State Parks System at Only 53%, A Training Program
to Improve the Sales and Service Skills of the
Parks’ Front Desk Employees Implemented
The Kentucky State Park System receives a large portion ($29 million) of its operating dollars from a general state fund. The remainder of those dollars comes from the park’s revenues of $53 million. In the current volatile economy, Kentucky and other states have reduced budgets, leaving park systems seeking ways to cut costs and increase revenues.
When George Ward, a new park commissioner with extensive experience in the hospitality industry, joined the Kentucky State Parks in February 2004, the 17 parks in the system with overnight lodging averaged a 53 percent occupancy rate. Drawing from his hospitality experience, Ward knew he could increase these rates through a training program to improve the sales and service skills of the parks’ front desk employees.
Ward first “mystery shopped” the parks himself to see how each location answered the phones and booked reservations. He found employees were helpful and friendly, but most simply answered questions and never attempted to learn more about the caller or build value by describing the park’s attributes.
A few months later, an initial assessment during the parks’ busiest season of the year revealed that an average of just 47 percent of calls were being converted into reservations.
State Approval - As a state funded organization experiencing budget cuts, training was initially deemed a costly expenditure without a guaranteed return on investment.
Employee Attitude - Employees at the parks, many of whom had been on staff for years, had never received any formal training. Some were apprehensive about a new training program and the subsequent changes in management’s expectations of them. As hourly government employees, there was also no monetary motivation to improve sales.
Accountability - With 17 different park locations of varying sizes and features, expectations of each park’s revenue potential was different. There was no consistent way to set goals, measure success or hold teams accountable for their own performance.
Armed with statistics relating to increased revenues through sales training programs, Ward presented his case for Signature’s Transient Edge® training to a state legislative committee. While the initial proposal was met with skepticism, ultimately the examples of successful training programs Signature had conducted and the promise of a return on investment helped secure approval for Ward’s program.
In August 2004, The Kentucky State Park System implemented Signature’s Transient Edge program, designed to build the sales and service skills of the front desk employees at 17 of the Kentucky State Parks. The program teaches a simple Magic Formula for handling inquiries, improving caller experiences and selling more rooms.
The one-day training sessions are highly interactive, easy to absorb and fun for participants, taking any employee apprehension out of the process.
Signature’s unique training programs are based on a reinforcement system that includes ongoing coaching with Signature experts as well as seven “mystery shop” calls per month to each location to assess how employees use the skills they have learned. After each shop call, employees and managers can go online to listen to their call and view their scores using Signature’s Reporting by Statability®. All calls are tracked and compiled into a monthly report accessible by park management.
The consensus at The Kentucky State Parks is that the Signature program has helped change the way the parks do business, treat customers and sell their location to prospective guests.
Increased Reservations - After just two months, the average conversion rate for all parks increased by 16 percent, with some parks increasing up to 26 percent. “This puts us light years ahead of our competition,” says Scott Ringham, Park Manager at the Jenny Wiley State Park. Monica Conrad at Barren River State Park has seen an increase in all reservations but notably in Group Sales bookings since her staff now knows the right questions to ask callers. “It’s really helped them be able to sell to each caller’s needs,” she said.
Ongoing Improvement of Skills - According to Jim Carroll, Information Officer with the Kentucky State Park Systems, an average of all 17 parks’ mystery shopping call scores shows an increase of over 26.4 percent over a four-month period. “This really proves to us that Signature’s reinforcement program works and employees continue to improve their skills over time,” Carroll concluded.
Increased Professionalism and Motivation - Ringham notices his employees displaying much more professionalism and motivation than before the training. “They don’t ‘sit down’ on the job anymore,” he explains. “And they never let a phone call get to three rings. It’s a source of pride for them now.”
Better Accountability - Signature’s monthly reports on all locations’ scores have increased each park’s accountability for their performance. “Every time I call a park and ask them how their scores are, they always know exactly where they stand and why,” Ward says. “This also levels the playing field in terms of expectations for each park. The smaller parks can easily outperform the larger parks on their conversion rates and scoring if they are motivated to do so,” he added.
Ward looks forward to the continued success of the program. “It’s still a work in progress and when we do our annual review of our occupancy rates, it will feel good to present those increased numbers to the state legislative committee and show them how well the park staffs have performed. It’s truly a success for everyone involved.”