For the first time ever I let my travelling self succumb to the tourist industry. I don’t know whether or not I’d never ‘done the whole touristy thing’ because of my penny-pinching Mancunian ways or because I’m idealistically pragmatic, and just like to do things my own way; I am British – so it’s probably both of these. But arriving in San Francisco, on the first stop of my Ivan Mercep Award study tour to the United States, I did, and it was great.
I hopped on a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus and mooched around the city on a double-decker with a GoPro; some may say I embraced it beyond what is socially ‘cool’. However, on reflection the whole experience taught me something. That the process and ramifications of choosing how to be a tourist is very similar to choosing who will be your architect or designer; they’re both offering a service, as well as a product, so how do you decide who’s going to do the best job for you?
Yes, what I learnt is common sense, but sometimes, you just need reminding of exactly what that is.
I purchased a two-day bus ticket for a tour company I’d been recommended by my sister. They weren’t the cheapest but as I’d received the recommendation, and despite being restricted by a tight budget, I went with them all the same and it paid off. The buses, whilst not all were top of the range, were regular and on time. The routes they took covered huge sections of the city, and the conductors were all lovely people.
It wasn’t until the second day of riding round on the buses that I started to see the subtle differences between this tour company and its competitors. Fortunately for me they were easy to see, as they’re all open top buses and San Francisco has its fair share of traffic jams. Some buses didn’t have tour guides; I listened so intently to the tour guide on my bus tours and found out so much about the city, that I couldn’t believe you’d choose to go on a tour without one. This tour was $10USD cheaper, but the difference in experience those people were receiving was phenomenal.
This idea was compounded when I hopped on the tour heading out to the Golden Gate Bridge. Recording the experience on the GoPro attracted the attention of the tour guide, Anthony; he thought I was a secret shopper, I told him I wasn’t, and that I’d been awarded the excursion as part of my work.
I don’t think he believed me, regardless, we got on like a house on fire and by the end of the tour my nickname had evolved from ‘English’ to ‘Ginger’; the sign of a true friendship. It also had the added bonus that he extended my ticket for a further 24-hours; I was ecstatic, I felt like I’d got a bargain, and I haven’t stopped telling people about this ‘stroke of luck’ since.
Anthony taught me a lot about customer experience. I saw how he got to know and understand his customers and their unique situations, and that the tour (his product) was richer for both himself and everyone on that bus. He also looked after me by extending my ticket and through that I’d recommend the tour company to anyone who asked me in the future. Further I saw the value in how Anthony broke down the barriers of client and contractor, and how powerful paying particular attention to this is in creating long-lasting impressions.
By day three, I’d been on the tour company’s three tours twice each. This meant six tours, with six different tour guides. When you have the ability to directly compare two tour guides against the other, it’s fascinating to see just how differently two people can deliver the same product. On my final tour and second loop of Golden Gate Park, I felt sorry for the other tourists on the bus who had received this tour. The guide, whilst I’m sure he ‘knew his stuff’, just delivered a completely different quality of tour. I’d received a brilliant tour the day before, with a third more facts, a third more jokes, and a third more stops.
Day three’s tour helped me see again what a minefield it can be for clients in selecting the right team for the job at hand. New projects are an amazing opportunity for clients to leave a lasting impression on the legacy of their organisation; and while an architect or designer can deliver a project, selecting the right one to deliver the quality of finish and experience is essential. The key to cracking this then is spending time on communicating how we as a company and as individuals are perceived; our personalities, the things we care about and how important good design is to us.
So all in all, I had a great first time in San Francisco. And while I’ve had a refresher course in customer service, I also learnt one more thing – which everyone who has done the tourist track in the city will understand - to create an authentic San Francisco fact your story must include destruction, sustained either from the 1906 or 1989 earthquakes, and there must have been a fire at some point.
For those of you interested, Anthony and I had a selfie.