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play ball

Most of us don’t play sports at a professional or world class level. But we do understand the nature of competition, and that the idea is to do one’s best. There is much joking and serious debate about the merits of whether winning is more important than how one plays the game, but let’s face it – we all have to step up to the plate at some point.

Spring training in the tourism industry is much like the rigors baseball players experience. There is intensive training for new recruits, refresher exercises for the veterans, and a barrage of new plays that everyone has to learn. Everyone has to find a place in the working mechanics of the team, and each player has to find their own groove. If they don’t, things don’t jive; the best thing to do is trade that player.

I’m going to use the baseball analogy for a 4-part series on how to get the most out of your players, so stay tuned this week to get around the bases and all the way to home plate for a winning formula your team can use all season.


The biggest piece of this puzzle is hiring the right kind of people. When dealing with service staff, this means people skills.  You can teach technical skills and procedures and many are regulated by certifications, so that’s easy to see on a resume with a new prospect. It’s much harder to help people get over shyness, a lack of empathy or manners that don’t match your workplace standards.


Service employees need to relate to your customers, on good days and bad. I mean this for the employees as well as the customers – getting your game face on is crucial. Make sure your initial training includes some role play situations that will force them to deal with uncomfortable encounters. It’s much better to try those out with teammates in a rehearsal than with a real customer on a busy day.

Batter Up, Charlie Brown

One of the things a Phys. Ed. teacher said to me during baseball training was, “Never swing at the first pitch.” You can’t strike out with just one toss, so a chance to size up the pitcher and get settled in is usually worth the count. It’s good advice when dealing with people too – don’t be too quick to make a  first impression. Let customers speak, and you’ll learn what they really want. Give them a chance to tell you what kind of experience they are having, and you may find the secret to giving them a WOW (more on WOWs later).

You don’t want to get too comfortable at home plate. The same is true behind a cashier’s counter or information desk. Always be prepared to hit one out of the park. In the same way a hitter that stands back isn’t ready to really swing, a service employee that never leaves the safe cocoon of a counter isn’t as approachable to customers. Take away the barrier, and you literally create a closer relationship.

One of the things I tell every new client about events is that Plan A never works. I know this because it’s often true in life as well, and certainly true at work. One of my cardinal principles is teaching people to be prepared, so you can limit the chaos when things go sideways. (You might have a huge line-up with customers waiting to pay on a busy promotion day and the point of sale system doesn’t calculate discounts so you do it with a calculator. Perhaps you are short-staffed but at least you can know you won’t run out of supplies, because you checked to ensure you were stocked up.)

Michael Jordan game faceThe other part about training your team to be prepared is that it keeps them thinking on how they can improve. I’ve found it’s more and more common for employees to be afraid to ask questions when they are unsure of how to proceed, or they don’t understand a policy or procedure. Make sure your team knows that it’s okay to make mistakes, that is how we learn to be better. Take it from someone who excelled at another sport but never had the same success in baseball:

To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail. – Michael Jordan

Take these concepts and apply them with your team, and you’ll be in the game. As the tourist season heats up, you will be able to come back to these basics and re-energize the team when they are feeling down.

Tune in tomorrow for more – how to stay in the game and get to second base.