Venue Spotlight: Sandcastle Waterpark: It’s all about good customer service
When you think about accessible places to go a waterpark might not be high up on your list. However Sandcastle Waterpark in Blackpool is proud to be an accessible venue! They have won the VisitEngland ‘Access for All’ award two years in a row and are one of the most reviewed venues on Euan’s Guide. So how do they get consistently good feedback and what have they done to make the park truly accessible?
Jane Kelly, Marketing and Business Development Manager explains in a three part series of guest posts the parks commitment to accessibility, including the business case for being accessibility and importantly the parks ability to offer a day out for everyone.
The business case for accessibility
We wanted to be fully committed to our Mission Statement and offer our facility to everyone in the family no matter what their age, swimming ability or disability. The fact that we can offer a fully inclusive experience for everyone holds great value to us, and satisfies our company ethos.
We are continually asked to explain our business case for improving accessibility, when we reflect on this it becomes clear, we would have made the improvements regardless of the financial gain, but the fact that the investments have seen a great return on investment is simply a double benefit. The real ethos of making an impression, supporting families who perhaps have found it difficult to enjoy a day out, gain a tremendous amount of loyal and repeat visits from satisfied disabled guests and overall do the right thing, is the main fundamental reason why becoming more accessible featured within our targeted business plans.
For us, the main benefit is that the whole family can enjoy a day out together regardless of age, disability or swimming ability. This means that everyone can share their experiences, which is what valuable leisure time is all about – creating memories.
Good customer service
Sandcastle Waterpark invested heavily in developing a guest service culture within its structure. Initially we made it clear through recruitment adverts that we were looking for staff who are genuine and friendly. This is the most important thing we look for in our staff. Once staff are employed they are then asked to give a Guest Service Pledge. This personal statement asks staff to think about their own commitment to the guest and how they will offer good service.
Our mission statement which is to ensure that each guest has a fun filled and memorable visit, delivered by polite and attentive staff, who are committed to quality, guest service excellence and tourism for all, is filtered through all levels of the business and is truly at the heart of everything we do.
We then invested in staff training and mentoring through schemes, and further developed this by creating our own courses to further enhance the guest service way of thinking. We soon started to see a change in our staff behaviour and found that guest feedback was extremely positive, with comments such as friendly, helpful, polite, being used to describe our staff.
The road to accessibility
Once this culture had taken hold, we then focussed our attention on accessibility. We found that by asking how we could help a guest enjoy their day, guests with disabilities were no different. They simply had slightly different wants, needs and expectations. Our staff were responding in an open and helpful manner and treating each guest as an individual – the guest service formula works for everyone.
Then it was simply a case of listening to our guests and building on the successes we already had in place. We forged strong relationships with local community groups such as Aiming Higher - who deal with around 750 families with children with disabilities. This relationship started around 7 years ago with a rather confrontational meeting with them. They came ready for a fight and said, ‘our children can’t access your attraction as they have autism and therefore the environment is not suitable for them. What are you going to do about it?’.
We responded with some questions, ‘What would make our attraction suitable? How can we help?’. The answer was simple, we would offer them a small amount of time out of operational hours, where music was turned off and the waterpark was quieter, with extra water ambassadors in the water to assist. They were dumfounded to say the least and the fact that we wanted to work with them to get a solution was alien to them. That was 7 years ago, and now some of these children regularly attend during normal operational hours, so much is the trust and confidence in our staff and product.
Continuing to learn
Since then we have learnt so much, and continue to do so on a daily basis. We have forged even more relationships with groups further afield who are likeminded to grow our minds even further. There is simply always more we can do.
Training has developed even further, plus facilities and services are constantly improved to offer even more. The resounding success story has to be that of our staff, their guest service skills and how accommodating they are with any guest with a disability.
So strong is the culture and ethos, we have also taken on a Charity Manager from Aiming Higher onto our Board of Directors and equally the Managing Director and Marketing Manager both are actively involved with several charities and community groups to strengthen the bond with Accessible Groups.
We now have a clear and defined corporate and social responsibility policy which heavily features accessibility and charity work. Originally staff used to volunteer their time in order to make things like private sessions more cost effective for accessible groups, however we found that some staff could not contribute, despite wanting to. So with this in mind we proposed the introduction of a new scheme where 2% of each and every member of staff’s wages are donated to a newly formed, Splash Foundation, along with £1 per online booking. This was fully embraced by the entire company and was launched with the full backing of all concerned. So far we have raised just over £100,000, which has been used to aide many local charities and community groups.
Tomorrow Jane will share some of the services and facilities they offer at the park to ensure everyone has a great time.