Feature Article - January 2007
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Find out what people want and keep everyone happy

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Implement your answers

After the data collection is done and you have an array of information, "create an action plan and determine how to implement it," Hammersley said. What were the most popular responses? Which of them can be put into effect right away? Which ones require additional funding?

Once you've prioritized and outlined how you'd like to proceed, take this plan back to the community for their input once again.

"This builds support for the master plan," Hammersley said. "You may also do some small revisions based on feedback."

From there you can move on to actually beginning new programs or building new facilities. But however you move forward, be sure to "communicate with the community so they know what's coming"-or why that new aquatic center is not coming right away, Hammersley suggested. "You want to have buy-in from the community and a feeling of participation."

Once you get things rolling, a system of evaluation should present itself-particularly because the community is now accustomed to offering input. Have program participants evaluate their instructor and experience when the session is over. Check in with those visiting the pool to see if it's meeting expectations.

"Look at the number of people in a program over a period of time," Nicely said.

"Is it growing, staying stable or declining?"

This may sound like a hassle, but computer software can track and manage customer information, streamline the registration process and, with the click of a button, print out mailing labels to send a survey to everyone who took a particular class, played in a certain sports league or visited the aquatic center over the summer. Better yet, save money and time by e-mailing your computer-savvy clients to have them provide feedback via a Web site you've set up.

After you've started implementing items in your master plan, Nicely recommends taking some risks and trying new things. See what else the community suggests. The Beaumont Centre Family YMCA's extensive martial arts program includes not just karate, but shao lin and tai chi, and a building addition now provides space for Pilates, drum lessons, guitar lessons, ballet, fencing, cheerleading, modeling and more.

Some of these more unusual offerings have been introduced because "specialized people come to us or are referred to us," Nicely said. "Something indicates an interest."

Fencing was introduced after the 2004 Olympics. The Y's guitar instructor, who came looking for a space to offer his classes, now teaches eight students.

"We've tried a variety of things-Irish dancing, ballroom dancing," Nicely said. Some offerings last longer than others, but as long as the instructor is comfortable with the number of students and willing to continue, and as long as the facility has space available, the program is given a chance.

"We approach it as a service and something we can provide to the community," she said.

Once you've got something good going-or even just a good idea-make sure the community knows about it. If your organization has a newsletter, give your new programs prominent play. Send press releases to local newspapers, too.

"You don't have to spend a ton of money," Silver said. Just get organized and be creative. Church bulletins, school functions, public bulletin boards and word-of-mouth can all be powerful-and inexpensive-means to get the word out.

Hammersley takes a slightly different approach to this issue: If you've done your research in advance and kept in touch with the community, they should be anticipating the new program or service as much as you are.

"You wouldn't just decide to build four new softball fields," he said. "You go through the input process or go back to your assessment plan. Find out what they want and then go do it. Assess first-always."

Another key to keeping things moving is the right staff person. If you're targeting a specialized segment of the population, find someone informed to lead the charge, like Rosalie Bocelli-Hernandez, the Durham, N.C., Park District's outreach coordinator for the Latino community-a community comprised mostly of immigrants.

"I watched the news and did research," she explained. She noted that immigrants often don't understand local laws. So her English as a Second Language classes now include information on North Carolina lifestyles and law enforcement information. "They don't know what to say if police stop them, or if there's a hurricane," she said. Latino outreach efforts also include classes in accent reduction and computer literacy.

That's not to say that Durham's Latino outreach efforts are all business. Many Latinos love soccer, Bocelli-Hernandez noted, "but we don't have enough fields for them to rent, so we're trying to encourage them to try some other sports and activities."