Outfitter Spy - June 2024

June 17, 2024 11:48 AM

The question: “I can’t swim.  Are there limits to what I can do?” 

Welcome to Outfitter Spy, a collaborative effort between America Outdoors, Adventure Park Insider, and Granite Insurance.  Adventure Park Insider is the inspiration and “brains” behind this concept – they've been doing “Spy” calls to zip lines and aerial adventure parks all around the nation for many years now.  We thought, “Why not bring this project and staff training tool to the larger outfitter community”? 

What can you expect in Outfitter Spy?  Difficult, and sometimes silly, questions are asked by an anonymous Spy caller.  Your team answers and is rated from 0-10 based on their response. One lucky (and prepared!) outfitter gets unveiled as the top score for that month's question!

In the first installment of America Outdoor Association’s Outfitter Spy, some staff nail their responses by validating concerns, speaking with confidence, managing expectations, and acknowledging the inherent risk of the activity along with helping guide the Spy to an adventure they have some comfort with. 

Have you been asked a tricky question recently?  Send it to news@americaoutdoors.org for Outfitter Spy to pose to other outfitters.  We won’t tell anyone the question came from you. 

West -

  • [Asked question] 
  • Oh, um, that’s okay.  Um, so you’ll be outfitted in a dry suit and a PFD.  And is it going to just be you? 
  • No, I’m bringing my family with me.  What is a PFD? 
  • A life jacket,  It’s a personal flotation device. 
  • Oh, got it.  So I don’t need to be worried? 
  • No, no, that’s fine. [Pause] We’ll take care of you.  We will, uh, we can set up the raft in different ways.  Um, where you can, you know, be more engaged or less engaged if you want depending on what your comfort level is. 
  • Okay, thank you. 
  • But I’ll make note of that.  Did you have a specific date in mind or did you have a date range that you were looking at? 
  • So I’m going to be there in the third week of June, but I’m still talking with my family to figure out what day makes sense. 
  • Gotcha.  Have you guys, uh, looked at lodging yet for the area? 
  • No, we haven’t. 
  • So depending on your date, um, I can look, [offered lodging options].  We can package that with an activity or a couple of activities, depending on what you guys would like to do, and we can give you a best rate for that. 
  • Oh, okay.  So it gets us a discount? 
  • Yes. 
  • Okay! 
  • And how many people are coming? 
  • [discussed our family, ages] 
  • Oh perfect.  And what’s your name and address, so I can finish the information here? 
  • [provided info on the Spy’s undercover persona] 
  • Okay, great.  Well, I can let you know, look at our calendar and see what we have for, um, lodging.  I'll shoot an email here shortly. 
  • Thank you so much! I appreciate your help. 
  • Thanks, have a great rest of your day! 
  • Comments: 
    • They blew right past my concerns without validation or much discussion.  I wasn’t concerned about being engaged or not engaged on the boat,boat; I was concerned about what would happen if I couldn’t swim.  Points awarded, however, for trying to get me to book a reservation, for providing fantastic information/details on lodging, and for capturing my contact information to continue the conversation. 

Southwest -

  • [Asked question] 
  • Wear your life jacket! [laugh] That’s what it’s there for.  We actually have, um, have had a number of customers over the years that are either not good swimmers or they don’t swim.  And, we have, um, class five life jackets, which is what’s required by the park service.  They will, you know, definitely keep you afloat. 
  • Okay.  So I don’t need to be worried? 
  • No. It’s a good question to have!  The guides will, um, once you get up to, uh – what trip are you doing?  Are you doing the full trip? 
  • Well, I hadn’t gotten that deep yet.  I wasn’t sure what I could do yet. 
  • Okay, so you haven’t actually signed up yet? 
  • No, I haven’t.  Not yet. 
  • Oh, okay, okay.  Well um, if, and when you do, whether it’s with us or if it’s with somebody else, when you get to the boats, you know, we originate from [city].  And so we, um, take the bus, everybody up from [city to put-in], which is the starting point for our full trips.  And, uh, once you get up to, um, [put-in], where the guides are, then, um, they go through a very comprehensive and strict fitting and discussion about life jackets.  And every life jacket, is, uh, when you get there, you are actually assigned a life jacket and you will wear that life jacket the entire time.  So you’re not gonna have to worry about any, you know, constant readjusting, because you maybe picked up someone else’s after they picked up yours.  Um, but it’s, uh, you know, it’s an important part of the equipment that we provide. 
  • Okay, that makes me feel better.  Thank you! 
  • [Laugh] Sure, absolutely. All right.  Anything else I could answer for you? 
  • I think that’s it for now. 
  • Okay.  All right.  Well, good luck. 
  • All right, thank you! 
  • Comments: 
    • They definitely made me feel more confident in my ability to go on a trip.  They were SO personable, comforting and reassuring.  However – points deducted for not helping/advising me into booking a trip, and points deducted for not sharing the inherent risk of the activity.  I felt almost a little too confident after this conversation, like I could never expect anything to go wrong as long as I was wearing my PFD. 

West -

  • [Asked question] 
  • Um, I mean, we just do a scenic float.  We don’t do whitewater.  So, you know, there’s not a high likelihood that, you know, anybody swims. 
  • Okay, so I shouldn’t be worried? 
  • Yeah, and we have life jackets too.  You know, if you happen to fall in the river, you will have a life jacket on. 
  • Okay. 
  • [Long pause] 
  • Okay, thank you. 
  • Yeah, all right.  Thank you. 
  • Bye. 
  • Comments: 
    • Even if you don’t do “whitewater”, this can be a legitimate question and concern if I’m with you on a boat.  This staffer seemedfelt disinterested in my call altogether, and I felt pretty silly for asking the question at all.  My concerns were not assuaged.  This person had better things to do than to help answer my questions/concerns or help me make a reservation.  I felt dismissed and definitely wouldn’t call these guys back to book a trip.

East -

  • [Asked question] 
  • No.  Um, so, you know, whitewater rafting is not something that everybody does on a daily basis.  So we kind of assume most people (a) don’t know what they’re doing. And (b) they maybe can’t swim.  Um, and that’s okay.  We actually tell people you don’t need to have any swimming skills whatsoever.  Um, and uh, so, you know, we do some good training before you even head out on the water.  So, uh, you should be perfectly fine, um, and there’s no reason that you couldn’t do it and there’s really no, like, limitation.  Really, our biggest limitation is age for certain rivers.  Um, so they have a, you know, each river has an age minimum, uh, in order to run that trip. 
  • Okay.  But I don’t need to be able to swim for any of the trips? 
  • No. 
  • Okay, thank you. 
  • Yeah, absolutely.  Um, is there any other question I can help you with? 
  • I think that’s it for now. 
  • Okay.  Um, now, did you guys know what river you were doing and like how old are the kiddos? 
  • We’ve just got one, and she’s older. 
  • Okay, so age limitations won’t be a factor – she’s old enough to do really any of the rivers that we raft. 
  • Okay, perfect.  Well, thank you.  I appreciate your help. 
  • Yeah.  And as you guys are getting closer to like actually booking or making plans, if you do have any questions, certainly feel free to give us a call.  We’re always happy to answer questions.  We can help you decide what you might, you know, where you’re gonna be, what makes the most sense based on where you’re coming from, you know, all those little details we can certainly help. 
  • Okay, that’s perfect.  Thank you. 
  • My pleasure!  You have a great day.  Bye-bye. 
  • Comments: 
    • Fantastic personality, very helpful information and relaxed/easy-going vibes, making themselves available for more questions when I’m ready to book.  They made me feel like my question was a valid one, and I didn’t feel embarrassed about not being able to swim.  However, points deducted because we didn’t talk about the inherent risk of the activity – I feel so safe that it seems like there’s not a possibility of taking a swim.  So, if I go on a trip, and I *do* take a swim, I’m not going to be too happy. 

West -

  • [Asked question] 
  • Um, I mean, we have...you can’t swim, but like, are you afraid of the water, um to some extent?  Or like, I mean, I guess, what is your, I think your limitations would be more like what your limitations are.  Because I think you can do anything that we do.  Um, we wear PFDs, personal floatation devices, and they have to be worn at all times when you’re on the river or even when you’re like standing in the water. 
  • Okay. 
  • So like we don’t let people like go in the water, with, just with no PFD.  So like really, I feel like your limitations would be your own, if that makes sense. 
  • Yeah, so my family is wanting to do whitewater.  And I just don’t really know what to expect of myself, if I’m going to be scared or not.  It’s not something I’m familiar with. 
  • Sure.  Um, well, I can assure you that, like everyone’s going to do their best to keep you safe.  As best they can.  And if they know that you have those concerns, or, you know, um – question – is this for like a multi-day trip, or a day trip?  I guess I should ask that question too, because that kind of changes how I would approach this. 
  • We’re looking at just a day trip.  Okay, yeah I think you would be just fine.  The day trip is pretty mellow.  It’s pretty mellow whitewater, like really class ones and twos/scenic float type of thing.  We send old folks, and young folks as young as five.  Sometimes four year olds.  Like, I feel like you would be fine. 
  • Okay, thank you. 
  • Yep.  No problem. 
  • [Pause] 
  • All right... 
  • All right, bye-bye. 
  • Comments: 
    • Some decent information here to assuage my concerns, and they did display some curiosity (asking questions in an attempt to better hone in their answer).  I, however, did not feel like the staffer had a lot of confidence in themselves here, which left me feeling less confident as well.  They didn’t ask to help me make a reservation, but they did encourage me to a potentially more appropriate adventure for my anticipated comfort level.  No inherent risk info provided here, either.  A mixed bag of positives and negatives. 

West - 6 

  • [First try – no answer, caught voicemail option. Hung up. Tried again a few minutes later] 
  • [Asked question] 
  • Um, what are you looking at doing? 
  • Well, that’s part of my question, too.  I’m not sure what we can do. 
  • Yeah, Um, so we, if you are not wanting to get in the water, we also offer [alternate adventure].  Um, if you are looking to raft, we do have a more family friendly section on the [redacted] river.  Um, there’s um, about six class three with a good splash.  And, um, you can also work with your raft guide to, um, figure out which route is going to the best for you.  Um, if you don’t feel super comfortable with that, we also have a – um, sorry let me look at this really quick. 
  • [Pause] 
  • We also have a full day, um, family friendly class, um two and three.  With a few good splashes as well.  And that would be an all day adventure. 
  • Okay.  And yeah, my family is wanting to do whitewater, specifically.  So that’s okay for me to do, if I can’t swim? 
  • I would definitely let your guide know, um, so they know, um, if things would happen, they can keep an eye out on you.  Um, but I would recommend, um, if you’re still wanting to get out on the river, the splash would be a really fun day. 
  • Okay. 
  • Okay? 
  • Thank you! 
  • Of course.  Anything else that I can help you with? 
  • No, I think that’s it, thanks. 
  • Alright.  Of course!  Bye-bye. 
  • Comments: 
    • Lots of “ums” and uncertainty here.  But overall, they were personable, provided good information and options, helping guide me to a good adventure for my comfort level.  They missed helping me understand what happens in the event of an unplanned swim, or helping me with booking a trip, though. 

South - 7 

  • [Asked question] 
  • Well, uh, we have people who don’t know how to swim come rafting all the time.  So that’s certainly not unusual.  So what’s gonna happen is you will have on a life jacket, uh, and a helmet.  Um, your guide, uh, there’s a guide in every boat, and the guide’s gonna sit down with you guys prior to getting on the river.  And they let you know how to sit in a boat, how to brace your feet in so you don’t fall out, what the different paddle commands are, and they they also teach you what’s called the whitewater swim position.  In the event you did fall out, what you would do is you would just, um, you’d lay in a seated position with your feet downstream, and that light jacket will float.  You know, obviously you might have some waves that go over your head.  But, um, the life jacket helps keep your head above the surface and then the guide will either extend a paddle and get you back to the boat or throw a rope to you to get you back into the raft.  Our goal, however, is to keep you in the boat.  Um, and that’s where most people stay, but we do have to let you know, there is a possibility of falling out.  And if you decide to go, um, let us know you’re a non-swimmer, um, and first-timer and then we’ll make sure we get you matched up with a real experienced guide.  We still can’t guarantee anything, but you’re more likely to stay in. 
  • Okay, that’s perfect.  Thank you. 
  • You are welcome.  And if you have any additional questions, just feel free to call me.  My name is [redacted].  I am happy to help in any way. 
  • Awesome, thank you so much.  I appreciate your help. 
  • You’re welcome!  Bye-bye. 
  • Comments: 
    • Fantastic and thorough information, and they made me feel good/not embarrassed about my question.  Once I got the question out, it was a fairly one-sided “conversation”, though.  A long run-on explanation of things, without displaying much curiosity or looking for my reaction.  I felt like they were just trying to get the question answered and then get off the phone as soon as possible - maybe there were distractions around?  We did mention inherent risk here, so fantastic job on that front.  Next time, just pay attention/give opportunity for questions from the caller, take your time, and help lead them to locking in a reservation with you. 

Midwest -

  • [Asked question] 
  • Um, I can ask.  We do have some trips that are, you know, less likely to, um, for you to fall out of the boats.  But, if you’d like, I could ask real quick if we have a strict limitation on people not swimming.  Uh, do you mind if I put you on hold real quick? 
  • No, that’s fine. 
  • Okay, thank you so much.  Just give me one moment. 
  • [a minute or so later] 
  • All right, you still there? 
  • Yeah. 
  • Yeah, so we do have, um, some mild trips for you and on those trips, we have coast guard approved, uh, PFDs, so life vests, that you’re required to wear.  And our trip leaders, they average about 2000 river miles.  Um, most states, especially Colorado, they just require 750.  So safety is our number one priority here.  And, um, our leaders are CPR and First Aid certified.  Um, so yeah, we prioritize safety.  And obviously I can’t guarantee you that you won’t flip over in the boat, but you will have your life vest, um, with you.  And there are definitely some trips that are, um, more mild and you’re less likely to go in the water.  Um, are you looking to be in [various locations], or are you still kind of up in the air about that? 
  • I’m still up in the air about that.  And my family, they’re kind of wanting to do some real whitewater.  And so I’m trying to just figure out if I could do it with them. 
  • If they were to book a trip, um, you could still do it.  We don’t have like a restriction on, like, if you can’t swim, you can’t go.  But yeah, we do have some kind of intermediate trips as well.  Is your family looking for just a single day trip or a multi-day? 
  • Yeah, single day. 
  • Gotcha.  Yeah, so, um, there’s another trip, so well, I’ll go over the [describes options].   So we do still do some whitewater rafting, but yeah, it’s fun.  But still a little, I guess, more mild than our other trip.  Um, what are the dates you’re looking at? 
  • We’re still figuring out the details of the trip, but later next month. 
  • Gotcha.  Yeah, so this trip [describes trip in more detail].  It’s a really cute town to visit as well.  It’s kind of like a European mountain town nestled in the Rockies.  Um, and there’s like Victorian architecture.  And, um, like beautiful waterfalls nearby.  So, it’s also just a good town to visit and a trip that we have runs close to it that’s gonna be more class two and three, um, constant splash rapids.  Um, and so for that trip, we do, you know, there’s gonna be more paddling.  So we do have our guests, you know, be more active, and um, just know that for the [other river], you don’t have to paddle as much, but for this one, it will be more constant paddling. 
  • Okay, thank you. 
  • Yeah, and if you’d like, I can email you over the information on the [river] 
  • Okay, let me keep talking with my family and I will call you back. 
  • Okay, yeah!  I hope you have a good day.  Just give us a call back if you have any other questions or concerns. 
  • Thank you so much! 
  • Comments: 
    • We started off a little shaky here.  Lots of uncertainty.  Ums throughout.  I appreciated that they didn’t have the answer, though, and instead of making one up/minimizing the conversation, they put me on a brief hold and put in the work to talk to a manager and get a good answer.  Once they came back on the phone, they spoke with confidence and shared all kinds of great information with me, going above and beyond in helping me feel good about my decision to go rafting and even where to stay/explore in my free time.  Absolutely fantastic recovery!  And they have nailed their “customer service voice”, speaking brightly and with an obvious eagerness to help me. 

Identity Revealed: Mild to Wild Rafting, Inc 


It’s important that regardless of how silly a question may seem to you, you can validate a customer’s concern, make them feel comfortable/not embarrassed by the conversation, and explain what would happen if their concern played out.  An important part of that explanation entails not using too much lingo (I don’t even know how to swim...so what on earth is a PFD?  Oh, ok, sure I’ve heard of a life jacket...) and portraying the reality of inherent risk while simultaneously instilling confidence in your guide’s ability to manage risk.  If you’re at first uncertain of how to respond, and need a few seconds to process, asking a follow-up question that can keep the guest talking for another 30 seconds can be a helpful tool. 

Managing expectation is everything here.  Might I take an unexpected swim on a boating trip?  Do things go wrong?  Well sure, that is always a possibility.  But if you took a swim, here’s how our team is prepared to handle it, and we have ways to reduce the likelihood of that occurring if prior notification of your swimming abilities are conveyed to our team. 

Prior to arriving for an adventure with you, there are a few places where potential guests are being (or should be) exposed to the idea of inherent risk or generally what to expect from a trip.  These exposure opportunities include the website, phone calls with your reservations team, and post-booking email communications.  Conveying these realities is crucial to ensure guests can self-select out.  Is there “dangerous” wildlife?  Is there a possibility of taking a swim while boating?  Do people sometimes get hurt?  Will I have to carry heavy bags back and forth, or set up my own camp?  Although your adventures are fun for the right people, everything isn’t rainbows and butterflies; and managing appropriate expectations prior to a trip is crucial especially when we’re talking about the inherent risk of the activity.  If a caller was too reassured that nothing would go wrong on the river, without understanding the risk, but then something does go wrong...your business is a bit harder to defend in a lawsuit. 

Finally, help callers make a reservation or give them a “call to action”.  I was surprised by how many awkward pauses I had at the end of the conversations, with only a few people offering the next step.  How should I go about booking a trip with you?  Do you fully book your trips way in advance, so I need to book early to make sure my family can get a spot?  This is a great way to end every phone call with a potential guest, and hopefully increase your bookings.  If I say “no, I’m not ready yet”, that’s just fine.  Let me know I can call back with any other questions or concerns, and you’re always happy to help.

Back to news



Rate this News Article:

Spell Check

No comments have been posted to this News Article