Enhancing the guest experience with customer service leadership

The Brief

Growing guest numbers and per-head spend are essential for the economic survival of zoos. The entertainment and educational value of their animals isn’t enough — they have to tick every visitor box, including good customer service.

To support their commitment to operating the best zoos in the world, Taronga Conservation Society Australia wanted to deliver a best practice visitor experience at Taronga Zoo in Sydney and Taronga Western Plains Zoo. Maximus had delivered a successful leadership development program at Taronga, so they partnered with us again.

Taronga wanted to set new standards in the global tourism sector with exemplary customer-centric service that supported strategic goals and helped Zoo staff to communicate conservation and behaviour change messages.

With all frontline staff taking part — from ticket sellers and cleaners to zoo keepers — they asked Maximus to design and deliver an innovative customer service program that was practical, engaged diverse participants, and was aligned with Certificate in Tourism competency units.

“This course has obviously been tailored for the participants and as a result, it works really well.”


Maximus analysed existing customer service levels and relevant strategies to obtain benchmarking data and determine the focus areas for training.

We then developed a customer service program in collaboration with the Taronga Training Institute. Our goal was to ensure participants understood what best practice customer service looked like at Taronga and how to achieve it as individuals. This involved understanding the integral role they played in delivering the Taronga vision, developing their ability to tailor experiences and information to different visitor needs, and enhancing their communication and issues resolution skills.

To comply with NSW Government funding regulations, the program aligned with four customer service competency units of the Certificate III Tourism package. The customised delivery methodology was very practically focused, using parallels with nature and animals and workshopping relevant scenarios such as up-selling and dispute resolution.


Maximus delivered 13 customer service programs during 2014 to staff from both zoos. In total, 248 participants completed all four competency units.

The program performed well against its objectives. Across all 13 groups, more than 90 percent said they now understood what made the Taronga experience and what guests’ needs and expectations were. A high 97 percent were confident they could deliver a memorable first impression to visitors and interact with them more actively. A total of 92 percent would be able to deal with difficult interactions at their zoo.

To ensure momentum continued, we designed an embedding program covering induction, a train-the-trainer program, customer service champions, and on the job learning activities.

After Maximus delivered the programs, visitor numbers, spending, and satisfaction went up. In-ground per-head spending rose and 92 percent of Taronga Zoo visitors were satisfied.