Monday, July 22, 2013

Winning with "The Red Light Challenge"

Sea Colony Tram, Bethany Beach - by JEPoland
If you want to grow a type of business where people don't need your service - they have to want it - the creation of a memorable customer experience (in the positive, they want to come back sense) isn't optional.  It's a critical success factor.

When there are critical goals like this one (or problems to solve or opportunities to pursue,) it's common for businesses to look first to one or both of these two remedies:
  • Throw money at it
  • Throw more people at it (which, of course, is a subset of throwing money at it)
This post is about a place where they didn't have to throw money at it, and they didn't add extra people.  It's about one tram driver that makes the experience memorable for guests at a resort every day, all Summer. 

First, some background:  Sea Colony in Bethany Beach, Delaware is a complex of privately owned vacation properties, and it operates a tram service for guests to ride from the townhomes on the tennis side of the resort to the high rises on the beach side and back.  The drivers go around in circles all day long, making stop after stop in hot, humid weather with sun pounding in the sides of the vehicles, and in drizzly, even stormy weather to make sure that their passengers can get to where they need to go.  Guests are often hot, tired, sweaty-smelly from their day on the beach, and they can get a bit cranky.

This one particular driver rolls every day with a game he calls "The Red Light Challenge".  The game is played at the traffic light, while the tram waits to cross Ocean Highway.  Over the microphone the driver calls out, "Quick, who can name all five of the Great Lakes!" or "What presidents are on the monument at Mount Rushmore?" There are bonus questions, silly math problems, lists of state capitals, and guesses about which letter of the alphabet isn't used to spell any of the state names.  (Q, in case you wanted to know.) Guests shout out the answers for no reward other than bragging rights and perhaps a comment over the tram's sound system that "We've got the smart group riding with us today!"

Kids love it, of course - unless they manage to hop onto another driver's tram and there's no red light challenge. One somewhat disappointed kid turned to his seatmate and complained, "Hey, where's the red light challenge?"   The game has become a part of the ride that kids look forward to, and so do their parents and grandparents.  It seems like the red light challenge makes the drive more interesting for this particular driver too.  It gives him a way to engage with resort customers in a casual and fun way.  And they reciprocate by providing ammo for his next challenge - trivia questions that come from their own mental stores.  It would be interesting to know whether he writes them down for future reference.

The red light challenge doesn't cost the property management company anything.  It's the individual effort of an employee who is trying to make his own job fun and satisfy customers.  Regular residents and shorter term visitors look for him whenever they make the trek to the beach.  He's almost an institution.

Will he single-handedly build the fortunes of the property owners at Sea Colony?  Not alone.  There are multitudes of other quality factors like property maintenance, landscaping, guest activities, safety, etc. that are going to keep seasonal renters coming back and owners in residence more often.  But this guy is an important part of the customer experience.

What would happen if all of the tram drivers did the red light challenge at Jefferson Bridge Road and Ocean Highway?  It might not be as much fun if their hearts weren't in it, if it weren't authentic.  But what could happen if Sea Colony would intentionally select for tram drivers like this guy, or train them in guest engagement techniques?  The experience would be more consistently outstanding, and that could only help the occupancy rates and market value of the properties there.  And that's not just fun and games.

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