Actively Listen to Customers to Find the Right Solution
Guest Blog by Steve Kenny, SRK Pools - WAHC 2017 Guest
I recently had the pleasure of attending the 14th Annual World Aquatic Health Conference in Denver, Colorado. It was the second time I’ve made it to the event, which is produced by the National Swimming Pool Foundation. Like the first time around, I found the experience incredibly stimulating and inspiring.
As the name suggests, the WAHC is about all things aquatic and health-related. It’s a wonderful forum for people like me who are devoted to designing, building, managing and maintaining quality aquatic facilities. Again at this year’s installment, I spent quality time in the company of professionals with common goals of promoting aquatics and elevating the industry through science and shared information.
The keynote speaker this year was Ryan Avery, the youngest-ever Toastmasters champion, a brilliant young man with a strong message about the power of effective communication. His presentation focused on how we convey to others what it is we have to offer, both collectively and individually. It was one of those discussions that could apply to a wide range of industries but happens to be particularly well suited for the world of aquatics.
The Need to Communicate Effectively
Avery captured my full attention, and I immediately started thinking about how important effective communication and constructive idea exchange is to everything we do, professionally and personally. It’s how we reflect our determination, develop teamwork and ultimately build a community. Taken together, all of those qualities drive confidence.
It also struck me that a huge part of communicating effectively is not only what we say and how we choose to say it but also as important is how effectively we listen. I often find myself thinking that we become so focused on getting our point across that we almost reflexively forget to listen. In the world of aquatics, and especially in the work of the Water Quality Professional, the ability and willingness to first open our ears should be considered an essential part of the job.
Unfortunately, I believe that as an industry we’ve largely ignored the most important voices in the entire equation: those of the end users.
It’s a common shortfall throughout society but particularly so in the world of aquatics. Collectively, we’ve done a lousy job of listening to what our customers are telling us. In a sense, not listening to our consumers is like trying to manage water chemistry without testing it first. It’s fundamentally impossible to identify a problem and a course of remediation without some type of feedback loop. That’s a shortcoming that applies to facility owners and managers as well as aquatic professionals of all stripes from pool operators, engineers to lifeguards. Everyone at all levels of the industry would do well to work on actively listening to our consumers.
Part of why I feel so strongly about this is because the problem first came into focus for me as a consumer, not as a professional. When my kids started experiencing significant respiratory problems as a result of swimming at a local public pool facility, no one from the facility or anyone else in the industry would listen. It was maddening, and from then on I’ve known that our industry needs to up its game on a variety of fronts—from facility management, to water treatment, to air quality, to basic cleanliness.
Listen to Customer Feedback
We all know that every facility is different with its own set of challenges across a range of potential issues. The best way to know where to improve is to listen to those who are using what we have to offer. Otherwise, it’s all just guesswork. Without active listening, we are throwing the proverbial darts blindfolded. As I’ve mentioned before, I come from the restaurant business. I can’t imagine how unreasonable and impossible success would have been had we not listened to the people paying their hard-earned dollars to eat our food.
Yet, we all know it’s human nature to set aside the critique of others because it’s usually easier, at least in the moment, to dismiss a complaint rather than to stop what you’re doing and take some kind of corrective action. Consider what most likely happens to a comment that a parent shares with a lifeguard. We know that casual feedback is often lost the moment it’s spoken, or at best distorted when it gets passed along.
The wonderful flipside of this “listening deficit” are the opportunities that do exist when we deliberately open our ears and choose to pay attention to customer feedback. Not only can we more closely identify pertinent problems and thus correct them with greater speed and efficiency, we also empower the consumer and build on that magic word: confidence.
We have everything to gain. By engaging our audience, we become more confident in our ability to provide quality aquatic experiences and, in turn, we inspire confidence in those we seek to serve.