06/07/2015

By Justin Toohig, founder of Paintballing Ltd


We’ve grown accustomed to thinking that good customer service is giving the customer everything that they want, the moment that they want it. But in some businesses this is not only impractical, but outright dangerous. Adventure sports businesses, such as rock climbing, mountain biking and paintballing companies, tend to place some pretty serious restrictions on customers for their own safety. This can create tension when customers want to do things that put themselves, or others, in danger. How is it possible to maintain excellent customer service in an environment that poses safety risks?

Keeping customers safe and satisfied:

Identifying injury risks early on. You should be aware of the most likely injuries within your industry, and takes steps to reduce their occurrence. This means not only looks at the kind of risks associated with your business, such as drowning on fishing trip, but also looking at risk groups. For example, approximately 33% of all notable skateboarding injuries afflict people with under one week’s experience with the sport. If you run a skatepark, this means that your time may well be better spent looking after beginners than it is with more experienced individuals - even if the more experienced individuals are doing something that may look more dangerous.

Once you’ve identified these risks, don’t keep them to yourself. By letting your customers know what kinds of accidents are most common, they are in a better position to guard against experiencing them.

Take a moment to stop and refuel… If you’ve climbed a few mountains, you might have noticed that accidents seem to be more likely on the way down than they are on the way up. This is because while going up is often more challenging, people are more tired and prone to lapses of concentration on the way down - and it only takes a moment for a serious accident to occur. Guard against this by getting your group to take regular breaks to catch their breath. Providing drinking water will keep your customers sharp and focused as well as preventing dehydration.

Keep the customer engaged. There’s no two ways about it - the health and safety talk that comes before an activity is always going to be much more boring than the activity itself. But if it’s so boring that customers are falling asleep, wandering off or playing with their belly buttons, then you’ve not only given your customers a negative experience, but you’ve also wasted your time. If people aren’t listening, then you may as well have not said anything.

Get your customers engaged by giving them things to do, such as getting hands on with the equipment themselves, answering a comprehension checking question, or even just laughing at a joke. Move away from the model of a health and safety talk and toward a health and safety conversation. Your staff also need to be approachable so that beginners aren’t too nervous to ask important questions.

Don’t be afraid to curtail an activity if you feel that it is getting out of hand. Customers hate for an activity to be cut short, especially when it’s one that they’ve already paid for. This can mean that business owners feel pressured into continuing an activity that has become unacceptably risky. Be clear from the outset that you retain the right to stop an activity if you feel that your standards of safety aren’t being met. Be firm but fair. Explain exactly what the problem is, and what needs to happen for the activity to continue safely.

Review your customer service openly and honestly. If the customer isn’t always right, it doesn’t also necessarily mean that the business isn’t ever wrong. If you receive a complaint or some constructive feedback, try to remain calm and deal with the issue as quickly as possible. Keep a written record of complaints and your solutions, and be sure to review any complaints a few times a year. A complaint that may have felt totally unreasonable at the time might actually help you to rethink a particular policy once you have had a few weeks to cool off.