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Ask, Don't Tell

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Dickinson Theatres uses the motto "Ask, don't tell" to create a strong customer-service training orientation at its 39 locations. Jeff Garber, operations trainer for the 200-screen cinema chain, based in Mission, Kans., says the policy of creating a positive environment works in three ways:

  • Managers respond with "What would you do?" when a front-line employee asks how to handle a customer request. "Most young people are used to being told what to do, but if you spoon-feed directions to your team members, they stop thinking for themselves. We want them to turn on their brains so they can respond positively to customers," says Garber.
  • When employees interact with upset moviegoers, they ask customers what they want, rather than dictate the solution. Customer solutions are often the best.
  • Employees are taught to treat each other with courtesy and respect. Instead of yelling to a coworker "I need a large popcorn!" they ask politely. "Each week we receive comments from customers who noticed how considerate team members are with one another," says Garber. "It turns a fear-driven organization into an empowering one."
The results have been dramatic for both employees and customers. Average annual employee turnover in the industry is in the high double-digits, but it was less than 3% for the first theater Dickinson opened using an intense, customer service-oriented training program. Customer satisfaction scores have risen, and local film critics have commented on the positive moviegoing experience at Dickinson Theatres.

Last updated: Jan 1, 1997




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