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Surprisingly few companies do regular evaluations of their guide team (for example, yearly going on a tour, watching their guides, then going over the results with the guide afterward).
And I get it, it takes time and resources to properly evaluate guides. However, when you inevitably need to create some sort of hierarchy (who gets booked for tours first, for example) the criteria tend to be based on things that have less to do with the actual customer experience and more to do with operations. The one I see most often is prioritizing guides who have the most flexible availability.
I am not a fan of this system for a few reasons.
First, a guide's flexibility has nothing to do with their quality. If your most flexible guide is your least amazing guide, why would you want to reward them with more tours? Second, a subjective preference system can create frustration amongst guides. Counterintuitive when you want to lift up your best guides and turn them into loyal employees.
Regularly evaluating your guides is the easiest way to do a true quality check of your experiences. To do it properly, you need to be clear on what makes your brand unique, and how that should be executed by your guides.
In this article, I'll share the criteria I use most often and give some tips on how to evaluate guides without stressing them out.
CRITERIA I USE MOST OFTEN ON GUIDE EVALUATIONS
I like to have a check-off list separated into three sections;
Each item on the list should be communicated ahead of time to guides so they know what's expected of them & what they're being evaluated on.
When I run the evaluation (I recommend doing it yearly), guides will get one point for each item checked off the list. That way, if you need to list guides hierarchically in the future, you have a 'score'. Any items not checked off can then be discussed with the guide directly (ideally in a one-on-one meeting with their manager).
Keep in mind that this is for guides you've already hired so it's less about, 'are they a good guide' (hopefully you haven't hired a bad one...) and more about, 'are they executing a tour that represents our brand & is consistent with tours our other guides are doing.'
These are things taken from the brand & company values, distilled into practical things. Typically I offer 1 point per item checked off so that, should guides need to be listed hierarchically for something, you have a score all ready.
(for the tours that are all about connecting you with 'local culture')
(for small-group tours that offer more access to your tour guide)
(for the tours that make you feel completely taken care of)
(for tours that pride themselves on highly-qualified guides)
These are the things guides are simply expected to do as employees (and should be made very clear during onboarding).
*Normally I steer away from things a guide doesn't have 100% control over, however, if you give your guides proper training on how to achieve a 5-star review, I think it's a non-subjective number you can include in their evaluation.
Objective Guide Skills.
These are the results of good guiding skills. Each guide is different and might have a different style or approach, but the effect should be the same. The description is a bit general, but it should be clear to guides what each means & you should offer training/resources on how to achieve each of these.
EVALUATE YOUR GUIDES WITHOUT STRESSING THEM OUT
Very few of us perform well when our manager is looking over our shoulder... Here are some ways you can put them at ease so that they can be their best.
(1) Make it about the brand.
Assure your guides that you hired them for a reason and that you're happy with their work (this is where reviews come in handy, even if I'm not a huge fan of using reviews alone for evaluation). Instead, make this about brand consistency across tours.
Explain to your team the importance of brand consistency, especially when you have a diverse guide team (more especially when you have multiple destinations). The check-list should not be personal, it should be about the 'brand points' being hit on every single tour.
(2) Make it about the tour.
There are multiple benefits of regularly hopping on your own tours, so you can make this about evaluating the tour as opposed to the guide. Bring the guide in on it ahead of time, letting them know that you're there to make sure the tour content still feels fresh and that the route is the most efficient. You can even schedule time with them afterward (buy them a tea or a beer- it goes a long way!) to get their feedback on the tour that they know so well. Would they cut anything? Have they started to include any material that should be included in the tour training?
(3) Make it about the guests.
Going on your tours is an amazingly free way to do market research. Maybe you're ALSO evaluating the guides but you can let them know that your main purpose here is to talk to guests. Again, bring the guides in on it. Ask them if they have any thoughts on guests' reaction to the tours, to the content, if they'd change anything.
(4) Use a Mystery Shopper.
There are many companies that offer professional Mystery Shopping (and I'm always available for helping you create your own branded guide evaluations in addition to doing the mystery shopping), however, it doesn't have to be an expensive solution. If your evaluation check-list is easy enough to understand for a layperson, you can offer to friends and family to join the tour if they fill out an evaluation.
If you have multiple destinations, you can offer free tours for employees, including tour guides (something that's been really successful for me when trying to create brand consistency across tours) with the requirement that they fill out an evaluation form (other guides are often guides' toughest critics).