Mass.; David Perry, EVP of sustainability and special projects at Alterra Mountain Company; and Brad Wilson, GM of Bogus Basin, Idaho. Listen to the conversation on PodSAM, SAM’s podcast channel. The following is lightly edited for clarity.
Paul Thallner: A great day, day one of the SAM Summit Series for 2019. Always an exciting time for me and for everyone involved. Really delighted that you're all here and for our mentors, thank you for carving out some time to give this gift back to the industry. I'm going to be asking you some questions and ask you to share some stories, but so that the mentees can put a voice to your name, please introduce yourselves real quick and we'll do that by alphabetical order by first name. And then I'd love for you to share one thing that you're really good at that most people don't know about you.
Brad Wilson: Hi, I’m Brad Wilson. I'm the general manager of Bogus Basin Mountain Recreation Area. We're a nonprofit mountain recreation area, 16 miles north of Boise, Idaho. I don't think most people know that, I'm really a good guesser on [the tv show] “The Voice.”
Carolyn Stimpson: Don't have me singing because you guys will all immediately mute me. I do have one of those distinctive voices, I've been told, I cut through the clutter. Sounds like I had been smoking five packs a day or something.
Anyway, Carolyn Stimpson here. We started running Wachusett back in the ‘60s. I actually just found my first ski pass from 1969. It's a family business and we are also in the beverage business. We like to keep our family employed since we wouldn't have jobs otherwise. So Polar Beverages and Wachusett are our two family businesses.
David Perry: Hello, everybody. David Perry here. I'm with Alterra Mountain Company. I was the founding president and COO of the company and I've recently shifted my role now a little over two years in, I am now the EVP of sustainability and special projects. For the last two years we've been trying to build the foundations of Alterra and creating and launching the Ikon Pass. Prior to that I spent 16 years at Aspen Skiing Company and I'm from Canada before that—you can probably still hear a little Canadian in my voice. So, one thing about me—I guess this is something outside of our industry that you're supposed to share—I'm a very accomplished photographer. Mostly landscape, but people as well. And that's my other passion.
Paul: Thank you, everybody.
The topic for today's session is guest experience. We know that there's no way we can cover everything there is to cover in just an hour talking about guest experience. So, we'll get as deep as we can knowing that there's a lot more to cover. Let’s start with each of our mentors sharing a story. Putting yourself in the way back machine a little bit: what encounter, whether it's personally or professionally, have you had with guest experience that really sticks out as a shining example of what to do? Sort of a shining, positive moment of when you were looking at guest experiences and saying, “Ah, that's it. That's what it really means.”
Brad: As general manager at what would be considered a local ski area—although at 2,600 acres we're a pretty good-sized local ski area—I get out and about and I think it's really important to be highly visible on the mountain, not just for our employees, but also for our guests. The beauty of a local ski area is that we have a returning clientele. We have about 35,000 season passholders and they all live within the area in and around Boise. So, over the last four years I've gotten to know or at least recognize a whole lot of them.
My story is from last year. Of course, it was busy, like so many Western ski areas were. I was out and about on my usual tour and came down to one of the lifts on the backside of the mountain. It's a high-speed quad and I noticed a humongous lift line and it wasn't being controlled very well. So I took the initiative to step in and talk to the lift attendant, and helped to control the line and worked with [the liftie] to do that, but really got out in front of it and showed both the guests and our employee how important it is to interact with the guests and control the line and fill every chair. We took a line that was probably 15 minutes long and brought it down to about five minutes long by filling the chairs, but in the process also interacting with the guests.
I mean, the beauty of having all those season passholders is you have their name in front of you all the time so you can address them by name. It was a great experience. I did it for a couple of hours and I've done it several times since. But this particular one really stood out and I heard more about that experience from our guests than anything else I've ever done. They all love the fact that I was down there. They all loved the fact that I cared enough to be down there and help things out. And then I heard from our employees that they really appreciated the help. They are under a lot of stress and they learned to control the line a little better.
Carolyn: I love what Brad said and I totally appreciate that. A big thing from my perspective is leading by example and being out there and interacting with our guests and employees all the time. I love jumping in at the rental shop and I constantly get comments from our guests, like, "Aren't you the lady on TV?" And the employees and guests totally appreciate the fact that I'm in there with their smelly feet and checking their boots. [Ed. note: Wachusett advertises heavily on TV in the Boston market, oftentimes with ads filmed the same day they run, and Carolyn is a frequent character in those ads.]
I just had a situation the other day: We had the Wachusett Old Time Skiers luncheon—a couple of hundred old timers come in and have their preseason lunch. I said "welcome home" to this old-time skier, 87-year-old skier. And he totally appreciated that. I found that out later when I went to his wake the other day and his wife said, "I can't even tell you how meaningful that was for him to have you say welcome home. He was totally touched." He appreciates the fact that I addressed him directly that way.
David: Leading by example and getting out there on the front lines and showing your people that you're shoulder to shoulder with them is immensely valuable on many, many levels.
One thing that I've discovered over time is I had this internal debate between just meeting a customer's needs or really surprising and delighting your customers so that they start telling positive stories about their experience afterwards. I know there are articles out there that say surprise and delight doesn't move the needle on business as much as meeting their needs does, but I'll leave that debate to the experts. I'm really in the surprise and delight camp, finding ways to energize our guests.
I'm going to go way back with a quick story. I was actually a ski instructor at Blackcomb Mountain the first year it opened, and I was told when we started that you were more than just a ski instructor. You show up at 7:30. We're going to greet all the guests as they show up in the parking lots and in the lift lines. So, we all did. It was an all hands-on deck mentality and culture. I showed up in my instructors’ uniform, handed out trail maps, helped people in the lift line, helped kids get their skis on, those kinds of things. Then went off later to do my job and actually teach skiing.
It was a snowy day, and protocol on any snowy day, at the end of the teaching day, was everyone showed up in their uniforms at the parking lot with brooms. And we took our brooms and swept the snow off the windshields of the cars out there. As people arrived back at their vehicle, they were kind of shocked. And we left a little note on the windshield that said, "Thank you, drive safely, you can see clearly and come back again soon."
People would stop and say, "Didn't I see you at the lift line first thing this morning?" And "Oh, weren't you teaching lessons?" And "Oh, you're out here in the parking lot. What kind of place is this?" Because it showed that it doesn't matter what your job was, you were all pitching in and greeting the guests in meaningful ways.
My number one takeaway of that culture and the result of that is to deliver the customer interaction with genuine, personal warmth. You're face to face with a customer, speaking to them, looking them in the eye and with a smile and a helpful demeanor—that's very meaningful.
Paul: That certainly would delight me if I got back to my car and saw someone sweeping the windshield off. That authenticity seems to be a theme in all three of your responses. Meeting people where they are, showing them that you're generally happy that they're there and that you want them to have a great time. I'm going to switch gears a little bit. Ski resorts are a lot more than just skiing. There are a lot of business units at a resort. I'd love to hear your thinking about how you create a cohesive guest experience across all of the various touch points.
Carolyn: The cohesiveness of training is really what it comes down to, and cross training. We've got a bunch of people that can do just about anything. Having those touch points, I think it’s really great for the customer, too. If you're out there greeting them as they come off the bus in the morning to helping them load the lift later on and serving them soup at lunch, you might see that person two or three times during the day and they're just blown away. They totally appreciate the fact that you're making it happen for them. So, having consistent training and cross training and those genuine customer interactions are key.
David: Carolyn is correct; training is essential. Sometimes people show up for work and they have very little group training. They show up on the job and they pick up what they learn from their colleagues, and that isn't always correct.
But before training, I think a lot of work needs to be done as management on defining your strategy as an organization. If you define your strategy correctly and you have the company strategy overall, then you go down to department level or business unit level and you get your core strategy support, and then you’re right down to the department level where the service is delivered on the front lines and making sure that their strategies then support the business unit who supports the company. So, it's like a waterfall strategy exercise.
At the customer’s face-to-face level, ground zero, it's really about understanding the customer journey and following it in great detail. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer and doing that as a practice exercise before the customer arrives. Whether it's the pre-arrival, you know, your online experience, booking, getting your tickets or your pass, the parking experience or just the wayfinding experience—what are the customer interactions that you really control and do you have an understanding of each of those points?
But it starts with strategy, and then it goes all the way down into the customer journey. If those are carefully thought through, and then drilled down to everyone with training, then everyone will understand the customer's point of view. That's really hard to do, but if you truly can do it, then you can anticipate the customer's needs, you can attend to the pain points the customers are inevitably going to experience.
The one thing to remember with that is, sometimes, customer experience is understood by people as an employee - customer interaction, and that's true, but it's also more than that. It's the physical presentation at your resort. It's the wayfinding. It's the cleanliness. It's the value for price paid. There are many different categories that really add into the customer experience overall, it isn't just the interactions. There's a lot of moving parts and pieces.
Brad: One other component of that element is our uniforms; making sure that our customers can identify our employees. I've been at several different ski areas and the default color for ski areas is black. You know, if you give the choice to the front-line staff, they'll all wear black. And I don't know about you, but black blends in quite easily to what our customers wear.
So the first thing I did when I got here was buy new uniforms, and they're consistent across all departments. So, when you walk into a building or walk across the plaza, you can pick out an employee and get your questions answered. So that's something physical that I've instituted.
But one of the things about customer-service training—and we have a whole bunch of new employees that we hire each year, including about 60 fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds to work in the kids' programs—when we're doing training, we've tried to keep it, at least initially, very simple. One of the elements that I've tried to focus on is called the 10-5 rule: when a customer gets within a certain proximity of an employee, we ask them to acknowledge the guests with sincerity and authenticity. If staff come within 10 feet of a guest, make eye contact. And if they get within five feet of you, you actually say something to them—hello, good morning, etc.
Obviously, this came from Disneyland, and I think it's one of the reasons why it has the moniker of “the happiest place on earth.” You can't get close to an employee at Disneyland without them acknowledging you in a sincere way. So, with 300 employees on at one time at Bogus Basin, if every employee can do that, the guest will come out with the impression that this place is amazing, everybody is friendly, everyone is genuine. And then, of course, we need to make sure that our employees know the answers to the questions that the guests will ask them.
Paul: We're going to turn over the mic to some of the mentees.
Tom Royther: What are some examples of ways that your resort works to turn a negative guest experience into a positive one?
David: Turning a negative into a positive is an opportunity for recovery, right? Guest service recovery is a whole science unto itself. Although I can't say I have applied this universally at all our resorts, in my past experience where it's been most successful is where the company truly empowers the front-line employee to do whatever it takes to give the customer what they need to turn around their experience. I think of a comp day, a free rental ski, whatever. Whatever it might be, go ahead and give it, just tell us what you gave, and we can take care of it.
It's interesting, you know, if you truly are brave enough to empower front line employees to give away whatever they need to do to rectify that customer experience, then they rarely will give away too much. They're very careful with the company's resources, money, products. So, if you can do it and you're brave enough, give control to the front line and that's the best way to turn negatives around to positives the fastest.
Brad: I concur. We've given out what's called a “customer care card” and every employee carries this with them. If there's an issue that a guest has that, say, a parking lot attendant can take care of, they can write out a customer care card—and it could be something as little as free hot chocolate because they're struggling with their kids.
We have found exactly what you said, Dave, you almost have to force the employees to give these things out because they really take it seriously and feel obligated not to give away too much. I think part of this also stems from, I'll call it management, and it's our reluctance to really take care of that 95 percent of the people that will do things the right way, because we focus on the 5 percent that might take advantage of a program or potentially steal from us or whatever you want to call it. We spend way too much time on the very small minority. And so, I, like you, Dave, I encourage my employees. They will never get in trouble for giving too much away within reason.
Carolyn: We do similar empowerment programs, but we also recognize the employee for having done so. So if someone had their skis stolen and security will look on the cameras and see that the person actually grabbed the wrong skis and drove off with them, then we contact the person because we actually had their license plate number and say, "Hey, could you bring up the other person's skis that you've borrowed?” In the meantime, we'll give them demos so that they can continue skiing. So, our security guys get all kinds of accolades and shout outs from the customers that had their skis rescued. And we do a little star-employee thing: anytime somebody gets a shout out from a customer, they get rewarded with a $5 card that they can use anywhere. So, whenever they get a shout out, they get that, and it gets posted in HR that this person got it for this reason kind of thing. And we do weekly drawings for the people that won those and give out all kinds of prizes around that.
Megan Collins: You touched on this a little bit, but at Snowbasin, we do hire some younger staff. And I was curious if you guys have any suggestions on how you prepare your staff and encourage them to buy in on the guest recovery programs. For example, we have had these cards where our staff, if someone's having a bad day, can give out a card, like you said, write in a free hot chocolate or something like that. We've found that our staff will hand out a card, mark a free hot chocolate, but don't write why they gave it out on the card.
David: It's tough, you know, young employees aren't as trained or maybe don't have as many experiences, and when they aren't trained, it's like drinking from a fire hose. So, it's hard to get everything right, and with seasonal employees it can be even more difficult because of the time we have with them.
That said, I actually am going to go back to something that Carolyn mentioned, which is rewarding the employees for their positive behaviors. One thing I've tried that really was effective years ago, instead of employees having cards to hand out to guests, we gave cards to guests to hand out to employees. So, management were given wads of cards and went around to hand them out. It forced the management to get out on the front lines early in the morning and interact with guests and ask guests, well, if you see something really positive happening with an employee, would you please give them this card? And it was a little card with a fun little phrase on it. And we have a number on it so you can track it.
So, we asked the guests to thank the employees, and then we rewarded the employees. We kept track of the returned cards and it was a whole reward system. So that worked no matter the age, and it actually encouraged a really fun guest/management/employee culture, where we're thanking the guests. We're asking that the guests recognize the employees. And most guests are very, very happy to do it, as a matter of fact, so that was one trick that I've used.
Brad: That's great, Dave. I wrote that one down. So, Megan, I think one of the key elements is to follow up with that young employee. It lets them know that you care about what they're doing and that this program is important. If they never hear anything, then they'll probably not write something down again. So, you know, I think it's really just revisit with them why you're doing it and that nobody's in trouble and we encourage them to always help our customers whenever they can.
Carolyn: We do that same thing! I hand out those, those star employee things to customers all morning long and we have our ambassadors do the same. They feel so empowered to be able to have that $5 in their pocket to give to the right person, and they take it very seriously.
For the younger employees, I love bringing on the young’uns because that means you get them for a few years. So again, training is key and making sure that they do feel like they're part of the team and maybe doing a little mentoring with them helps. Find the instructor that's got it together and have the new folks shadowing him or her for the day until they're ready. We do a junior ski instructor program, so they're basically the guys helping the kids get from the Polar Kids area over to the slope. So, then we get them all through high school and college. It's a pretty good gig for both of us.
Evan Kovach: With the guest journey becoming increasingly less human and rooted more in technology with self-serve kiosks and things like that, do you have a vision of what the right balance is between providing the modern conveniences that technology does with enough human touch points to ensure our guests feel valued and will still recommend our brand to friends and family? Is there something to be said for keeping humans in this process in our industry?
Brad: It's a great question because I think as we get more high-tech and less friction, we start to lose that connectivity with customer service. But one of the things that we really strive for is using our customers’ names whenever we can. Your name is the most personal thing you own and generally people like to be called by name. So, whenever somebody comes through with a credit card purchase, we encourage our cashiers to thank them by name. Same in the rental shop. And again, because we have such a high percentage of season pass holders, we have that ability to call them by name in lift lines as well.
And, so, we start to develop that closeness, and people just assume that you remember their names. So the next time you see them they expect you to remember it and that can be a challenge. I may go against the grain here in terms of the whole RFID scanning and the gates. That transaction or that interaction between a cold steel gate and getting to the lift is a challenge. So, I do kind of like the handheld RFID scanners because it does allow for our lift operators to address people by name and make it a little more personal.
Carolyn: I would challenge that one, Brad. I think the RFID actually allows for us to be the heroes by opening the gate when they do have an issue. "Oh geez. Sorry, John, it looks like you probably have your phone by your card,” or something like that instead of the employee being the bad guy. So, we do appreciate using the gates and helping the customer out.
I definitely agree with using people's names. The eye contact, using their name, but I feel that the points of contact now are more positive than negative because of the technology.
Paul: Oh, that's super interesting. Earlier, Disney was mentioned as an example of great guest experience. Obviously, Disney doesn't suffer from lack of guests or guest personalization, though it is relatively high tech, probably extremely high tech. I'd be very interested to know from our mentors where you look for examples or sources of what makes a great guest experience, besides Disney of course—other industries, other organizations, things like that. How do you set the bar for yourself and where do you look?
Brad: As a non-profit ski area without very deep pockets, we really look to the bigger resorts, the Aspens of the world and see what's working. And go there ourselves, go and witness and see what we feel works and what doesn't work. So, I think that since we're down the scale a bit on the tech side we look at the guys that are doing it right, and there's plenty of them out there in our industry. And then, of course, NSAA shows and other shows where we can talk to people selling their wares.
Carolyn: I think it can be anywhere. I mean, restaurants and wherever you interact with employees. It's a constant thing and I'm constantly looking out to see how and what people do to make you feel like you're valued as a guest. Usually I try to swipe those people if I'm anywhere nearby. "Hey, do you like to ski, or you want to learn?" And try to grab them as an employee. But I think any service business is a possible example.
David: Where are we going to look? Well, you know, I think the obvious answer is we benchmark, like Brad talked about, other ski areas and try to think about what they do well and borrow from their ideas and then take those. But our customers are increasingly having different experiences in their lives, and ski resorts generally, frankly, are putting our customers through a lot more hoops and a lot more pain than many other experiences that they have. So, as an industry we have a lot of work to do, a big hill to climb, to match the standards that people get in their everyday lives.
From a tech perspective, for example, people are used to shopping on Amazon with Amazon Prime and they're used to shopping with Apple and things like that, where the technology experience is so well done and so well designed that it’s completely seamless for the customer. It's super simple and super easy. We're not particularly good at that in this industry. I'm a real proponent of working really hard on seamless technology, but then having a human face to help when needed. Face, voice, whatever.
Our customers are as diverse as we are. I mean, you’ve got all ages, all ethnicities, all languages, all different income groups. You know, there are people that never get on a bus in their entire life and we force them to get on a school bus from the parking lot to the ski area, and they're kind of okay with it. Any other time they'd have a driver and private plane.
Our guests are extremely diverse, and the age is really tied closely to tech experience. I think our younger demographics have grown up in a technology-run world and expect things to be instantaneous and things to be seamless, and ski areas are not. We're way more analog. But you have older customers, too; seniors and beyond that, to whom the tech world is dumbfounding. And so, they want a voice, they want a phone call actually, and they want a real love-letter in the mail. We have to touch all, and both ends of that spectrum, as ski area operators in order to be effective. We are working at Alterra really, really hard on seamless technology, but keeping a human face to it wherever possible.
Alex Drew: In the summer we become a wedding factory and a conference facility. How can we encourage these wedding and conference guests and others who came here, not necessarily by their choice, to come back and pick up skiing in the winter? What are some strategies we can use to retain these guests?
Brad: To me it's all about capturing their data and talking to them. Customize your communication with them, and basically say, "Hey, you came up in the summertime. We hope you enjoyed the wedding. Do you ski? If you do, we have these wonderful programs for you."
For us, we are 16 miles from Boise, but it's a 40-minute drive up a super twisty turny road. And so our summer visitors have a couple things that are unique about them. One is we have found that our summer visitor is not the same as our winter visitor, although very similar demographics, primarily young families. They're not the winter user. So, it's really a great opportunity for us to reach out to those families and give them the reasons and the initiative to come back. And the thing that we like about that is they've already driven the road and the road is the biggest stumbling block for getting people up to Bogus Basin from town, so once they've done that, we know that they can find their way back in the wintertime. So that first hurdle is done. Now we have to just talk to them in such a way that we can encourage them to come up and learn to ski. We see that summer guest as a huge opportunity for us.
Carolyn: I totally agree with you on that, Brad. And anytime we can capture an email address or a telephone number that's important to us and try to reward people in doing so.
We do a ton of fall festivals. We have serious diversity at these festivals and functions. A lot of them would not be able to ski and we definitely see that, but we reach out with our little ski ramp. We get the kids to go down our little test ramp and they are all about it. They think it's the coolest thing at the festivals. And then we give the parents a bounce-back coupon for our kid’s program, so even if the parents have never seen snow or even considered it, the kids are going to nag them into doing so.
We also gave our old-time skiers (folks who have been skiing Wachusett for a long time) each a learn-to voucher to give to someone in their family that doesn't ski. Bring somebody out and show them how much fun winter can be. Using our guests to help lure more guests is always fun for us to do.
David: The core of your question I think is really fascinating, and I've spent a lot of time on it. This difference between summer and winter guests is quite remarkable. There are some really strong, innovative ski areas that are doing a really good job at attracting winter guests to summer or new guests to summer and not thinking like ski area operators.
We think that the active families and active singles and those that visit us in the winter are going to want to come to our summer operations. But when you look at it, with my experience from Aspen and the Aspen Mountain gondola, 80 percent of the people that go up the Aspen gondola in the summer to sightsee and hike and do whatever have never been to Aspen before, and they're not skiers. So, the crossover is way, way, way less than I think a ski area operator thinks it is between the seasons.
So, the task for me from my point of view is actually how do we activate summer more strongly and how do we get out of our own way and identify the guests that are going to take vacations and have experiences in the summer to a higher degree. Getting outside of our comfort zone. A lot of operators are doing that where summer business is growing.
It's highly diverse, though. It's diverse by nature in many ways, but diverse in the activities and experiences. You know, in the winter we're pretty lucky we have a more singular draw, but in the summer, people are looking for a menu—they want a whole bunch of activities to choose from. We're providing some of the active ones, and let's be honest, you know, most people on vacations are not active, they're passive vacationers. They're not looking for a physical activity. They're looking for an experience that doesn't take any physical effort. If we can warm ourselves up to that kind of customer and really go after them, that will help us in the summer, and we'll be able to diversify our experiences in the winter to draw them.
Paul: It's probably why a lot of the bike tour companies now have electric bikes, right?
Carolyn: Totally true.
Paul: Data tells us that the worst guest experiences can happen on peak days. Maybe it's Christmas week or 4th of July. What have you done to turn peak days into your best days with customers? Or maybe you have a lesson learned or a story to share from either a current example or one from earlier in your career?
Carolyn: It is all hands-on deck and making sure that we're out there backing up the crew wherever the lines are. Showing our employees and guests that we care about them, being in the thick of it.
I did have a really fun situation a bunch of years ago when it was right before Christmas break and we'd just gotten our warranty rental skis back. It was the Thursday before the Friday of the start of the break, but that is when everybody comes to try to beat the crowds. So, it was a sh*t show. We had a two-mile backup on the road, and we were saying, “Where are these people coming from? It's not even holiday period yet.” Not only did they have a peak-day experience, but then we had to mount the skis as we're handing them out in rentals. So that was kind of a sh*t show, too. The line went halfway down the parking lot. It wasn't my favorite day.
David: Peak day to best day. I have so many examples I'd love to share.
You know, peak days are a gift and there's something really special because you're getting a lot of people visiting your resort, and that's really incredible. It's a great opportunity. So sometimes we get swamped with just doing the basics. But if you think about it, a peak day means more people, therefore there's more energy and more energy to tap from your customers. So, it's a time to create fun in an unexpected way.
I get back to my surprise and delight point of view, and by fun I think free music concerts, you know, street entertainers, whatever it might be. People have been in a long line here and a long line there and then they get off the chair, they get to the bottom and all of a sudden it's something unexpected and you can tap the energy of more people to create a real social energy pretty darn quickly.
Quick example. I got to Aspen in 2002 and the whole event schedule was all scheduled on the lowest occupancy and lowest volume days and weeks. Why? Because you want to schedule events and music concerts and things like that to draw people. Well, we completely flipped that on its head and went 100 percent the opposite way, which is we did all of our music concerts and our event activities on the busiest days. Why? Because we could reach more people with the events and the music, so we did our free concert series on the busiest peak days.
But the beauty of that is, over time, the thousands of people visiting us on the peak days had an experience they didn't expect. And it was better than expected, not so much that it wasn't crowded. It was crowded, but they got music and they got events and they got distractions and entertainment. And they went home and said, “Wow, that was more than I bargained for.”
And you reach thousands of people, not hundreds. So, over time, that can have a powerful effect on just building customer references. And as we all know, word of mouth is the most powerful tool we have in our business.
Brad: I know for us last year we experienced several days at peak or beyond. And it really showed our weaknesses—some that we didn't anticipate—that we hadn't seen. And so, it allows us to look at that and make improvements and make sure that we don't duplicate those issues in the future.
We had some significant parking issues last year, partly because we had so much snow that we lost some parking spaces. And partially because the community is growing and we're seeing more and more users coming up. So it forced us to make some big changes for this year. We were able to get a park and ride parking from the city of Boise. We're instituting a ride share app with the local highway district and we're subsidizing public busing, none of which we had last year.
So, it really forced us into trying to figure out how we can smooth this out, because the last thing we can do is add parking up there. So how do we reduce some of our cars and improve the experience? We also picked up a sponsor that helped us buy two new shuttle buses that we'll be running people back and forth in. Without those peak days, I don't think we would've seen that. We probably wouldn't have felt the need to step out and do some of the things we needed done.
Paul: What is your one-sentence advice for the mentees?
Carolyn: Get out there and experience it. Go through the guest process yourself, and have employees go through the process as though they're a newbie.
David: Bring genuine personal warmth. Customer service at its core is about people interacting with people, no matter how much tech we build. Nothing replaces genuine personal warmth and one-on-one experiences whenever possible. Always make that the target.
Brad: Lead by example. Don't be afraid to step in and help out. It goes a long way with staff—whether it's shoveling snow—I love the idea of going in the parking lot with the brooms—controlling lift lines, or anything where you feel that, one, there's a need and, two, you may be able to set an example for some of these younger people. If they see that there's the guy or girl in charge who's not afraid to shovel snow, then they realize, "I shouldn't complain about it, I should pick up a shovel and help out."