The primary goals: maximum safety and customer satisfaction
The following are a few suggestions that are very seldom told at the guides’ courses…
Since many years we have benn working with guides, instructors, and tour leaders. They take care of the technical management of the activity on site and we provide the organization and logistics.
As a result of our experiences, it seems useful to suggest some rules that ideally any guide should observe. We do not claim to teach anything, but we only wish to focus on some points that are sometimes overlooked.
The following are models of management and behavior, not technical procedures (the latter are assumed to be already known and applied correctly).
These few issues, that derive also from best management practices (as well as common sense), rarely are taken into consideration in the “official” courses for guides and instructors.
#1. Know your customers/participants/guests
It may seem trivial, but some guides start a venture with their participants knowing little or nothing about them. Instead, it is essential to know as much as possible about your guest, under the aspects of the technical and psychological skills, the expectations, and the risk profile. This is to make sure, among other things, that the objectives of the program are shared, which is a decisive factor for its success. Knowing the risk profile means understanding what risk / benefit ratio the participant is willing to assume, and what is his perception of the risks of the venture.
If the participant has a distorted perception of risks, this must be corrected through adequate information, and with tools such as the briefing before the program, plus a possible field exercise, as described in the next point..
The professional guide goes beyond the usual “checklist” of equipment, instead he/she carries out a series of well-targeted checks and tests before starting the program.
Not only will gear and equipment be checked and tested, but possibly the guide will propose an exercise or training session before the departure, as to best evaluate the technical skills of the participants. It is always better not to trust a participant’s statements alone.
# 3. Teach.
Instructors, by definition, teach. The guides, on the other hand, sometimes forget the opportunity, during the activity, to teach the correct techniques, the most appropriate behaviors in different situations, the recognition of dangers and the necessary safety rules, or even simply the little secrets of the environment.
Many benefits are obtained with teaching, including a stronger motivation and awareness of the participant, and a greater loyalty for future projects together.
#4. Support and motivate.
The participant has to be supported in any possible moments of difficulty, even on the psychological side. There is no need to insult those who are slow and less capable, but on the contrary they must be helped by all means.
With the teaching (see previous point) the participant shall be motivated to progressively improve his/her performance in the activity.
#5. Stimulate interest.
The sport activity takes place on terrain and in an environment that the guide should know well. If the guide points out some aspects also of cultural interest, the participants’ experience grows in value, and will remain a pleasant and indelible memory.
#6. Be supported by an adequate organization.
The guide must have an organization and logistics support of absolute reliability, in order to fully concentrate on his/her task of assistance to the participants and guarantor of safety.
Beware of the “staffing ratio“, ie the guides / participants ratio, which must be well calibrated according to the type of activity, the environment, the skill level and fitness of the guests.
Note that even with small groups, having two guides instead of one, increases safety significantly.
#7. Manage risks.
Traditional Safety practices must leave way to modern Risk Management, with the aim not of reducing risks tout-court, but of optimizing the risk / benefit ratio.
Even a basic risk assessment, as a probabilistic mix of hazards and their consequences, shall be focused and shared with the participants. The most likely and severe risks should be identified, along with the most appropriate treatment measures. Participants must be clearly explained about the residual risks, those that cannot be eliminated but indeed represent a key ingredient of any adventure in the outdoors.
Organizers, guides, and the participants themselves have roles and responsibilities that should be well defined before starting the program.
To know more about Risk Management in outdoor sports, CLICK HERE.
# 8. Have a Plan B
In case something does not go exactly as planned, you must have a back-up plan.
For possible logistical problems we speak of a “contingency plan“. For example, in a plane trip to some remote areas, one possibility to consider is that the gear arrives the next day; in this case, the backup plan simply consists in having a “buffer” day before starting the actual activity at destination.
Another example: in a multi-day glacier traverse, plan for some escape lines down the valley, in case of bad weather or a participant’s sickness.
In the most serious cases of an accident, an emergency plan will need to be in place. The basic operating procedures for any rescue, recovery of the injured, and related treatments will have to be planned in advance. In all situations, communications must always be guaranteed and efficient.
#9. Do not mind about the last cent
It is normal to care about your fair profit, but do not exaggerate. Claiming on the customer for an unexpected extra expense of a few euros does not change the outcome of your business, but can seriously compromise the good relationship with the customer.
#10. Apply the FISH! phylosophy
The FISH! phylosophy was developed to facilitate good relations between supplier and customer, in any type of business. It may also help the guide with establishing the best communication and relationship with his/her guests.
The FISH approach is a behavioral model based on 4 key points:
1) “Be present”: the guide shall always be at the customer’s side, to support him at all times; the guide is not a foreign person, but a true adventure companion the participant should trust.
2) “Choose your attitude”: the guide shall always be positive; an open and positive attitude promotes communication, reduces stress, increases the degree of motivation and helps to solve any problems.
3) “Play”: the good guide almost “plays” in his/her work, and entertains the participants; with his/her cheerfulness he/she shows the pleasure of being together, but also the control of what he/she is doing.
4) “Make their day”: the art of guiding also lies in exceeding the expectations of the participants, making their experience unique. The participant should be surprised, and not just satisfied. Make him/her feel as a protagonist. For example, on a ski mountaineering tour, from time to time have him/her open the track on virgin snow, if there are no particular dangers. An association of American guides has the internal rule to leave the customer the satisfaction of arriving first at the summit, if the safety criteria allow it.