Refunds, oh dreaded refunds. They're so universally loathed that it's impossible to imagine them being helpful. But as painful as it can be to let customers keep their money after they experience your escape room, giving the occasional refund can actually help grow your business.
1. When a refund is really credit
Every escape room operator regularly encounters the “guy who forgot the date.” However, all of his friends showed up—and they'd really appreciate it if you could refund the one guy who forgot.
This is a great opportunity for a room escape company to create goodwill by crediting the missing guy’s ticket. With a nearly full room (minus one), you're not out of an entire booking. And by granting credit instead of a refund, you leave the opportunity open for future bookings.
His friends will feel great about your company even before they start their game, and the guy who missed out will feel relieved that he isn’t out the money. Plus, escape rooms are team affairs, which means he's likely to round up a bunch more friends to use his credit, and in turn, you get new customers out of the deal.
Even better, you've protected your company from a potential bad review—and given a great reason for his friends to sing your praises online.
2. When things go horribly wrong...
In live entertainment, sometimes things fall apart, literally or figuratively. If you have a major prop, set piece, or puzzle fail on a team, be ready to offer compensation.
Create goodwill by offering to refund half or all of their money, or offer the next game on the house. Don’t make the players ask first.
It’s no fun to lose out on ticket revenue, but look at it from the players' perspective: they only get to experience the game once. They didn’t get what they paid for and there isn’t any do-over. By refunding them, you leave them with a positive experience instead of a failed one. And when their friends ask which escape room they should try out, yours will be on their list.
3. How to turn (sore) losing into a win-win
There’s no crying in room escaping. However, you’re occasionally going to encounter sore losers. Typically, these are players who overestimated their abilities and are angry that they lost..and they'll let everyone know about their frustration.
Escape rooms are supposed to be tough; that’s half the fun. Make it clear during the booking process that failure is possible and even likely. That won’t stop people who don’t complete the game from having their say, but it will make it easier to politely point out that the game is built to be challenging.
On the flip side, when players do so well that they escape too quickly, consider offering them something as a reward. Make sure they feel like they get their money’s worth. For example, if a team escapes in less than half of the time, offer them another game on the house. If you have an opening, offer to put them into the next room straight away.
While it’s exciting to set a record, it can be disappointing to do it too quickly. Find the right balance and your customers will thank you.
4. Actively protect players from bad experiences
Some of the worst player experiences are avoidable. Train your staff to recognize these scenarios, and stop them before they happen.
Avoidable scenario #1: Players under the influence
Sometimes (ahem, late nights and weekends) players show up under the influence. Watch out for them. They're more likely to (1) damage your property, and (2) wreck the experience for others.
Again, be mindful of the fact that players only get to experience your game once. Eject offending players quickly so as to not disrupt the game for others. You can help avoid this by clearly stating on your purchase page that “players must arrive sober.” Equally important, make sure your staff feels comfortable enforcing this rule on site. That way, you can give your customers a great experience and protect your property.
How you handle those ejected players is up to you. Giving them credit to come back can be a boon, but in extreme cases you may be glad of losing their business.
Avoidable scenario #2: Children in mixed-ticketed games
A far less extreme example is mixing strangers with families. Kids can be a ton of fun to escape with, but it should be by choice. A group of adults—who may have hired babysitters to look after their own kids so they could enjoy an evening of puzzling—should not be randomly forced into a room with someone else’s kids. This can lead to a subpar experience for everyone involved.
One way to avoid this is to sell adult and child tickets. That way, if a group with children signs up, you have the option to make their game a private one.
5. When you've got an enthusiast in the making
Passionate repeat customers are the lifeblood of any industry, and if escape rooms are going to continue to flourish, they have to cultivate dedicated puzzlers.
Refunds and other forms of compensation are a matter of customer service, and can grow your business for the long haul. Your customers should have such a great time that they return to try new scenarios, and also refer your business to others. By helping to cultivate a love of these games, your customers will continue to come back for more.
Refunds—and great customer service in general—can encourage players to seek out new rooms. This in turn helps your business to grow, ensuring profit now and well into the future.
Looking for other ways to increase your escape room bookings? Check out ZOZI Advance's online booking system.
RoomEscapeArtist.com publishes well-researched, rational, and reasonably humorous escape room reviews, design and players tips at least three times a week. Lisa and David Spira, a predictive data expert and an experience designer, founded the site in 2014 to share a love of letting strangers lock them inside giant puzzles and to push the makers of those giant puzzles to create the best experiences they can.
Looking for more escape room best practices? RoomEscapeArtist.com publishes escape rooms reviews, player tips, room design tips, and industry commentary. Visit RoomEscapeArtist.com to find additional information for escape room designers and owners.