Customer Service Measures for National Forest Recreation


  • James D. Absher


customer service, performance measures, forest, recreation, experience


An outdoor recreation customer service strategy designed for the USDA Forest Service (FS) was studied using data from a field test at national forest (NF) settings in southern California. Previously, a consultant firm had determined the essential aspects of a NF recreation experience by conducting two focus groups, one each in California and New Hampshire. They recommended that the FS assess 22 separate recreation experience attributes, grouped into three broad domains, that could be used as the FS's customer service performance measures for outdoor recreation.Subsequently, these 22 attributes were put in a short on-site questionnaire and given to a representative sample of 510 summer visitors to two southern California NFs. Including refusals, the response rate was 84 percent, resulting in a dataset of 426 respondents. The three domains for the 22 performance attributes (experience measures) were: facilities ( ll items), services (five items) and information (six items). Using the on-site questionnaire data, the overall adequacy and stability of these attribute domains was checked. First, the proposed three-domain structure was judged using orthogonal factor analysis to mathematically group the 22 attributes. Four, not three, clear factors (domains) resulted. This finding represents a minor, but noteworthy, deviation from the structure previously identified. Specifically, the facilities dimension split into facilitiessufficiency and facilities-operations domains. This division suggests a need to field test these domains elsewhere in the NF system, and in southern California to manage for four, not three, domains.Next, the attributes that represented each of the four factors were made into simple additive scales of three to six items each and subjected to a reliability analysis. (Four of the original 22 items were dropped at this point.) The measures ofindividual scale reliability, Cronbach's alpha, were very good (.80, .84, .90,and .91 ). Inasmuch as the scales are relatively short and easy to administer, it is suggested that the scales may yield useful customer service feedback at low cost.Equity concerns were also raised. Further data analysis showed that the usefulness of the performance measures across most types of recreation groups was good (although based on limited visit and visitor characteristics). However, caution is suggested because two user groups, Spanish speaking and wilderness site visitors, may have somewhat different customer service ratings.In general, results suggest that the FS recreational customer service performance measures might be useful to managers. Furthermore, the simplified performance-measures-only model seems capable of providing important answers to questions about visitors' desired conditions and the extent to which they are actually experienced. However, cautions and implementation issues are evident.





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