Gina Keough, Director, Visitor & Convention Bureau

As we continue to move through these challenging economic times, beating out your competition for potential customers/guests is undoubtedly one you’re your biggest challenges, no matter what type of business you have.

How can you beat online competition when customers can find the lowest prices, for almost anything, online or at discount/big box stores?


Nothing is more powerful than a friendly, helpful and knowledgeable sales person/customer service representative who wants to assist customers in making the best choice possible in their buying decision. What do people do when they receive really good service or really bad service?
Talk about it… to everyone they know.

Word-of-mouth referrals are the best kind you could possibly get. Customers are excited to spread the word when they experience something great (the opposite is also true, so keep reading). Give your staff members attainable goals and guidance in becoming the best they can be in building and keeping business.

The following information is based on Tourism Week materials I received many years ago (many thanks to the U.S. Travel Association), which remains more relevant than ever, today.

What Kind of Employees Do You Have?

Do your employees realize the value of customer service as it pertains to your business and our city’s economy?

Are your employees courteous and hospitable at all times to guests, customers and colleagues?

Do your employees have a working knowledge of your business and the services you provide? Are they aware of who your competition is?

Can your employees answer customer questions clearly and accurately? If they don’t know the answer, do they quickly ask a colleague for assistance?

Are your employees well-trained and happily performing their jobs to the best of their abilities?

Do they know that giving the best service will immeasurably profit your business, the Santa Maria Valley, and ultimately, themselves?

If all of your answers are YES, heartiest congratulations to you!

If you said No to any of these questions, consider giving your people in-house training or possibly sending them to a customer service seminar. I promise it will pay off!

Food for Thought: Remember Me?

I’m the person who goes into a restaurant, sits down and waits patiently while the waiters and waitresses do everything except take my order.

I’m the person who goes into a department store and stands quietly while the sales clerks stock shelves, dust the counters or finish their little chit-chats with each other.

I’m the person who telephones to place an order, am placed on hold, then is completely forgotten about.

I’m the person who drives up to the full-service pump at a service station and has to ask to get my windows cleaned and my oil checked.

Yes, you may say that I’m a nice person because I don’t get upset or complain about the discourtesy, thoughtlessness, and inconsideration that I’m subjected to merely because I want to spend my money with you.

I want you to know, however, that I’m also a person who never comes back.

It amuses me that you spend thousands of dollars in advertising every year to get me into your businesses when I was there in the first place. Wouldn’t it have been smarter just to give me a little service and show me a little common courtesy while I was there so that you could keep me from going somewhere else?

Be a Sidewalk Ambassador: Welcome a Visitor!

▪ Ask if you can help when a guest or customer appears lost or hesitant.

▪ Take time to give accurate and specific directions.

▪ Speak slowly and distinctly – but don’t shout – when assisting a foreign guest or customer.

▪ Be enthusiastic and well-informed about your services and how you can best help your customer.

▪ Be friendly. Be helpful. Be hospitable.

▪ Smile!!! Even if you’re just on the telephone – it comes through, believe me.

▪ Some guests’/customers’ most lasting memory of your business and the Santa Maria Valley may be YOU!

▪ Sometimes you are the only representative your customer will meet. Make it count!

▪ You never know who you are speaking to… they may be just the person to bring a lot of business your way, so impress them with excellent customer service.

▪ People talk. If you offer great customer service, they will be more than happy to refer your business to everyone they know. But remember the opposite is true as well. The most damaging thing someone can do to your business is to spread the word about their negative experience with you.

First and Lasting Impressions

Getting to know your customer better
One of the most controllable features that differentiates your product from the competition is the level of service you and your employees provide. The key to great customer service is built upon a foundation of prompt and courteous service. One-on-one relationship building is based on creating a dependent relationship between you and your customers; one customer at a time. You want your customers to think and say, “It’s so easy here, why would I go someplace else?” Why does a patron like a particular bartender or wait-person, week after week? Because they know their customer – they have a relationship that works.

Front-line staff are your eyes and ears – the window to your customer
While specific techniques can be taught, customer service is more of a spirit where responsibility and care for the customer is reflected in the attitude of the employee. Enthusiasm needs to be rewarded while laziness is strongly discouraged. Reward positive behavior by employees through peer recognition, occasional monetary incentives and compensation and never forget to offer a personal thank you for a job well done.

Complaints are not problems, they are opportunities
Find the solution to problems and improve your business. Recognizing legitimate complaints is the first step and most important step in strengthening your business. Remember, most people are too polite to complain in public, others are intimidated by voicing their opinion. The few that do complain may be speaking for a much larger group that you would have known about. Thank them for their input.

Learning through communication
A good exercise is to have staff and management share the “best ” and “worst” experiences regarding customer service they have had at other businesses. This can open the door to discuss situations where staff could have effortlessly enhanced a customer’s “average” experience at your operation.

Learning through education
Ensure that your front-line staff knows our community and is able to refer customers to other businesses whose services they might also need. Create a reference list of resources or provide training at staff meetings.

Don’t forget basic skills of hospitality

Make the guest/customer feel wanted
▪ Look enthusiastic
▪ Greet with a warm smile
▪ Make friendly eye contact
▪ Be well groomed
▪ Stand and move with poise
▪ Leave your “bad attitude” at home

Greeting People
▪ Offer a friendly hello
▪ Extend a pleasant compliment
▪ Listen to their requests, listen and learn
▪ Remember names
▪ Be diplomatic
▪ Use a gentle tone of voice
▪ End on an optimistic note

Help Solve Problems
▪ Listen
▪ Sympathize
▪ Speak calmly
▪ Offer options
▪ The visitors is always right

Express Pride in Your Region
▪ Visit your local attractions, learn about them, know where they are located and when they are open
▪ Display visitor information
▪ Think like a hometown fan

Effective Responses:

Instead of Try this…
I don’t know… I’ll find out

No… What I can do is

That’s not my job… This is who can best help you

You’re right – this stinks… I understand your concern/problem

You want it by when? I’ll try my best

Calm down… I’m sorry

I’m busy right now… I’ll be right with you

Call me back… I will call you back