Many lifeguards dread communicating with patrons. When they do interact with patrons it’s usually to enforce a rule. From the lifeguard’s perspective, this can be perceived as a no-win situation. The strangers can be categorized into groups: young children that don’t listen, teenagers that never listen, and adults that have given up on listening to anyone young. The last group can exacerbate “rule enforcement” situations with nonverbal responses: the rapid nodding, “leave me alone;” the blank stare, “who is this person, I have texts to reply to;” or lastly, the wry smile, simply “I know better than you.”

Let’s change the rules. Let’s make contact before any rules are broken. Consider adding a “greeter” position within the lifeguard rotation.  Greeters are used within the retail and service industry to establish a positive connection with the customer, answer questions, and give directions. The retail industry recognizes a reduction of loss through theft because of the greeters’ presence and customer interaction.

Have patrons meet a lifeguard greeter before they enter the swim facility, establishing the first point of contact. The lifeguard greeter will explain your core rules and amenities, which should include: child supervision, swim test for the deep area, location of first aid station and bathrooms, times of the scheduled swim breaks, and the lifejacket loaner program.

The benefits of the greeter are numerous. The first experience your patrons have with a lifeguard is positive. It reduces interference to the primary lifeguard in the tower or chair. Clear expectations are laid out for parents and children on their participation in water safety. Drowning prevention becomes a partnership between patrons and staff, not the singular job of the lifeguard.

Rule enforcement will always be needed for infractions. A secondary lifeguard should intervene providing a detailed response to the patron that supports both the greeter’s initial contact and reinforces the facility rules. As professionals, our goal is to provide a safe and positive aquatic experience to the members of our community consistently. Some days easy and some days are hard. However with a greeter, no patrons can fall back on ignorance saying, “I didn’t know.”

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Comment by Pete DeQuincy on June 7, 2013 at 7:25am

Joe, Thank you for taking the time to read this. I have to remain constant in reminding my staff to go talk to the patrons and how valuable it is to establish a one-on-one dialogue. They sometimes forget that the patrons are from the community and have the potential of visiting our facilities on a regular basis.

Comment by Joe Andrews on June 5, 2013 at 9:49pm

I agree with you 100% Pete. Good Customer service gets a lot of lip service in our industry, especially on the municipal side. I'm fortunate that my staff end up almost in a greeter position (though not dedicated). We are a smaller instructional/fitness facility with a steady flow of people through the day and not prone to huge rushes except for our few recreational swims. Unless they are working with a customer they are directed to any time possible just short of run to the door to hold it open and greet patrons as they enter. I will definitely incorporate more educational training as they come in.

Thanks for the Great Article.

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