Feeling Welcome at Rec Centres: More than a Front Desk Smile

When Caitlin Davis and her team of recreation facility front counter team leads took a formal inventory of their intercultural development, the results were…okay.

“But okay isn’t good enough,” says Community Services’ Supervisor of Admissions and Customer Service.

“We need to do more to make people from all of the diverse cultures in Edmonton feel like City recreational facilities and attractions are just as much theirs as anyone else’s. We need to make them feel truly comfortable being in a City facility.”

Caitlin explains that the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) she and her supervisory team completed showed that they collectively recognize and accept cultural differences, but that there was room to incorporate more of that recognition into their professional lives.

“There are many kinds of differences that our staff have to deal with,” says Davis, “Some of our customers have huge financial limitations, so they need to be steered with dignity toward our Leisure Access Program which gives them free access.”

“And we are often confronted with cultural clashes, such as when a customer becomes angry that a Muslim woman has entered a pool in full dress, or when people become upset at how loudly people from some cultures talk in steam rooms.”

Caitlin says it’s too easy to simply put down issues like those as cultural differences and go on from there.

“What we need to do is be proactive, try to fully understand each person’s perspective, and look for ways to reconnect with all customers,” she says.

Caitlin knows that if front desk supervisors have the advantage of deeper training into that process, they’ll spread their new understanding to their staff, so she’s currently working with a City human resources consultant –who teaches respectful workplace courses – to develop an in-service seminar that will get the ball rolling.

They plan to include invitees from several different cultures and the LGBTQ community to explain to staff the barriers and attitudes they have to deal with at recreation centres and attractions, and to suggest ways to improve problem areas.

“We already have a Charter for customer service staff, based on the City’s Leadership Principles.”

“It begins with a smile at the front desk for every customer, but it doesn’t say anything about how to adapt to a transgender person with concerns about around where to change,” she says.

Caitlin says her staff didn’t do badly on the IDI, but that they need to push themselves to be even better at what they do.

“We can’t stagnate. We need to continually grow professionally to keep pace with the city’s growth,” she says.

“We want the front counter to be the most vibrant, welcoming place in Edmonton…for everybody. We want to have the best customer service seen anywhere in Edmonton”

“We want it to be where every person is treated as – and understood as – an individual, and not just as part of a generic group.”