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Pebbles to Boulders: Customer Service, NOT!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010 - Posted by Mort Cooper

A while back, it came to my attention a curling club has some unusual ice utilization practices. One day four sheets of ice were in use by school teams, one school per sheet of ice. This particular day, there could have been 50 curlers on the four ices. This club has more than 4 sheets of ice; the others were not in use. A new curler showed up late for practice, due to a misunderstanding of the practice times. The coach of this school did not want to interrupt the routine already established on their designated sheet of ice with the more experienced curlers, but at the same time, wanted to encourage the new curler to try the sport. So why not go over to one of the vacant sheets of ice to instruct the new curler? Good idea, except the vacant sheets of ice were not pebbled… freshly scraped that afternoon, flat ice, no pebble. No person could reasonably use this ice, for it is was not prepared. To assist the new curler, the practice routine of the others was dramatically changed, making their practice less effective and to the benefit of the coach, instruction for the new curler was carried out.

So by now, many of you are trying to understand why the vacant ice sheets were not prepared for use. Well that is a good question.

As it turns out, this is the same curling club that does not allow the use of vacant ice sheets on early draws, when the later draws are to fill all ices.

The rationale of not making vacant ice available for curling practice is to insure that optimum conditions are for those members who are to be playing games on the same ice. Practicing on the ice creates excessive pebble wear and reduces the quality of the ice for those to follow. While having the best ice conditions for members use is admirable and should be the goal of any club and icemaker, shutting out the use of vacant ice from those who could put it to benefit, is not wise utilization of the ice resources.

Many of you will know Dave Merklinger as one of this country’s premier ice technicians who ply’s his trade with excellence at national and international curling events. Once upon a time, Dave was a club icemaker and turned out very good ice conditions for club members and guests. Dave has also become a very good speaker on all things related to ice. I have had the pleasure to hear Dave’s message on several occasions. Part of Dave’s session to club executives and icemakers is the proper managing of a quality ice surface for all members use. Dave’s message is basically that the measure of quality ice is not only for games, but for use at all times.

By now you are asking, “what does this story have to do with Little Rocks curling?” Well this whole situation has gotten me fired up as I have also heard that some curling clubs cut corners when preparing ice for youth programs. Youth do not pay the same fees as adults, so do not deserve the best ice conditions. Well that is certainly wrong thinking!

Curling is more than playing a sport. Curling is entertainment. We curl to be entertained. Curling clubs are in the entertainment business. To entertain it’s members, curling clubs offer quality facilities, both on ice and off ice. Regardless of the member, be they day ladies, evening men, senior mixed, junior or Little Rocker, all members deserve the best possible ice conditions to play and to improve their play. If the quality of the entertainment (or the entertainment facilities) diminishes, then members could exercise options. These options could be moving to another club or even worse, dropping out of curling all together. In society these days, like never before, there are many entertainment options available to the public without having to leave home. If curling is made difficult to enjoy, then why bother, as there are other activities to enjoy and entertain.

So why would a curling club make it difficult to use their facilities? I certainly do not understand. With all the advancements and knowledge about curling ice, quality ice is certainly achievable. Especially when neighbouring ices are being utilized, vacant ice should be used for skill advancement or new curler instruction.

Little Rocks

Now of course, Little Rockers are not likely to be making many decisions about where they curl, the parents do. Parents can see if corners are being cut and if ideal playing conditions are not being presented. If the parents are disappointed and do not obtain satisfaction, they’ll pack up car with the kids and move on or drop out. And it won’t stop there, for the parents will tell others about the bad experiences at the curling club. A negative message about your club will spread like wild fire.

It costs more to find new curlers than it costs to keep them. It is to the benefit of all curling clubs to keep members happy.

It is all about quality customer service folks. Customers want service when they want it, not just when the curling clubs want to give it to them. It is hard to believe that some curling clubs have not gotten that message yet!




About Mort Cooper
Mort Cooper has been a curling administrator for over 25 years, beginning with 10 years as the Executive / Technical Director for the Ontario Curling Federation. He spent 3 years as the Curling Professional at Brantford Golf and Country followed by 10 years as Club Manager / Ice maker at the Brant Curling Club and one year as the General Manager of Guelph Curling Club. Presently, he is working on a semi-retirement career with a few outdoor pursuits, one of which is a member of the Canadian Ski Patrol System with Snow Valley Ski Resort in Barrie. In a volunteer curling capacity, Mort's career is highlighted with 10 years service as the Technical Advisor with the Uniroyal Goodrich World Junior Curling Championships, and along with his wife Donna, are major contributors to the Tim Hortons Little Rock Resource Guide. Mort acts as a resource on Little Rocks and is a Business of Curling Facilitator with the Canadian Curling Association.

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