This article, by Dennis Kissman, was published in Marina Dock Age – November 2014
We’ve all heard how crucial a first impression can be. We know how a bad first impression can lose the confidence of a prospective or existing customer in your marina. The first impression you give, sets the tone for any future relationship. You must view and act accordingly as though each impression made by you to a customer or potential customer as it will be their first impression. You only get one chance to make that first impression. It is your opportunity to create an introduction for a possible long-term relationship between you and your customer.
Yet, do we really know what that first impression is? The first impression is created by whatever means the customer may come in contact with your marina. Whether it’s when they drive onto the marina parking lot, tie up their boat at the fuel pier, use your restroom, or contacting the marina through your web-site.
What were your thoughts when you pulled into the parking lot of a hotel for the first time where you are going to be spending the next week on vacation? Was it inviting? As you look around, are the flower beds maintained or are the weeds growing through the mulch? Are the bushes trimmed or do they have litter lodged at their base? Are the sidewalks swept clean or are there cigarette butts laying in the curb? Your first impression was just generated and you have already created an image of how your stay is going to be.
Likewise, when a boat pulls up to your fuel dock, what is the message the boat owner is receiving. Do your fuel dock attendants assist the boat in tying up, welcome the boater to your marina, support the fueling process, pump out the holding tank or bring 2 bags of ice to the boat? Are the uprights in good condition, the spider webs gone, plenty of cleats to tie up to and waters surrounding the pier are litter free? Depending upon what they see you have just created the first impression of your marina for that boater.
Many times when I have visited a marina, the restrooms tend to create a very strong impression for me both visually and by smell on how the marina is operated and maintained.
Verbally and In-person
Many times when a boater has their first impression with an employee at the marina, it’s with one of the employees on the lower end of the pay scale. How knowledgeable and polite is the employee answering the phone? Are the dockhands familiar and experienced in tying a line to a cleat or familiar with the process of using a spring line? Are the employees at your front desk under pressure assisting customers who can be demanding? Have you ever considered that the employee using the marine radio is potentially broadcasting to all boaters with marine radios within reception? Are they using proper radio etiquette and following policies established by the marina?
So many times, employees are hired, fill out some forms, given a uniform and put to work. But have we trained them to be our front line? Marinas have long been considered to be a place to keep a boat. I beg to differ and believe that a marina is not just a place to keep a boat but a gathering place for boaters. As such, we need to teach the employees on how to create that positive first impression that want people to come to the property and have a good time since we are part of the hospitality industry.
Boat shows used to be the way we reached the boating market. It has changed over the years. It used to be where a marina could go home from a boat show with a handful of signed slip agreements. Today, our customers still go to the boat shows, but they can do their shopping at home on the internet for a place to keep their boat. They don’t have the pressure of a salesperson talking with them. How does your website look and is it easy to use? It’s creating a first impression on the user.
Marinas now have to consider today’s social media, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Even if your marina has yet to embrace these platforms, your customers are. Do you know what they are saying? Each of those postings and tweets are a result of a person’s impression of your marina, first or otherwise, but could very easily turn into first impressions of countless others who rely on social media for their information and which you have no direct dialogue with.
Take the time to establish a policy on creating first impressions for your marina. Walk your facility, look at the marina through your customers eyes. Observe your employees, provide them the guidance on what you would like to see and hear. This can be accomplished and have some fun in the meantime by role playing. As manager, you want to always play the role of the customer and do not be too gentle or forgiving, because your customer will not.