Community Center Case study
How to take a community center with extremely bad reviews and upgrade it using 3 quarts of common sense and 1 quart of courage?
‘Geulim’ community center had had major problems, as it was losing costumers because they felt they are not getting their money’s worth. With some a strong connection to the community and quality assurance for our tutors, we were able to gain a positive feedback, an increase in participations and an increase in total activity.
The back-line story
‘Geulim’ Community Center belongs to The Bat-Yam Company for Culture, Leisure and Sports, which is a municipal company. It is located in Amidar-Nitzana neighborhood, which is considered to be one of the poorest and oldest areas in town (considering the age of the residents), with the highest rate of single-parent families and plenty of trust issues in the “system”.
Moreover, ‘Geulim’ community center had changed locations in 2010, to a significantly less attractive place; further contributing to the residents’ general feeling of discomfort.
‘Geulim’ community center provides recreational services, along with other community-building services, after-school programs, tradition related events and occasions and more.
“Look”, my CEO said, while presenting me with a stack of pages, “Recent polls say that the activity in the center you’re about to get are not good. We’re talking about 60% satisfaction, less participants from year to year in the past 3 years and respectively less activities. That doesn’t justify keeping this place open”.
In addition, the same survey stated that the residents’ view of the community center was of a low value for activity, in other words, they felt like they are not getting their money’s worth. interesting enough, prices of activities were considerably low compared with privately-held recreational service providers and to similar providers in the nearest cities.
Quality, Honesty and Empathy
The first thing we did was to check our existing activities — ergo, getting inside each and every class, keeping an eye for the macro (How does the tutor deliver their messages? Is the tutor trying to swipe their students off their feet? Do the students interact?) And the micro of the lessons (are there any underlying nuances the tutor uses? Is he using “industry-specific” terms and if so — is he making those terms accessible?).
After checking the lessons — the next task was reviewing the tutors on a regular basis, keeping track of their improvement and adjusting the reviews given with notes from the community thus making sure that the quality and standards are not sub-par to any other service given.
Clearly, that wasn’t enough. One of the corner stones we defined was being authentic and really listen to the community. Therefore, each week we picked 5 participants at random, and talked to them after hours about their satisfaction with our services, assimilating their review into our review with the tutors.
Waste not — Want not
Information gathered from the residents and participants was processed and discusses at every meeting. We would periodically return to those 5 randomly chosen participants, to check if their satisfaction level has improved since the last conversation. That would give the client the feeling that their opinion was genuinely important and significant.
Yes, we can!
We took a can-do approach with our activities, especially in the beginning, when suggestions from our community took the form of an apology: “I know that it probably won’t get here but…” We then started fixing what was broken and created new activities for the community to partake.
Soon enough it became known that there is nothing that the team in ‘Geulim’ can’t do!
Setting up a direct line of communication to the team was also important to us. We wanted people to know that we were available, and that we want them to enjoy their stay and our services. There was never a designated time frame to talk to the manager, because 90% of the time, the door was open.
We were available for anything — from providing advice about which course to enroll in to helping with personal problems.
Not all can make it
If community center managers would carry badges, I would argue that one of the most desirable ones would be the amount of participants. However, if such a badge existed, it wouldn’t have considered the satisfaction of the community from the activities; therefore, when I turned to my colleagues and proudly said that after 4 months of work we eliminated 3 frames (and by doing so — potentially losing clients) due to low quality and extreme lack of improvement, I was considered to be mentally ill.
Closing a program is not an easy thing to do — you’d have to put a real effort into convincing your managers that the reason is standards, and take into consideration that you might often be dismissed as naïve, but fighting for what you believe in — it’s a required trait in this field. After being summoned to advocate the reasons for this unusual act, we shut down the low-quality programs, which led us to the following problem.
Closing a program is not an easy thing to do — you’d have to tell your community members, honestly and directly, that a service you provided for the last months was less than adequate, and you decided to shut it down.
While we feared that such an announcement would drive our clients away from us, it did just the opposite, and rumors about the center whose personnel sincerely cared about their clients has spread wings.
A community center is a place for the community, but a business nonetheless, with funds and efforts balanced between activities that would grow revenues and free-events and profitless activities. It is therefore extremely important for a community center to be trustworthy and to provide great value in order to continue and expand its activities.
Improvement is not a goal, but a process, a never ending one, and we found that our constant involvement and feedback mechanisms bore their fruits.
We increased the general satisfaction by an average of 17%, compared with to 5% in other community centers in Bat-Yam; and peaked at 43% satisfaction improvement for one specific activity.
With more clients, and as diverse as they may get, we opened new activities relevant to our growing community and we hope to continue improving with each step of the way.