Sondra Shannon is the CEO of Gatemaster Technology, one of the leading ticketing solutions for the attractions industry. Sondra’s career in the industry began with Q-Zar Laser Tag as General Manager, where she was a self-proclaimed “super-user” of Gatemaster in the late 1990s. When that facility was sold, Gatemaster’s founder recruited Sondra to help build the next iteration of the product, which enabled the company to expand into water parks, zoos, museums, and theme parks. Now, as CEO of the company, Gatemaster has evolved as the trends in technology continue to shift, and Sondra remains an avid enthusiast of the industry. In this interview, Sondra talks about making heroes out of operators, guest-driven transactions, and building an inspirational culture.
Making heroes out of operators
“Their focus should be on the guest experience, and not trying to figure out how to make something work in their system.”
When an attraction implements Gatemaster, the software often replaces anywhere from three to six systems. This makes it a much more efficient operation, and Sondra stresses that her goal is to not only make things easier for guests, but also for the operator. If staff have a difficult time navigating their own system, it reflects poorly on the business, and the guest experience suffers.
Gatemaster was founded by people within the attractions industry who know and understand the experience. Even though Gatemaster is a software company, Sondra ensures that she is regularly visiting attractions with her family and encourages her team to do so as well. This allows them to see the experience through the lens of the guest, which inspires innovation in technological development that further helps the operator deliver a superior experience and be the hero for their guests.
“We’re trying to empower hospitality.”
Everything that Gatemaster has created has led to what Sondra refers to as the guest-driven transaction. A few years ago, Harvard Business Journal conducted a study with more than 200 companies and determined that self-service technology empowers customers. The study showed that wait times were reduced by 30-50%, and customer satisfaction increased by 50%.
Guest-driven transactions allow the guest to take more control over their own experience and feel more empowered. The results also show that guests are investing more in their own experience and thus spending more. By intuitively offering upsells and add-ons, the guest also feels like the business knows them a little bit better by crafting a personally-curated experience.
Building an inspirational culture
“I want to encourage more people to enter this space.”
Sondra meets with her team every Friday, and at the end of the meeting, everyone is asked what attraction(s) they are visiting over the weekend. By encouraging every member of the team to visit attractions and understand the guest experience, it enables them to bring back ideas for how they can help the operator, and others like them, improve the guest experience, resulting in fewer angry guests and, therefore, fewer burnt-out team members.
When describing Gatemaster’s culture, Sondra says that it’s easy to get people to buy into the idea that they can help people create memories. Gatemaster’s core values align with what needs to go into building a product that enables attraction operators to create memories for their guests that last a lifetime.
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