Service Through Preparation

Perhaps you have heard me mention that I used to be a park ranger. During my eight years as a Park Ranger, only once did I see an event that shocked everyone who saw it. Children gasped. Parents turned their heads. A baby cried.

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that a Park Ranger caused the commotion.

The shocking event happened at the end of an interpretive hike on a trail in the Little Spokane River Natural Area of Riverside State Park. Twenty kids and their parents joined Park Ranger Joseph Felgenhauer and me for a hike along the meandering river.

Ranger Felgenhauer led the group using words to guide their steps through the forest. He talked about trees. He talked about the river. He discussed the native history of the area. He pointed out signs of wildlife. He encouraged kids to touch leaves, trees, rocks, and bugs.

He explained the value of connecting to the natural world.

At the end of the hike, as we approached the parking area, he pointed out deer droppings to the kids. He explained how to tell what type of animal the scat had come from. Ranger Felgenhauer then reached down, picked up two deer droppings, and popped them in his mouth.

“It tastes nutty” was all Ranger Felgenhauer said about it before leading the group down the short trail to the parking area as he finished his interpretive hike.

No one in attendance heard another word after “nutty”. The crowd was still buzzing with what they had seen as they climbed into mini-vans and SUVs.

Here is what the crowd did not know.

For several weeks, Ranger Felgenhauer and I had it on our calendar to do an interpretive hike with a group of school kids. Left up to me, I would have conducted the hike based on my knowledge and experience in that area of the park.

Ranger Felgenhauer took a different approach. Joseph is a champion interpreter and he would not give an interpretive walk without knowing every turn and curve that his guests would walk. He wanted to see what they would see before they saw it, so he could tell a story about it.

The morning of the scheduled hike, Joseph and I had visited the Natural Are where the hike would be. We walked the trail and Joseph took note of interesting trees, plants, and rocks. He planned what he would say at each viewpoint along the river. He paid special attention to coyote scat alongside the trail, knowing it would present an opportunity for a story.

When the kids arrived we lead them on the predetermined route along the river. Ranger Felgenhauer hit each practiced point right on queue. He stirred enthusiasm in the kids and answered every question.

At the coyote scat, Ranger Felgenhauer had each kid examine it. He explained what you can learn from scat; what the coyote ate and how long ago the animal had been there.

Finally, towards the end of the hike, Ranger Felgenhauer discovered the deer scat under a young Ponderosa Pine tree. The kids leaned in to hear what then Ranger would teach them.

And then Joseph ate deer droppings. It was something that none of the kids, or their parents, will forget.

Joseph Felgenhauer and I worked together only a few months. I left Riverside State Park for another park and soon after Joseph moved on to another career. Even after I left, the way Joseph conducted the interpretive hike stuck with me.

Joseph knew knowledge does not have the same impact as preparation. Preparation was the key to delivering a great experience to families who took time out of their day to go on a walk with us.

Joseph did not just lead a hike and talk about what showed up before us. Each stop was a deliberate effort to educate the kids. Each viewpoint had been pre-selected to offer the best opportunity for a story. Interesting trees and large rocks had been chosen as highlights because they would create the most curiosity from the kids.

And the coyote scat played into the story of the day. It offered an educational stop and made the kids consider what they can learn from scat.

It played right into Joseph’s finale of eating deer dropping.

You see, the finale was deliberate, just like the rest of the hike. Joseph knew by doing something that would WOW the kids they would remember the hike. The precise spot and timing of that event had been planned.

Earlier in the morning, when we had walked the trail, Joseph had sprinkled Raisinets on the ground under the pine tree.

Ranger Joseph Felgenhauer knew how to deliver a memorable customer experience. Jeff Noel talks about going the extra inch beyond what customers expect. For Joseph Felgenhauer, the extra inch was as simple a couple of raisinettes.

Joseph Felgenhauer taught us that preparation is the key to delivering a memorable customer experience to your customers. You can prepare like a park ranger, too. Here are the three steps you can learn from Joseph to deliver some WOW to your customers, and if you’re still looking for more advice on how to improve the customer experience of your service or product, look into exactly what is customer experience.

  1. See what your customers will see. How do you do this? Park in the parking lot and walk into your business. What did it look and feel like on the way in, beginning with the walk through the parking lot? Visit your website and look for information people would commonly be looking for, like your contact information, or even what you do. Call your business. Look at the ways customers interact with you and walk through it like Ranger Felgenhauer walked the trail before he had a school group with him. By walking the trail ahead of time, Joseph knew where the landmarks were. He knew when to tell stories. He even knew when to tell kids to watch their step. You have to begin by walking the same path your customers are going to walk. It doesn’t matter if you are a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker.
  1. Know your stuff. I mentioned that ranger Felgenhauer knew that preparation trumps knowledge. True enough, but he also knew what he was talking about. He didn’t talk about oak trees while standing next to a Ponderosa Pine. He didn’t talk about a black bear’s diet when the group was looking at Coyote Scat. First, Joseph walked the trail to know what his customers would experience. Then, since he knew his stuff, he was able to know where stories could be inserted into the hike. He knew this rock outcrop offered a view of an Osprey nest and it would give him an opportunity to talk about how an Osprey turns a fish when it carries it back to the nest. How can you do this? Once you know what your customer will experience, you can make sure the right information is in the right places. Sometimes it could be something as simple as having the hours of operation on your door. It could be having the right words in the mouth of staff that customers will interact with. It could mean having well-writtenwords on your website. It means understanding where to include information to enhance the customer experience.
  1. Add the WOW. Ranger Felgenhauer would not have been able to wow his customers if he had not prepared. He did backstage work so he could delight people when he was onstage. Well, I am not really sure if anyone was delighted when he ate deer poop, but people did say WOW. Because Joseph already knew the trail, he already knew what the group would see, he already knew what stories they would hear, he understand exactly how to deliver WOW. It was timed perfectly so the group was talking about what happened as they walked back to the car, and probably talked about it on the way home too. How can you deliver WOW? You don’t have to eat anything gross. You don’t have to go over the top. Add something a little delightful that other people are not doing. Dan Miller often includes mints in the box when you order books or other items from him. Look at what others are doing and do something different. Or do what they are not doing. Open an hour earlier, close an hour later. Return phone calls. Or answer your phone. Not many people answer their phone anymore. You will likely know what to do to add WOW if you have followed the first two steps. If you have walked the path your customers will walk, you will know when you have the opportunity to go the extra inch to delight and even WOW a customer. All it takes is to go a little further than what people expect.

Jeff Noel introduced me to the idea of going the extra inch, but I am so taken by it I am going to adopt this idea. Isn’t it encouraging to know you don’t have to go an extra mile to delight people? All it takes is an extra inch. And we can all stretch one more inch, right? One inch is all that separates you from the competition. And when you go the extra inch enough times, you are a foot ahead of everyone around you.

Preparation is key to show you have mastered your message.

I know what question you probably want to ask me, so I am going to go ahead and answer it. No, Ranger Felgenhauer did not tell the group that it was raisenettes he ate. Everyone went home thinking he had eaten deer droppings.

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Jody Maberry