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What Can We Learn From This?

This is the arena that I almost didn’t get to play.

Nice looking, but that is not what I will remember most about this site. I share this now only because I do think there is something to learn from my experience. I won’t call them out here, but perhaps you could consider this a cautionary tale and the moral of the story is that parties and people should BOTH matter to your business because you (usually) only get one chance to make a first impression.

I called ahead to this arena…twice. The first time was when Aztec and I were traveling together and the guy who answered the phone said they had a few party groups, but when I asked about coming as walk-ins I was told they could accommodate walk-ins in between. So we made the trip, significantly out of our way and in place of the other arenas we had otherwise planned to visit.

Obviously as an advocate for the industry I understand that parties are your bread and butter when you run an FEC. That is exactly why we checked on the situation before making the drive. We both understand the business. So we were surprised when we got there and were told that their party group had the arena booked solid because they had 32 party players and only 16 vests, so they were alternating them in the games. I explained that I am a blogger and asked if we could do a short game (even reduced time would be fine) anywhere in between and was firmly told “I am NOT going to disrupt a party group.” Ok, I don’t want to disrupt a party group either, but what would be done if there were other walk-ins or casual players? The tone of the comment and the rest of our exchange was what made a less than favorable impression on me and also made me wonder if our business mattered to them at all. It did not feel like it in that moment.

We were told we could do a game in a little over half an hour when the party was done, which I’ll concede was fair enough and ordinarily that would not be all that long of a wait time, but we decided to forgo waiting out the party because of an unexpected circumstance calling us back to Long Island. Let me be clear that my issue with this arena (at this point) was not that we had to wait, but rather that we left feeling like our effort to patronize the business was secondary priority to the party and felt more like an inconvenience to them after we had gone out of our way to stop in. I felt a bit devalued as a customer. However, it was our decision to leave and drive two and a half hours back without playing any laser tag at this site.

Was I reading too much into the guy’s tone? Well, I’m willing to give a place a second chance…and here it comes.

Later that same evening I decided it would be best for travel if I were to leave the city that night and find a hotel upstate. As luck would have it, the route to my chosen hotel would have me passing fairly close to this arena once more. So I went back to this business again that very same night. It was just two hours travel this time to get there (now that traffic was lighter)…so yeah, it was two hours away from where we started, two and a half hours drive back to Long Island and two hours drive up again for a return visit (nobody but me cares about playing laser tag THAT much, but at least this time it was on the route home). I started the return trip to the arena only after I called ahead once again. The employee who answered the phone this time asked when I would be arriving and I gave him an estimate of two hours. He said that was fine because their final party group would be done in one hour. Ok, sounds good!

I left Long Island and returned to the arena, more confident in the route having just been there earlier in the day. I walked up to the counter and asked to purchase a game of laser tag. The employee hesitated and the same manager from earlier came back and spoke with me. “Just you, not your friend? You should have been here ten minutes ago. It was wide open all afternoon. I have a party group now. They were on the schedule.” Seriously?! I am patient but was getting very close to (let’s just say) my breaking point! When he said this I told him about how I had called ahead to inquire about walk-in availability…AGAIN. Ultimately, they did put me in a game with a couple of staff members. I played and got to see a beautifully done two-level arena in the process.

If I had simply walked in, been sold a game and played (even if there was a wait) I am certain I would have only positive things to share. However, the experience was lessened for me because I felt like I had to work a bit too hard for this one. I suspect this mostly boils down to a matter of communication. So, what is the lesson learned? Treat both parties and walk-ins like they matter equally. You don’t need to tell me that your party group represents thousands of dollars to you (yes, he said that too). It may be true, but it is not something you should say to a customer to validate why some other group matters to you more. In good customer service, diplomacy counts. Please build time into your game schedule for both parties and general walk-in business to be accommodated and if/when your schedule is full please communicate that if someone calls ahead. It is easier to hear that an arena is full before I drive there…and would be significantly more appreciated to know before I drive there again! Let’s face it, I am a persistent and unusual customer, but most people walking in your door are only going to give you one chance to make a first impression. Make it a good one.

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