Going Local

What Service Businesses Can Learn from Tourism

As we start to bounce back after COVID, we are happy to see customers returning to our stores, restaurants, businesses, and tourist attractions that provide so much revenue to local towns and cities.  As these customers come back, we are eager to welcome them and most of us are pulling out all the stops to ensure a satisfying experience. But this welcoming attitude can quickly change as we’ve seen in the past as some employees tend to see the customers as their daily source of problems rather than the source of our business revenue because of sometimes demanding requests for service, and occasionally even sharp complaints.

Going Local

Several years ago I worked with Ski The Summit in Colorado which consisted of the famous resorts of Breckenridge, Copper Mountain and A-Basin. It has always been a dream of many young men and women across the United States, and even as far away as Australia, to take a year off from the university and be a ‘ski bum’ – meaning work in a restaurant or bar by night and skiing during the day. But several months into the season management would notice a phenomenon where these new employees with a fresh attitude would sour and start to commensurate with long-time local residents in these tourism-based communities and actually resent the influx of tourists rather than seeing them as a welcome addition. Hence the term regarding disgruntled employees as ‘going local’.

In Colorado, we would see ski lift operators becoming impatient and rude to the beginner skiers from the ‘flatlands’ and even sometimes yelling at them from the lift to go back home when they saw them traversing a steep slope.

Here in New Hampshire where we enjoy wonderful lakes we see an influx of tourists from Massachusetts than many locals have taken to calling them ‘Mass-holes’ because they drive slower because they don’t know their way, or take up all the tables in a restaurant.

Local attractions - New Hampshire

It’s also a huge problem in Europe, Turkey or anywhere where tourists are common. Check out the customer service in St Stephen’s Platz, a popular tourist destination in Vienna, or Vaci Street in Budapest. I’ll eat anywhere in those two wonderful cities except these sections of the city where the tourists gather.

Set the example

The solution for tourism industry managers is the same for all service business managers – proactive leadership and sensitivity training. If you run a service business, now is a great time when everyone is eager to get back to work to make sure they understand how important that these customers coming back are the lifeblood of our businesses. It’s easy to be friendly and accommodating to easy-going customers that are appreciative and just happy to be there. But you don’t get to pick your customers and their attitude, and you shouldn’t try to. Traveling is stressful. Life is stressful. Especially these days. Lead the way and set an example for your employees by putting yourself in the shoes of your customers.

Turn customer’s frowns into smiles

Make your local business their welcome oasis.  And when the inevitable difficult customer does come in, side with the customer, not your employees.  The customer may be wrong and maybe even aggressive. But make an especially powerful point to your employees to strive to turn this negative experience, whatever the reason, into a positive one for the customer. Challenge your employees to turn customers’ frowns into smiles. It’s good for the customer, good for your employees and good for your business.

At Garrison Group, we are in the marketing consulting business and I also used to run an advertising business between my two stints at Coca-Cola in the US and internationally. I never let my agency people or my consulting team, or even my service team at Coca-Cola have ‘bitching sessions’ about tough or difficult clients/customers. If you do allow these attitudes to grow and fester you are feeding a disease that can seriously damage and maybe even ultimately kill your business. I’ve even heard agencies boast about how they fired a difficult client. Maybe the leader of that agency feels powerful at that moment and thinks he is standing up for his employees. But the smart employees that have had experiences at more professionally run businesses will see it for what it is – a failure of leadership.

Welcome your customers – it’s good marketing

As we welcome back our customers, maybe it is a good time to think about those customers and clients who truly make all we do possible and worthwhile.  And let’s let them know that not just today as we reopen from COVID, but also tomorrow, next month and next year! It’s good marketing – internally and externally.

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