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Balancing enforcement and accommodation

Stadium attendantLast week, I attended the U.S. Open in New York. While at Louis Armstrong Stadium, I encountered two stadium attendants: one who understood that his role was to serve spectators and another who viewed himself as an enforcer of stadium rules and tournament protocol.

The first attendant, I observed smiling, making eye contact, and conversing with ticket holders as he escorted them to their seats (which he wiped clean with a towel). Before departing, he gently counseled fans to only move about the stadium during official changeovers in order to avoid distracting the players. He was friendly and instructional. As a result, he cultivated smiles and nods of understanding and agreement from his “customers.”

The second attendant didn’t escort or counsel anyone. Instead, he lazily pointed in the direction of a ticket holder’s assigned seat, surveyed his domain, and then pounced whenever a spectator breached the official 90-second changeover time frame. In one case, he told a fan who was 10 feet from his seat to go back down the steps and wait behind the chain for the next official changeover—even though the players were still making their way onto the court and lots of fans were returning to their seats in other sections of the stadium.

Here’s the insight that I gleaned from these observations: Those wielding authority (such as stadium attendants, TSA agents, and youth sports referees), are most effective when they balance rules enforcement with accommodating counsel. It’s not zero-sum in the sense that it has to be one or the other—enforcement or accommodation. It’s both.

A TSA agent, for example, rather than admonishing a traveler for failing to comply with TSA protocol for transporting toiletries, might say, “I have a bag you can use today. In the future it’s important that you pack such items inside a one-quart clear Ziploc-style bag. In fact, you’ll find all of the TSA guidelines on our website: TSA.gov.” This traveler, as opposed to feeling chastised, would feel accommodated and better prepared for future interactions with the TSA.

This concept also applies to youth sports referees. My 10-year-old son, Cooper, plays basketball in a youth league. I’ve noticed that there are two distinct archetypes for referees in youth sports: those who counsel and instruct and those who myopically enforce the rules.

As a dad, I appreciate the refs who counsel and instruct the boys in a way that develops their knowledge of the game rather than zapping them with punitive consequences like fouls and turnovers without explanation. Please don’t get me wrong. I understand that fouls and turnovers are part of the game and that setbacks and adversity can be powerful teachers. Even so, the kids in the league are 9 and 10 years old—many playing in their first season and all still learning the game.

The most effective referees, who win over both parents and players, are those who balance rules enforcement with instructive counsel that develops players’ knowledge of the game and encourages their continued enthusiastic participation.

When attempting to balance enforcement and accommodation, recognize that customers’ perspectives likely differ from our own. And when we neglect trying to see the world through their eyes (whether disoriented tennis fans, uninformed airport travelers, or inexperienced basketball players), we may be missing opportunities to serve.

Don’t settle for ordinary. Choose extraordinary. (It’s always a choice.) Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.

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Order Delight Your Customers: 7 Simple Ways to Raise Your Customer Service from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Steve Curtin or purchase from select retailers, including Barnes & Noble.
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