Above image courtesy of Camoin Associates
by Devon Roblee
Marketing Coordinator for Cayuga Economic Development Agency & Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce

There are many unseen forces that shape our opinion as outsiders. No, I am not implying supernatural phenomena. This invisible power is the effect of face-to-face or phone business-to-consumer relations, otherwise known as customer service. Service providers know very well how customer service can make or break their business. The entire business community, especially, because we have a growing tourism industry in Cayuga County, would do well to remember that it is not only what you sell that keeps them coming back, but how you sell it. Our collective success in economic development as a region depends on how local businesses deliver customer service.

So far this year, 391 tourists have visited the Cayuga County Office of Tourism, over 17,000 people came to watch the Bassmaster Elite Series on Cayuga Lake in June, and hundreds of people from across the U.S. and Canada toured the Finger Lakes region for the Model T Ford Club International’s 60th annual Summer Tour in July. Tourists come here not only for our products and services, but also for the experience. At the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce, we frequently receive phone calls from out-of-towners who are excited about their getaway to the Finger Lakes so they can relax and enjoy all we have to offer. They commonly ask for more information about places to go and things to do in our area, and we refer them to chamber member businesses. Often, the chamber is their first encounter with an actual person from the region they are planning on coming to visit. We all know the value of first impressions, so when we talk with people who are considering a visit or a move to our area, it is important to promote with a positive energy.

It is that first impression that shapes newcomers’ opinions. So much hangs on that crucial moment. Basic human relationship and interaction skills such as smiling, making eye contact, greeting and welcoming guests, thanking and inviting them back are all key. All of this translates to over-the-phone impressions in the age-old adage, “It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it.” Not only does it help to smile when you answer the company’s phone line because a listener can hear the “smile” in your voice, but be sincere, anticipate their needs and offer assistance. If you do not know the answer, put them in touch with someone who does.

So, how can business owners and operators ensure that staff are delivering excellent customer service and acting as ambassadors to our region? Business leaders set the guidelines informing employees on how to satisfy customers. The business leader decides what he or she wants customers to experience. Leaders best understand their branding, know where their problem areas are and have the best view of the horizon – where they want their company to go and how they want to be perceived by customers or clients.

More importantly, the head of a company or organization must know his or her client’s wants and needs. Ideally, the company’s brand blended with the customer base’s need should meet, if not exceed the customer’s expectation. The reality is that people have become accustomed to expect less from their customer service experience. Therefore, exceeding expectations is important; however, it’s even more important to consistently meet expectations.

Once these items are in place, the vision must be communicated to staff. Management must train staff well enough to be able to reorganize them based on customer need. It would help if every staff member was trained in human relations, especially if through reorganization due to staff shortage or coverage needs, they wind up at reception or answering phones. This position is directly involved in customer service and arguably one of the most important in attracting new business.

If management leads by example, treating staff the way they want guests to be treated, they can then empower staff to deliver the company or organization’s brand with that same energy. With this hypothesis, you can see how if management is having a bad day, things can go south for customer service quickly. Employees’ attitudes are a reflection of management’s.

In a recent letter to The Citizen, Katie MacIntyre pleaded with fellow Auburnians to “support the good and forward-moving happenings,” in our community. She was writing about the need for positive attitudes, which not only helps morale when things are going poorly. A positive, forward-thinking attitude also supports and drives growth when times are good.

All local businesses play a part in promoting our region at the moment of that first face-to-face or phone interaction. With the increase in volume of visitors to our area, and as the Harriet Tubman National Park development continues and, subsequently, becomes an established tourism site, we will continue to see the economic benefits that come with them. As business owners, service providers and residents of Cayuga County, we are representatives of our region to the outside world. As human beings, we can decide how we want to behave and, therefore, whether or not we want to welcome others into our beautiful hometowns.

Published in August 4, 2016, Economic Development column of The Citizen.