Experiential Learning

Caroline Cooper on how to get team members noticing and learning from experiences inside and outside of work.

White waitress small business owner bartender barista writing orders in clipboard wearing blue apron talking on phone for takeout takeaway delivery looking at the camera at the bar counterMost of us are familiar with mystery shopping and using this as a way of gathering feedback from a customer’s perspective. As valuable as this is, if it highlights much in the way of improvements this can sometimes be taken as criticism and your team resisting any change.

When your team are involved with identifying areas of improvement for themselves it means you’ll have far more buy-in, and with it a commitment to making the changes happen.

So how do you do this? One of the biggest mistakes is to make this too generic. If you ask people to feedback any observations you’ll get at best one or two things they liked or didn’t like. But what you really want them to think about is why they liked/didn’t like it, how it made them feel, and what you can learn and apply (or avoid) in future?

Here are three ways you can apply the mystery shopping concept to help shape improvements and seven considerations for continuous improvement.

1. Self-audit
The easiest and most basic way is to create a checklist of every last detail you’d expect to see, hear, feel, or even smell! Make it simple for people to complete as a yes or no.

The drawback with the self-audit is that your team are too close to the situation, they’ll never see things in the same way customers might and gauging what might be a customer’s first impression is difficult. However doing the self-audit before you implement any of the following options means team members have a chance to discuss and correct their own shortcomings before anyone points them out.

2. In your customers’ shoes
Allocate each team member or group a section of your customer journey, taking an aspect of your business they are not normally exposed to. For example, your housekeepers making an initial enquiry, your kitchen team giving a showround etc.

You can use the same checklists as the self-audit, but the important thing is to review it through a customer’s eyes. Don’t forget first touch points such as website and enquiries, and post event such as sending the final invoice or follow up marketing messages.

Give people guidance on what to feedback on, for example:
• What were your own observations?
• What do we do well to give customers a great experience?
• If this was your business, what would you do differently?
• What one thing could you start doing tomorrow to give customers an even better experience?

Extend this activity to include sampling and experiencing your finest products and services first hand. Not only does this help with product knowledge but it can also be a fantastic way to reward team members, and if relevant you can include partners or friends to get a further perspective (and even greater buy-in).

A critical consideration with this activity is that it’s about learning and improving, and for the departments under review not to take feedback as a criticism.

Wedding Planner Checking Table Decorations In Marquee3. Win-win
An extension of the above is to learn from other businesses. These don’t need to be competitors, but venues, the high street or other industries altogether, that have a reputation for being brilliant at any aspect that’s important to you.

This becomes a win-win when you reimburse this shopping experience as a thank you or a way to recognise a team member. So, it might be anything from a cup of coffee at a local café, to a night away in a beautiful location.

Again, create a list of things you’d like reviewed. For example, if you’d like to improve your confirmation process, ask for specific feedback on what was experienced when booking. Schedule ahead of time an opportunity for your team to share their findings:

• What they liked and why
• What you already do which is better!
• What could be copied or adapted for your business (you might set a target of eg. at least three ideas you could apply in your own business
• Any ideas are welcome even if your team members are not sure how to apply them. Ask them to still be prepared to feedback their observations
• Always look for ideas on what you can borrow from other industries. To stand out you must be continuously improving and doing things differently or better than the competition.

Creating the culture
For any of the above to work, here are seven factors to consider:
1. Make time to review people’s observations. This could be a simple debrief from the day’s events, to audits and mystery shopping exercises
2. Be specific about the criteria you want people to review and what specific questions you’d like them to answer
3. Encourage everyone to accept feedback as an opportunity to learn, not to be seen as criticism
4. Be open and honest about shortfalls or mistakes; they provide an opportunity for everyone to learn and hopefully prevent making them in the future
5. Involve everyone in contributing ideas for improvement, not just the people directly involved. Recognise and reward people’s contribution
6. Focus on what they can change or influence, not waste time and energy on the things out of their control
7. Take on board your team’s observations and feedback. If there’s no follow through they’ll stop bothering to tell you.



Caroline Cooper is the Founder of Naturally Loyal and has over 30 years’ training and development experience in hospitality.

Recognising that managers in hospitality often get promoted into positions without much management training, her key focus is on developing newly promoted and junior managers to lead and engage their teams effectively.
These activities were taken from Caroline’s ‘38 Customer Service Training Exercises and Activities’ available at www.naturallyloyal.com/resources/28activities

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