Feb 20, 2012

How do you get heard at a skating rink?

Here are some complaints I encounter from frustrated moms:
  • No information on the bulletin boards
  • Too much information in show and class packets, written in impenetrable "rinkese"
  • Dismissive responses to questions.
  • No responses to questions.
  • No one tells you anything UNLESS you ask questions, but what if you don't know what question to ask?
  • The class teacher is never available to talk.
  • They don't do things the way I would do things.
I strongly encourage people to make their complaints and frustrations known (not only in skating, but at school, work, wherever), although there are problems with that. First, most people (you included) will circle the wagons in response to complaints. People get defensive when confronted, especially if they also feel powerless. Second, it's a rare organization where the culture, let alone individuals, are immediately responsive to customer complaints. It takes a kind of training, top-down attitude, and staffing levels that are often simply out of reach at municipal and volunteer-run organizations. Third, most organizations are not very transparent, making it truly difficult to help customers understand why things are done in a certain way.

Here's some things you can do:
Always ask. If you don't understand something, ask. Persist in your question until you're satisfied. It will help if you blame yourself. Not "you don't provide information," but rather "I don't understand, please explain again."

Find information in other places. Look on line, ask moms, ask employees, check out the library. There is so much information available now, that accepting an unresponsive staff person as the last word is actually kind of irresponsible.

Read the information that IS available. I hear a lot of complaints about the dense packets of information provided, but in fact, this information is provided. Don't go all "tl:dr" (too long; didn't read) and then complain when you don't know what's going on. Read the packet. Save the packet.

Ask key people when and how they are available. Don't get mad because the skating teacher can't deal with your complaint in the 5 minutes (if that) between classes, or if the skating director can't talk to you during Saturday morning classes, the most crowded session of the week. Ask, "when can I call you", or ask for a business card and email them. Be more responsive to their needs, and they'll be more responsive to yours.

Remember that while you are the customer and therefore the most important part of any retail equation, you are not the only part of it. The object of a strong retail operation like a skating school is to make the most people happy, to get the best profit, and to grow the program as well as you can. Everyone is not going to be happy all the time, and sometimes this is going to be you.

If most of what you need is getting addressed, then that program is worth fighting for.

For more on how to affect change in your program:
Getting things to change


  1. I was just wondering, does the USFS or ISI offer any type of education or mentorship program for the volunteer leaders of the rink or clubs? Are club leaders required to participate in some type of orientation or certification process?

    I appreciate that people are willing to step forward and volunteer for a leadership position within an organization, and I was always taught that one should not criticize a volunteer because they are GIVING their time to an organization. However, every club we have belonged to has had similar problems. One of the biggest problems is identifying and recruiting qualified leaders.

    1. It's an excellent question, and one I never considered before. In my other life, I'm a development consultant, and deal with volunteer recruitment and management. I always have training as part of the volunteer process, but hadn't thought about USFS. I'll look into it! Thanks for the idea!

  2. If you discover that there isn't some training process in place, I think you should pitch your services to both organizations. Not only are you a skating guru but a development consultant. What more could they ask for?

  3. Using email was the best thing our rinks decided to to do to help with communication. I'm kind of shy and find it much easier to email a question vs asking it in person. One of our rinks has beyond stellar management and they respond quickly and are helpful. ~Meg

    1. I'll never understand why more volunteer organizations and small retail service businesses like ice rinks don't utilize social media and on-line communication more.

  4. I'm President of a small club and work closely with our rink's manager. I've written a comprehensive handbook, distributed it, posted it online; created a club facebook page; posted and posted info at the rink; emailed everyone I could reach; specifically approached club members and asked about the specific issues and concerns. The result? It's almost as if I did nothing--they continue complain they are in the dark, ask questions that I've already given answers, continue to inquire about issues that they've been told about repeatedly and etc. What the Ef more can I do? Sorry, but I'm fed up. I'm tired of dealing with such pathetic learned helplessness.

    1. There's a truism in marketing that people have to hear something 17 (or 23 or 50 depending on the source) times before they know they've heard it. Keep a smile on your face and just keep telling people where the info is! You're a jewel!