Former Executive Director
A CUSTOMER SERVICE CULTURE
Most folks in the tourism business know a thing or two about customer service. You wouldn't stay in business very long if you didn't. Dealing with customers, including those who may give you problems, is a central part of doing business, and doing it well helps keep you profitable. However, your business is only a part of the overall customer service experience of your client.
"What kind of customer service experience is being provided by the various officers and officials of government your guests encounter during their vacations? Do our various government departments have a customer service culture?"
Somebody told me a story recently about a certain US state that had developed a reputation for having nasty and aggressive police. The situation became so bad that tourists who were en route to other destinations were making a point of driving around that state. State officials became alarmed enough to start offering customer service training to their police officers. The outcome? One traveler was quoted, raving about how polite and courteous the police were when they stopped her. When she was asked whether she received a ticker, she answered "Of course I did. They explained that I was doing something wrong and I deserved a ticket!"
Nobody is suggesting not enforcing the law, and sometimes that means giving somebody bad news, like the fact that they are going to be fined. However I think we all agree that this can be done without making people feel demeaned and humiliated. Unfortunately, we receive a steady stream of complaints of bad customer service from border guards, conservation officers and others. More than 2 years ago, NOTO received a promise from the Minister of Immigration that customer service training would be provided to staff at several of the northwestern Ontario border crossings that had generated many complaints.
Despite an offer from the Canadian Tourism Commission to develop and deliver the training, nothing happened.
Many of us have seen examples of customer service done right by various officials. I recall a security screening at a US airport; something you expect to endure, not enjoy. The cheerful officer engaged me in a light-hearted debate on the merits of Canadian vs. American beer as he searched my luggage and inspected my shoes. I never felt threatened or annoyed, and he probably learned a lot more about me by putting me at ease than he would have if he had been rude or abrupt.
Contrast this with a recent call I received from a US visitor traveling to Ontario. When asked for identification at the border, she produced a driver's license. The border guard snapped "All that proves is that you can drive a car in Ohio". I explained that a driver's license does not prove citizenship, and that a driver's license with a picture plus a birth certificate is needed if they have no passport. I also pointed out that this is nothing new, though it may be more strictly enforced than before, and that the rules are the same on both sides of the border. The guest's comment to me? "Why didn't the border guard simply explain that to me, rather than make a rude comment that didn't tell me anything?"
I don't want to single out our border officials here. We receive at least as many of these complaints about MNR conservation officers, and a fair number about police, as well. Let me repeat myself so we are clear about this. Our industry does not support people who break the law.
We need and value the work of our conservation officers, since we depend on maintaining the quality of our natural resources.
If there are concerns about non-compliance, we want to work as partners to educate our guests, and weed out the guests who abuse our hospitality.
Conservation officers shouldn't need to charge someone to justify a trip in to an outpost where our guests are.
We all know how important tourism is to the Canadian and Ontario economy, and nowhere is this more important than in northern Ontario. The various levels of government spend a lot of money to encourage visitors to come to Ontario, and our individual businesses spend their own money to both attract them and to make sure they enjoy their stay. All it takes is on bad experience at the hands of a conservation officer, border guard or other official to undo thousands of dollars of tourism promotion. Can we afford to become like that US state that tourists choose to avoid?
This article was taken from pages 5 & 6 of NOTO's "The Outfitter" publication, Summer/Fall 2005 Issue