European exhibition finds longevity is scarce

It’s true what they say: you just can’t get the staff nowadays.

Well, that’s the case in the European exhibition trade at any rate.

Moviehouses are struggling to retain staff longer than a year at most, according to research undertaken by Coca-Cola. While cinemas have a staff turnover rate of 100% a year, fast food outlets manage 50% and grocery stores 30%.

The kind of recruits cinema managers long for — bright and enthusiastic — are being drawn instead to jobs in shops, bars and restaurants.

Potential recruits are put off, they say, by the anti-social hours, the monotony, the out-of-town locations of some multiplexes … oh, and those uniforms.

The result: as inexperienced staff struggle to train up new recruits and cover for vacant posts, the standard of service customers experience drops. Lines grow longer, cleanliness of theaters declines and staff morale plummets, which in turn leads to more staff leaving….

To compile the report, a team led by Coca-Cola’s Barry Jones conducted 1,100 Internet interviews with cinemagoers, held numerous focus groups with cinema staff and managers, and talked to potential recruits within the labor pool in three countries, the U.K., Germany and Poland. The results were unveiled late last month at Cinema Expo, the cinema exhibitors’ conference held in Amsterdam.

What emerged was the clear connection between high staff turnover in theaters, poor service and reduced revenue from concession stands and ticket sales.

Jones, who holds the unwieldy title of director of international cinema, global customer and commercial leadership, Europe, stresses the importance of service to theaters.

“Movies drive traffic but experience drives frequency, and service is a key component of the experience,” Jones says. “It is the biggest single differentiator in the eyes of the customer. If you want to set your business apart from others, a great way is through service.”

Jones says that when customers speak about service, they mean just one thing: “It’s all about the people: the people that serve them, the people that look after them.”

Although customer service was less of a factor compared with banks and restaurants, it still was rated as “important” by 50% of respondents, with its significance rising with age, which suggest that it will become more of an issue with time, given the graying of cinema audiences.

Jones’ team discovered that most customers described the level of service at theaters as being merely “adequate.”

So, how to break this vicious circle that harms the enjoyment of cinemagoers and suppresses revenues?

Accentuate the positives, says Jones. One draw for new recruits are the perks, such as discounts at nearby stores and the movies themselves, but team spirit counts for more in helping hire and keep good staff.

“What they say is important to them is feeling part of a team. It is the people they work with and their role within the team that is pivotal to their sense of well-being and belonging,” says Jones.

“This is what you sell when recruiting people: great team spirit, great social atmosphere, and cinemas have a great reputation for delivering that.”

The staff member’s relationship with their line managers is also one of the keys to their feeling part of the company. If managers handle staff well, then staff will respond in kind toward the customers, says Jones.

“Imagine working for a boss who treats you with respect, is friendly, polite, well-mannered, looks interested, smiles, is approachable, is there when you need him or her, focuses on the task in hand, doesn’t treat you like a number.

“Imagine how you would respond in turn. You’d probably respond in the same way, it becomes a culture throughout the business.”

So, treating staff well creates a virtuous circle: good staff stay, positive word of mouth attracts the best recruits, cinemagoers have a good time, and so come back for more.

However, top brass at exhibition companies are not exempt from Jones’ prescription: “If you want to deliver great customer service, it starts at the top and it has got to run right through the business as a cultural approach. So yes, it’s about the people, but it’s about all of them.”

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