Smooth Out The Ripples
Most facility operators have dealt with angry and frustrated patrons, and it is no different at the Student Recreation Complex and Mizzou Aquatic Center at the University of Missouri.
Approximately 6,000 of the 30,000 student members and nearly 2,000 non-student members utilize the facilities each day, and it is sometimes a struggle to balance space needs, preventive maintenance, emergency maintenance and special events. Despite the effort to accommodate all of the different schedules, we continue to receive comments from members that sometimes make us shake our heads:
• “I never would have purchased a membership if I had known the pool would be unavailable during meets.”
• “Why couldn’t this work be done during a slow time when students aren’t around?”
• “I know the swim team doesn’t pay for all that space. Why do they get priority over me?”
• “Do I get a refund?”
• “Are you going to pay for membership to another facility for me while the pool is closed?”
• “This is the only time I have available during the day. I think the pools should be open all day.”
Each comment makes us search for a better way to handle facility closures and schedule changes.
The aquatic center was completed in 2005 as part of a renovation and construction project at the existing recreation center. The complex is the consolidation of three buildings built in 1905, 1929 and 1987, the Mizzou Aquatic Center and the Stankowski complex--an outdoor turf field, four sand volleyball courts and a rubberized track. It features:
• 10 basketball courts
• Five racquet courts
• Three fitness studios
• A 100-plus piece cardio theater
• Two weight rooms
• An indoor track.
The Mizzou Aquatic Center consists of four swimming pools--a 50-meter competition pool, diving well, Tiger Grotto and Truman’s Pond, which are indoor and outdoor leisure pools, respectively. The center also features two hot tubs, a steam room and dry sauna. All of these spaces have full-color digital display boards and sound systems.
Beyond informal recreation time, several groups call the aquatic center “home,” including the swimming and diving teams, a Masters swim team, three aquatic sport clubs, a USA Swimming club team and a USA Diving club team. The facilities also are used regularly by water-fitness classes, learn-to-swim programs and many campus groups. The aquatic center also has hosted many competitive events throughout its first five years.
As with all facilities, finding time for regular preventive maintenance and major renovation and construction projects can be difficult. With so little “down time,” work must be packed into small pockets of time to inconvenience as few members for the shortest time possible.
Unfortunately, sometimes service recovery must be addressed after members have been disappointed. But with proper planning, “Service Precovery” can help avoid problems by anticipating the needs of members and finding alternative options when events or maintenance must take facilities off-line.
Since many member comments are based on incorrect information or assumptions, communication--especially early communication--with members and more than 400 staff members is one of the important tools in making events successful. When planning events and maintenance, updates are made to an event calendar, which is published in an annual program guide. Calendar and individual event updates and schedules also are posted on the Web site as well as the university’s online learning site. An e-mail list-serve for regular pool users, as well as the digital display boards located outside and inside the facility, also assists in getting the word out. Facebook and Twitter are currently being considered as additional methods of communication.
As we become more sophisticated in understanding athletes’ and coaches’ needs and the groups hosting events, we are able to respond with effective solutions to satisfy customers. For instance, early in our event history, we found it much easier to simply close the competitive area for the duration of a meet, sometimes from Tuesday through Sunday. Now, when possible, we carve out an hour or more of lap swim time here and there. We also have been able to find an hour before official warm-ups in the morning and during session breaks in the afternoon. Often, we will scramble at the end of a day to clean thing up in time to make a pool available for lap swimming the same day. We often receive instant praise from regulars, even though they might have to temporarily adjust their workout time during competitions.
Another tool we utilize is providing alternative workouts in the leisure pools. It was determined that many people who utilize the lap pools for workouts are not aware that there are other aquatic workouts that provide the same benefits. Water-fitness classes, water walking or jogging and water-spinning classes are alternatives. Members also can explore other recreation and fitness options within the complex while the pools are closed for maintenance or events.
Involving members in events also has helped curb some of their frustrations. Large events--especially swim meets--need volunteers to run smoothly. We have tapped into the large student and member population, as well as the community, to find swim-meet timers, athlete chaperones, deck marshals and other volunteers. Often providing a meet T-shirt and possibly the chance to stand next to a world-class athlete are enough to show the members that we appreciate their cooperation and understanding when it comes to taking facilities off-line for events that showcase the facility to the country and world. When we are lucky enough to see an American or world record set in the pool, and there are regulars working on the deck, there is appreciation in their eyes when they understand that it is sometimes worth adjusting their personal schedules so that we can host events.
While facility closures are upsetting to some, several creative approaches can elevate the events in the minds of patrons. Involving them in events and educating them about the importance of regular maintenance helps build pride in the facility and appreciation for the efforts you put forth.