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The Ins and Outs of Customer Service with Pensacola Blue Wahoos Donna Kirby 

Is your company the “destination spot” that you need it to be in order to continue attracting customers?  Whether you’re the GM for a hotel, a restaurant, or a baseball team, never before has there been more information available to consumers to determine whether your entity will be their destination spot, or if they will take their business to your competitors.

Blue Wahoos

In so many cases, product is the same or similar enough in quality and pricing, that it isn’t a factor in a consumer’s decision-making process.  Oftentimes, the differentiating factor that will drive a customer to you (or to your competition) is the experience that a consumer has had, or can anticipate having, at your establishment. 

At the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, we have been celebrated and awarded for exemplary customer service.  Our first four years of existence, our product on the field (baseball) was bad – we had a winning percentage of .451.  But, our fans’ overall experience at Blue Wahoos Stadium (a Net Promoter Score of 83 and a Fan Satisfaction Score of 9.3 – two common metrics in the hospitality industry) was raising the bar from a customer service standpoint and setting new benchmarks for minor league baseball as an industry.

Please note:  Great customer service isn’t by accident, and it takes a lot of work – but, it’s worth it! 

Following are some critical steps, techniques and approaches that we implement within our culture at the Blue Wahoos, and that are transferable to any business, organization or industry.  We want to share them in hopes that many of these resonate with you, and bring you the same great results that we have enjoyed at the Blue Wahoos:

Core Fundamentals:  Make sure that every employee, current and future, not only understands, but agrees to your company’s mission, vision, core values and standards of behavior.  If you don’t have this framework already in place for your company, you may want to consider putting together a focus group of veteran staffers who can help guide this process and develop these organizational tenets. 

For any individuals interested in working at your organization, reading, acknowledging and signing a document stating that they agree to, and will uphold, your outlined fundamentals is the first action that person must take – this comes even before they are provided an application for employment.  Your company’s fundamentals are non-negotiable, and, to a person, you need every employee on board in order to succeed.

Staffing:  At the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, and throughout the various departments of our parent company, the Studer Family of Companies, each candidate goes through a three-step interview process:

  1. Step One / Skills: Interview for core competencies; can this person do the job for which they’re being considered?
  2. Step Two / Leadership: Candidate meets with the leader to whom this person would report.
  3. Step Three/Peer Review:  Candidate meets with the team to which they’d be assigned, and those team members have the final say on whether or not this person will join the team.

This three-step process helps you identify those employees who are as committed to your organization’s goals as you are and helps solidify your team.

Donna Kirby ArticleRounding: Whether you are rounding on customers or rounding on employees, it’s imperative that you keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in your organization and that you do so regularly and with frequency.  By asking the following questions, you will drill into actionable items for your business, stay in touch with your employees/customers, open up lines of communication … the list of benefits goes on.  And, you can get all of this from five simple questions:

  1. What is working well for you today?
  2. Are there any colleagues we can recognize – and why?
  3. Do you have the tools and equipment needed to do your job well? (For customer rounding: “Are there any specials or products you would like to recommend we offer?”)
  4. What can we do to improve things for you or our customers?
  5. What other comments or observations would you like to share?

Keep a log of feedback and update your team about your progress on the items they’ve called out.  Your team is your front line and can help you see things you may have otherwise missed.

Reward & Recognition:  A vital component to maintaining a vibrant, enthusiastic and engaged staff is reward & recognition – celebrating those employees who go above and beyond their duties to impact the customer experience at your organization. 


It’s important to note that there are two wider categories of “customer:”

  • Internal – for example, maybe a co-worker from another department who could use a helping hand to hit a project deadline
  • External - the consumers choosing to spend their time and money with you instead of your competition

During our pre-game huddles before Blue Wahoos games, my stadium operations team (think ushers, security, cleaning crew) and I meet to discuss a variety of items that directly impact the game and our fans’ experience.  We’ll discuss groups in attendance, entertainment acts, food specials, survey scores from the previous night, upcoming homestands, etc.  As we conclude our meeting, I share with the team our co-workers who will be recognized during the game on the dugout during the fifth inning.  

IMPORTANT TO NOTE:  I am specific in sharing why each person is being recognized.  What actions drove the recognition?  How did they impact a fan or internal customer?  To what standard of behavior does the action relate?  Our team then cheers, and then later, the employees recognized in our pre-game huddle are celebrated in front of the fans.  So fun!

Here are three bullet points to remember about reward & recognition:

  1. Be specific & consistent
  2. Praise in public (discipline in private)
  3. Reward & Recognition is a two-fold win; the employee feels great being recognized, others realize, “Hey, I can do that, too!”  There’s a positive halo effect in place with reward and recognition.

EnergeticMeasurable Achievement:  Any organization can say, “We have excellent customer service!”  And, maybe you do, but how do you know?  It’s simple – ask.  Survey your customers and ask them for their sincere feedback.  Benchmark your results and work to improve.  Use the data you receive as a report card and strive for excellence based on what you’re told.  Celebrate the good feedback (especially through reward and recognition of your staff,) but it’s equally important to embrace the criticism.

In conclusion, competition is fierce and customer service done right will distinguish you from your competitors.  By setting the bar and being the beacon in your industry, before you know it you will stand out as your customers’ “destination spot.”  WAHOO!!