Customer Service at National Monuments (and everywhere!)

Customer Service at National Monuments (and everywhere!)


I just returned from a cross-country trip helping my son move to Colorado Springs.  We made a nice trip out of it, taking the time to do some site-seeing along the way, including the St Louis Arch, and the “World’s Largest ball of (sisal) Twine” in Kansas. 20140525_180128_759

One thing that struck me as we visited several sites, and restaurants, is the lack of attention to “process.”  This really hit home as we were waiting to go up to the top of the Arch.  There are numerous queues, and we found ourselves wondering “Why do they make us wait?”

The way to get to the top of the Arch is my the “Gateway Tram Car” which can seat 5 people.  There are 8 cars each on both the North and the South “legs” of the Arch.  The ride takes 4 minutes to go up, and 3 minutes to go back down, and of course time is required to move the people in and out of the cars.

This is an obvious capacity limitation.  It makes sense that they will sell tickets, each with a time associated with it.  We bought 3 tickets for earliest available time slot at 7:10 PM.  (and waited about 5 minutes to purchase the tickets). We purchased the tickets and then had about 1 1/2 hours to wait. Since we had already gone through the equivalent of airport security to get into the monument we toured the museum, and then proceeded to enter the North end at 7:10 PM.20140525_200459_598

At this point they handed us each plastic cards with a number and a color.  The color denoted the full train we were to be on, and the number was the car, or “egg.” (for a picture of the car see

It turns out there were two other colors ahead of us.  Each group had approximately a 10-12 minute wait before the next group could go. (7 minutes round trip for the cars, plus the time to  change out passengers).

It seems clear that thought was put into the process.  They have instituted steps designed to provide structure to the process.  I was left with two questions:

1.  Why are there so many “holding” steps once we show up for the allotted time? and 
2.  What process(es) are in place to evaluate the effectiveness of their operations?

The second question is perhaps the more critical one–all organizations should revisit their operations and procedures regularly to make sure they are meeting their needs but not inconveniencing the customers.

In this case, most of the people (dare I say all of us) were just happy to be going up top, and since there is no process to ask for feedback we just don’t provide any. Given this, customer feedback won’t be a sufficient mechanism for evaluating the processes in place.

Given that it is a federal facility, and a National Park/Landmark, one worthy approach would be to propose a project to one of the local universities in the St Louis area to have their industrial engineering or operations management students come in, evaluate the process, and propose alternatives.

It’s worth a shot!