Jul 2, 2011

What makes a good customer?

We had quite a discussion going about how a coach's better customers (i.e. the ones who skate more) are going to get the better customer service in terms of ice time, attention and flexibility.

But what about that "once a week skater." What about all those kids who just do classes, or the ones who take the beginning classes and then decide not to skate or the anonymous families who come week after week, but only to public? Are they "good" customers who deserve to have their needs met, or do we just focus on the lifers?

What makes a customer "good"?

Two ways to think about it-- individual skater who buys a lot, class of skaters that there are a lot of, namely beginners.

The great Jimmie Santee (now head of the PSA) used to do a graphic at coaching seminars showing a pyramid. In the tiny peak at the top were the approximately 500 "elite" skaters--kids in all skating disciplines who compete nationally. Along the broad base were the million or so people who participate in figure skating. You could do a version of this at any scale-- your rink, your region, or, like Jimmie's, nationally.

Coaches and rinks get stars in their eyes over these so-called "elite" skaters. I never worked at a rink that didn't think they were "competitive" and focused an awful lot of attention and effort on the 2 or 3 skaters who had a shot. And, to their credit, I've also never worked at a rink that didn't manage to produce a national skater every few years.

But they've got to come from somewhere. That one skater pulled himself out of the masses of public-session skaters. Putting up barriers to those kids--scheduling, cultural, cost,--keeps these casual customers out of your program and prevents them from becoming the so-called good customers who spend a lot of time (and money) in your facility.

Yes, your high freestyle and competitive skaters are important customers. For one thing they keep your coaching staff happy. They spend a lot of money, and they're great PR. But the beginners won't ever get there if you make it difficult, expensive, or unpleasant to be in your rink.

Gosh, if we only paid attention to the talented people, none of us would have jobs.

Who needs premium ice and the "top" coaches: the hooked customer, or the new customer?

Again, most of the people who skate are casual skaters. It continually astounds me when facilities don't have convenient or frequent public skating (which is also more lucrative ice), giving all the premium ice times to the fewest skaters (high freestyle). Again from Jimmie Santee--most of the kids in your class will sign on not because they saw a catalog, but because they came to public skating or a school outing and had a great time. They didn't come because they saw your best skater; they came because they saw an actual famous skater on tv and wanted to try it, or because mom and dad loved skating recreationally. You top skaters are helping that coach get students, but they are not bringing bodies into the facility.

How do you make this happen?

There's the cynical way: hockey makes parents spend several hundred on equipment; synchro makes you buy lots of "team building" crap like matching guards, bags, makeup, and for all I know feminine hygiene products (really, what a racket), as well as signing a contract. (In other words, if you quit Synchro halfway through a season, no other team will take you and there are no refunds.) These programs, and other youth sports, grab the customer with a costly upfront investment and the promise of instant and long-term companionship.

Your solo skaters need to be lured back-- by good ice times, wonderful teachers, a caring staff, and a well-run facility.

In other words, all of your customers are "good" customers; all customers should be treated with equal respect and have their needs met to the best of the program's ability.

What kind of skater are you? (Take the poll). Do you think your facility does its best to make you feel like a valued customer?


  1. One of my children is an elite skater - well...at least at our rink - but my 4yo son and I are both recreational skaters who take lessons from time to time.

    What I'd like to see is possible a day-time "Mom/Dad and Me" type class. One that can get parents with younger kids on the ice at the same time, and without fear of being run-over by middle school hot shots.

    Also, a rink ref would be nice at the public sessions. The dare-devil younger kids really can get a bit wild at times and I think beginners can get a bit overwhelmed on some of the Wild West sessions.

    Maybe a summer skate card - kind of like the pool clubs - where you can pay a set amount and just come to all or a number of public sessions would get people to think "skating" in the summer.

    At this point, we have a lot of $$$$ going to my skater daughter and we're at the rink a lot. It's natural that other family members get interested in skating and want to participate at a recreational level, or even get to the point of some low-level freestyle sessions. A "skate family" discount of some sort could help encourage families to make skating a family activity; right now, it's too expensive for all of us to take part in skating beyond a rec level.

    As a skater parent, when my kiddo was a beginner, I'd have love to have had a Parents On Ice class once in a while to have coaches explain and demonstrate what our kids were learning, and bring in some higher level skaters to show what the goals can be and how the basics build toward the goals. I hear a lot of parents of even Preliminary level skaters say that they just don't understand all that their kids are doing and what it means. I think an on ice class now and again for parents of Basic Skills kids could be fun and informative, make parents feel part of The Team early on. Maybe this would be more of a club run event than a rink event, but just a thought....

  2. The poll is closed now, so it is moot- but what is the difference between a non-qualifying event and a recreational event? Aren't those the same thing?

    I am an adult skater, and previously I hadn't been interested in competing- it is just too expensive. I was only interested in testing. However, due to an injury and a rule change I have reached a roadblock I won't be able to pass (another difference between kids and adults, if I was a child, I would probably have the hip surgery. As an adult- the only thing it effects is spirals. Pretty difficult to justify the time off work and the risk of surgery for spirals) so now I am competing occasionally. I almost went to ISI World's with a group from my rink, but couldn't get off work. Otherwise I skate in USFS adult competitions because there are no ISI programs around here (we have one coach who retains ties).

    Our rink is a private rink, in a mall. They definetly do not favor freestyle skaters. We have freestyle Saturday from 8-9 am, Tuesday/Thursday 6-8am, and Wed 4:15-6:45 (in the school year 1 hour of that is club only). Public skate gets over 50 hours a week, hockey 10 hours (though I think it goes to 40/20 during the prime season).

    In general, I do not skate on public sessions- I do not feel safe. Our rink has no guards and no rules. This is good for the kids, because they are fearless and can do doubles and MITF on public ice, but I can't do more than a little jump or spin, knowing that as an adult, I will be held responsible for an accident. I got new blades and can't skate anymore (grr) so I visited a public session yesterday- can't justify freestyle prices just to do stroking. There were only 8 people on the ice when I got there (a larger group just finished up) even still, I was constantly having to dodge out of control children. Being an advanced skater, but with no control of my blades (I can't stop!) this was very scary for me. Because these kids not only had no control- they had no awareness. (How is it that an empty sheet of ice attracts collisions more than a crowded one?)

    The no rules is is true of freestyle sessions too, but the coaches/skaters self-police. Club ice is the only hour of the week with a monitor, I assume the hockey sessions have some sort of rule (there is a helmet required for stick/puck sessions sign).

  3. Josette, a "skater parents on ice" event is brilliant-- I am definitely doing that for my kids and their parents.

    Skittl, I opened up the poll again (thanks--missed that!). You get some purely recreational skaters at USFS Club nonquals, but in my experience they're mostly "get your feet wet" competitions for competitive kids trying out new programs, a new level, or getting ready for Regionals.

    In general, if rinks would just ASK the people out front--the staff, the skaters, the parents, the kids-- they'd get so much good information about how to make a program strong for ALL the customers.

  4. So are you defining recreational as ISI or Basic Skills?

    I guess the only thing around here is USFS club competitions, so they are non-qualifying, but if you aren't high level, I consider them to be recreational. (We don't have very many elite skaters around here. Right now I'm not sure anyone in the area will make it to nationals. In the past few years we've had novice pairs, a novice/junior man- but he moved and is now skating pairs. We still "claim" him, of course. We do have a couple novice, maybe even junior regional competitors in the area -not at my rink though- but I'm not sure how many of them even get to sectionals)

    Josette at Halushki- does your rink offer adult classes? The adult classes at our rink are generally low level (higher adults take with kids), so there is a lot of time to talk with the coach, you could ask tons of questions about elements, while learning some basic ones yourself.

  5. My daughter started in prealpha1 in march 2010 and is now a year and a half later is finishing FS3. I will admit that the whole rink scene has been a bit of a chaotic mystery over the past 1.5 year, and while no one deliberately set out to explain the whole "process" everyone has been nice, and incrementally helpful, particularly the ice monitors, so we have gradually figured out how things work, though mostly in a "just in time" manner. She only skates twice a week, once in the formal class and once in a 30min private lesson and no one has ever made her feel bad for not skating more. Some sort of of a manual that explained all the intricacies and the culture would be nice, otherwise we are satisfied customers, but maybe not good customers given the "only twice a week" bit.

  6. Point is, all customers are "good" customers. The more I read comments from my readers, the more I think that the Chicago area just has a really toxic skating culture. It's so nice to hear about positive experiences like anonymom's.

  7. We are at your rink Xan. People just like to complain or just take themselves too seriously. I think your rink is just fine - a bit nutty and chaotic, and not surprisingly filled with nutty northshore helicopter moms too much money and not enough common sense, but otherwise just fine.

  8. I love the summer punchcard idea of Josette's. Our rink is currently saying there will be NO public ice hours at all for the entire month of July. BUT, there will still be classes running. Who in the world will be happy to have their kids in low-level LTS classes with no public ice on which to practice? There's obviously no way that the pee week hockey kids are getting on freestyle ice, nor will the 5-yr-olds in Basic 3, nor will I (FS2) because I will be just in the way of the young and much more skilled skaters. So how am I, while paying for lessons, supposed to practice? It's this kind of thing that suddenly makes clear whose money means more to the rink -- and yet I've had both my daughter and me in classes continuously since January, and both of us are clearly not planning to stop any time soon. That would seem to suggest that we are on a track ultimately to need private lessons, and yet customers like us are getting nothing for the moment, which makes it harder to be excited about continuing to spend money there... I'm really disappointed, since we'd use public ice (typically mid-day hours) all the time in summer, when kids are out of school. I just don't see the rationale at all. (They don't seem to have added freestyle hours, just cut back ice hours generally. Weird.)

  9. I began skating seriously as a young adult in another part of the country (at a very hockey-centric rink) and am just now getting back in along with my young daughter. She has become steadily more invested over the last six months or so, and I have to say I feel incredibly lucky to live near the rink where we skate now. I'm sure there is drama (I mean, it's skating, after all) but it certainly isn't obvious or off-putting.

    The rink is very focused on figure skating, and I think does a great job balancing availability of group lessons, lots of well-timed public ice, and freestyle sessions. There are many coaches with varied backgrounds and experience, who seem to often work collaboratively, with a wide range of skaters of all levels. It feels to me like there is a lot of support here for all skaters regardless of their goals. The rink also hosts a big ISI competition every year to give all the kids a chance to show what they've learned.

    Plus having a knowledgable pro shop onsite is amazing to me. In my past skating life we used to drive 2.5 hours round trip for skilled skate sharpening.
    Here, the employee who takes care of sharpening, etc. for all the elites spent time with my low FS daughter making sure her blades were mounted properly for her on her new skates.

    Obviously that is good business (and it is working - we are already spending a lot! ) but if the atmosphere had been less friendly and welcoming, I don't know that we would have continued past a group lesson or two. I agree that there are a large number of kids that fall into a middle ground between the casual recreational skater and the competitive elite, and I'm glad our rink seems to realize that!

    PS Xan I am really enjoying your blog, glad I found it!

  10. I forgot to add, there are also a lot of summer camps aimed at the tot-mid FS skater, which I think does a lot to foster kids continuing with the sport. My daughter really got the skating bug after a week long camp last summer at the tot 5 level.

  11. Waltz8, you are surely lucky! Make sure to compliment the skating director when you next see him / her.

    anonymom, the skating wiki for our rink was created this year to specifically fill this void for new skaters and parents. Xan has it listed on the right side panel, if you like it, spread the word!

    No particular complaints about the skating program we have. While a few group lesson instructors need to be reevaluated for unprofessional behavior, most of the coaches are knowledgeable and passionate about group lesson students. We also have parent-tot classes, discounted annual public skating passes, guards who actually guard (the "rink ref"), and exciting skating shows.

    I am sure the high saturation of rinks in Chicago area brought more competition to the benefit of skaters. However, like one of Xan's old posts said, more can be done to promote the program by luring people to occasional free public skating session or trial skating lessons, but probably aggressive marketing strategies happen to private rinks only.

    It's very sad that at one point, only one widely accessible public skating session was on the main rink, and the rest happened on the studio rink. The hockey leagues may bring in steadier revenue stream, but I believe a municipal rink should cater little more to its general population.

  12. Since we're talking about "parents on ice," why isn't there an ISI competition event for families to present a program as a group?

  13. Anonymous-- there is! It's called "Family Spotlight" and related persons in any mixture of ages and levels from PreAlpha to FS10 can participate. A family membership in ISI qualifies you. I LOVE family spotlight programs-- you see a lot of clever use of music ("Anything you can do I can do better" for instance)

  14. I love family spotlight! Almost all the parents of a particular coach's kids are now tottering around the rink getting ready for worlds...some can actually skate and are in freestyle classes, others say "he just sees me as points" but I think they are all having fun.

  15. As an adult skater I participate in a wonderful adult group class. There are regulars in 5-8 and lots of new people (a local business pays for beginner lessons) who stay up through 4 and I see them on publics with their families. I've taken adult lessons at other rinks, and comparatively this program is huge. And there are lots of men in figure skates. And the whole group is consistent. So we're all regulars.
    Does the skating director pay any attention to how many adult male figure skaters there are at the rink? There's talent there. Think of something to do with it
    Is the skating director aware that there's a core group of adult skaters who treat the 4-8 USFSA Basic Class as a social club? Why not pass out local figure skating club membership applications at group?
    Saturdays and Sundays there's enough adult figure skaters on the ice in public to forum a club, but the rink just doesn't see them.

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  17. Anon, I don't think male adult figure skaters go unnoticed without being
    asked to consider pairs or ice dance in our
    area, lol. Even my hockey friend was asked
    at some point! I agree the program director could probably do more though.

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  19. The Original Anonymom - good customers are those who are respectful to staff - from the snack bar to the coaches to the director, those who pay on time, and those who treat the facilities with respect. Those can the the once a year families, the Brownie troops, summer camp programs, the community skate class, those who sign up through the rink to the regulars. I would like help with knowing what my child is working one though! For some reason I can't "see" jumps. For example, it looked like she was working on an axel and not landing it. She has had it for several months so I found my brain wondering what was wrong. Turns out it was a double jump (her coach reviews private lessons with me at their conclusion). But honestly I can't see the difference.

    We have a super nice rink though - if I am more a veteran parent i can ask them or even better we have a couple adult skaters who don't always have lessons when their child has lessons. They give a lot of helpful information. Sort of like having another coach give a little voice over commentary. :D