Valuing customer care

Melissa Volpi joins gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers from four Scottish estates at BASC HQ in Trochry for a training day on how to deliver high standards of service to sporting clients

“We need to identify who our country sports clients are, what their expectations are and how we can not only meet but exceed those expectations,” says Nicki Barnett, owner of Highland Lodges – a website dedicated to event management – and tutor of this course in country sports customer care.

There are 10 of us sitting round a table at BASC headquarters in Trochry, looking nervous and staying silent. Across from me is Louise Rattrie from the Scottish Country Sports Tourism Group (SCSTG) and there are eight men surrounding us – all gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers on four of Scotland’s well-known estatates: Atholl, Persie, East Haugh and Dunalastair.

We are here to learn world-class customer service. Nicki has been working in event management in the hunting, shooting, fishing sector for 10 years and knows how to please all clients, from lords and ladies to bankers. Her role is always the same: match the client to the estate and take care of the details. She starts off by asking the representatives of each estate who their clients are and what they come to them for.

“We have an established, older clientele who come to us for the accommodation rather than the sporting,” says Gerald Watts from Persie estate.

“We cater mostly for English guns who come to us for the sport. We’ve got grouse, deer and salmon fishing,” says David Harland from Atholl estate.

“We have a lot of novice and American clients who come to us for the easy-going terrain,” says Mark Mackenzie from Dunalastair. “We can walk clients in to the deer rather than crawling.”

Last but not least, Gordon Pollock from East Haugh says: “We deal mainly with novice clients who come to us for the easy wading. The UK is still our biggest market, but we are starting to get more international clients.”and take care of the details. She starts off by asking the representatives of each estate who their clients are and what they come to them for.

“We have an established, older clientele who come to us for the accommodation rather than the sporting,” says Gerald Watts from Persie estate.

“We cater mostly for English guns who come to us for the sport. We’ve got grouse, deer and salmon fishing,” says David Harland from Atholl estate.

“We have a lot of novice and American clients who come to us for the easy-going terrain,” says Mark Mackenzie from Dunalastair. “We can walk clients in to the deer rather than crawling.”

Last but not least, Gordon Pollock from East Haugh says: “We deal mainly with novice clients who come to us for the easy wading. The UK is still our biggest market, but we are starting to get more international clients.”

The Country Sports Client

According to a 2007 survey carried out for the SCSTG, 90 per cent of sporting clients who visit Scotland are from the UK and only 10 per cent are from overseas – mainly Europe. But the overseas clients are the ones that spend the most money – and often have the highest expectations.

“You cannot promote Scotland enough, especially with international clients,” Nicki tells us while handing out a course worksheet on achieving excellence. “Hardly any clients say that they want to come to Scotland for the food. But they are pleasantly surprised when given game and local produce. It’s this attention to detail that the client remembers. And it’s this attention to detail that will enhance your reputation.”

The worksheet is all about ‘the customer service journey’ – identifying customer expectations, poor practice and how to add value. Nicki splits us up into three groups and sets each group a task. I am in group one with two Harper Adams University students, David Recchia and Joe Haseley, who are completing a year’s work placement as apprentice ghillies on Atholl estate. Our task is to interpret what a client might expect when travelling to and from the sporting venue and what they would see as poor practice and added value.

We huddle up and put our thinking caps on. “I think they would expect a fully licensed driver who picks them up on time,” Joe says.

“I think they would see a dirty car and unsafe driving as bad practice,” I say.

Nicki joins us and waits to hear what we come up with for added value. “I think it’s important to make the client feel special,” says David. “So opening the door for them and loading their luggage into the car. Nicki is impressed with David’s suggestions for added value. It’s this idea of making the client feel special that she is trying to push on this course.

We all come together again in one big group as Nicki asks the question: What typically Scottish things do guests expect to experience? Estate tweed, taking game off the hill on a pony, unique sport, beautiful scenery, storytelling, history, friendliness and a good sense of humour are top of the list.

“Whether a guest comes back to your estate year after year is down to you,” Nicki says while working through the presentation. “Here’s an example for you. One stalker I know has been flown all over the world because he has become friends with his clients. They respect him and love his passion and enthusiasm.”

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We get onto the subject of language barriers and how hand gestures might help you to communicate better with international clients who are not fluent in English. Nicki stands at the front of our group and holds up her right hand. She brings her forefinger down to touch her thumb, creating an ‘o’ shape and then raises the other three fingers so that they are vertical. This gesture means OK in English, but in Asia it means money.

“Not all gestures are universal,” says Nicki while showing us different hand gestures on a Power Point presentation on the whitewashed wall of this cottage-like function room. “So it’s important to be knowledgeable about your client’s culture and what each gesture means to them.”

I share a story with the group about my first experience of hunting Ibex in Spain and how this became stressful for me because my guide could not speak English. I enjoyed the social aspect of my Spanish hunt because the owner and host spoke good English, so dinnertime entertainment was taken care of. Even my first day out was great because my guide spoke fluent English, and that gave me enough confidence to shoot my first female Ibex. On the second day, however, I was out with a different guide who could not speak English.

Female ibex are well camouflaged and not easy to spot. As I was a novice, it was even more difficult for me. My guide would point to an area on the hillside where there was ibex, but I couldn’t see the female he wanted me to shoot and I could not tell him this. Eventually we got into position near a herd, but I decided to pass on the shot because
I could not understand what beast he wanted me to take. It’s a shame, but that experience has made me think twice about hunting ibex in Spain again.

The group all relate to this and Nicki tells us that she is currently working with the SCSTG to introduce name cards to estates. She wants gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers to carry cards that have basic words of instruction on them in the correct language for the international clients they take out. After my experience in Spain, I think this is a great idea – and a point of added value.

Click

“Ninety-three per cent of a message is communicated by how we say something,” Nicki says while going through the last, but most important, part of the course. “It’s about tone of voice, body language and appearance. Only seven per cent has to do with what you say.”

Nicki refers to this as CLICK: Communicate courteously. Listen to learn. Initiate immediately. Create a connection. Know your stuff.

It seems easy and obvious, but it’s amazing how often we all get this wrong. I tell of an experience that I had on a Scottish moor when the ghillie was smoking cigarettes while leading the pony up the hill to join our stalking party, then continuing to smoke on the way back down. I thought this was not only a good example of poor practice, but also a bad example of body language. The ghillie was more interested in the cigarette than on his appearance and professionalism.

To finish off, Nicki explains how we have the power to turn the negative into a positive – and enhance ourselves as well as the estate. She gives us an example of what is the wrong thing to say and what is the right thing to say.

“It’s not my fault you’ve got the wrong equipment with you,” could be turned into, “That piece of equipment doesn’t look quite right. Let me see if we have something more suitable.”

By putting a little more effort in, you can achieve great results. I know how much more confidence and appreciation the clients today now have for their job and customer service. Sharing experiences with other gamekeepers, ghillies and stalkers really does work.

With over 340 million per year in revenue from country sports in Scotland, and 13,800 jobs in shooting and stalking, it’s down to us, as the keepers of the countryside, to make sure those figures keep going up. As Nicki stated throughout the course: “We face world-class competition so we need to offer world-class experiences.”

To find out more about the customer care courses, contact Victoria Brooks on 01350 723226 or visit www.countrysportscotland.com. To contact Nicki Barnett directly, visit www.highlandlodges-scotland.com.

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