Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the incorrect title for Bill Hendricks. He is the department head of Cal Poly’s Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration program.
For years, franchisees of Kampgrounds of America touted their sites as the best in America — until a survey of campers found out otherwise, recalled Jim Rogers, chief executive officer of the world’s largest organization of privately held campgrounds.
Rogers told a group of about 30 students and budding business owners at the SLO HotHouse, in a morning meeting Wednesday, about his decision to seek customer feedback through a thorough analysis and how that led to specific improvements such as replacing the front desk clerk, repairing infrastructure or adding visitor-friendly amenities such as pools.
Several of the franchisees — who cater to RV travelers in addition to recreational campers — had to take a close look at their businesses, he said, such as replacing a family member at the front desk or adding a pool or deluxe cabin.
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The company also improved customer satisfaction by increasing interaction between customers and KOA sites’ owners.
The owners who made a point to engage with more campers at their sites showed improved ratings for customer service.
“What we’ve discovered through studies is that people remember and appreciate meeting the owner, and they want to come back after they do,” Rogers said.
The executive with a background in the hotel and casino industry said he’d make trips to KOA campground sites and talked with franchisees who proclaimed their site was “the best KOA in America.”
“Everywhere I’d go, they’d say, ‘We’re the best in America,’” Rogers said. “I’d ask them, ‘Well, how do you know that?”
Rogers said the company decided to use a system that asked customers to give an evaluation and score of their experience, and the result was a surprise for some franchisees.
“We had our convention in Las Vegas and told people where they ranked,” Rogers said. “A lot of the people went into the bathroom and cried. They thought they were number one, and it turns out they’re 236th.”
Rogers said the ratings caused initial shock and some denial, but the subsequent upgrades to their sites — whether it was personnel or campground improvements — were valuable.
“It was one of the best things we could have done,” Rogers said.
Rogers said that a mistake local business owners can make is “getting too close to the situation.”
“They can forget the fundamentals of highlighting the little things that make it special,” Rogers said. “That can be the educational aspects of the venue, meeting the owner, and having that memorable experience. You don’t necessarily have to build a new bridge or a fancy pool.”
Bill Hendricks, the head of Cal Poly’s Recreation, Parks & Tourism Administration Department, said that about 60 of the students in his program concentrate on hospitality at Cal Poly.
“They’ve been listening attentively” to Rogers, who has been an executive-in-residence at the university this week, Hendricks said. “They’ve been hanging on every word.”