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Return to Our Roots: Remembering the Power of Frontline Staff

Why Getting Back on the Frontline is Good for Business

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By Melinda Huntley, OTA Executive Director

I had the great privilege of speaking to the graduating class of Visit Canton’s STAR program this week. Front-line employees from the local parks district, campgrounds, museums, hotels and restaurants learned about the importance of travel to the economy and visited many of the area’s attractions for firsthand knowledge of what there is to see and do. It’s not unlike some of the other programs around the state, such as the CTA program in Cincinnati and Columbus, as well as Destination Cleveland’s CLE Travelbackers. All of these provide valuable training and experiences for the true VIPs of our industry – our frontline staff.

Research has shown that those directly in contact with our guests greatly influence customer engagement. A positive customer engagement results in return visits, sharing their experiences on social media and with friends, and increased spending.

The greatest influence on our guests comes if there’s a problem. Making sure our frontline staff know how to handle complaints quickly and appropriately is one of the top training investments we can make.  

Think back to your first job. Odds are, it was a frontline position. My first job was working in the pro shop of a golf course. I learned how to smile even when I didn’t want to, how to talk to people, how to show up to work on time and ready to go, how to multi-task and the difference between a cadet-sized golf glove and one that was not. Most of these skills I still use every single day. That earlier job created a foundation from which to grow. It also gave me confidence.

It’s not surprising that those who start in our industry end up making more money than those that start in any other industry, other than financial services. We make Ohioans employable by teaching them the skills they need and giving them the confidence to seek out new job opportunities.            

Facing a group of excited frontline employees in our industry is always a treat and inspiring. It’s also a personal reminder for me to do this more often.

For many of us, our day-to-day work keeps us in our office, in meeting rooms and away from the heart and soul of what we do – creating exceptional experiences for our guests. We’re so busy doing our jobs that we sometimes forget exactly who we are doing it for and what their needs might be.

Earlier in my career, I made a point of putting myself in the shoes of frontline employees. When I worked in public relations at Cedar Point, I often spent a couple hours every weekend directing traffic, taking tickets and serving soft drinks and hamburgers. A few years later as director of a visitors bureau, I often answered the telephone to help with visitor inquiries and worked the front desk to assist walk-in guests.

As our summer season heats up and life gets a little more hectic, I invite you to re-connect with the joy of serving others and the passion of our frontliners. Here are some ideas:  

  • Routinely thank your frontline employees and recognize great efforts
  • Spend some time getting to know your frontline employees and their career aspirations. Provide opportunities and guidance for helping them reach their goals
  • Teach conflict resolution and customer experience management. Learn more about customer experience management at our June workshop.
  • Ask your frontline employees for their ideas on operations and the customer experience
  • Provide management training for those moving into supervisory positions; don't assume that just because they did a great job with their previous tasks that they are prepared to lead others   
  • Give your frontline employees authority to spend up to $50 or $75 to make a situation right with a guest with no questions asked.
  • Get out of the office and get back on the front line at least once a week.    

 Do you have other suggestions? Please leave them below.

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