Five years ago, as I was getting settled with my new job and situated in Seaside, the mantra was that the summer season begins on July 4. And I believe for many, that sentiment still holds strong. School is out, the weather is phenomenal and we have a plethora of events that bring droves of people to town. Yet on the heels of record visitation over the past 12 months, it’s safe to say that we are more of a year-round destination than we’ve ever been before. Regardless of where you sit on that spectrum, when do you look at your business and find ways to improve?
For many, the answer to that question is probably, “Always, it’s a constant process.” The training, the coaching, encouragement and analyzing are things many business owners do on a daily or weekly basis. Quite honestly, when it comes to customer service, my opinion is that you should always be looking at ways to be better. But there’s also that window of opportunity that tends to make sense, and around here that window seems to be the lull (if we can still call it that) between May and July 4 where business traffic seems to slow down a bit.
With that thought process in play, the City of Seaside Visitors Bureau held its second annual customer service and secret shopper campaign the first two weeks of May. We learned a thing or two the first go around and were determined to provide an even better analysis the second time. From the beginning, we wanted this to be business driven. Our aim was not to surprise businesses or ridicule them. The goal from day one has been to offer feedback about the customer experience for business owners who are interested to know how their customer service rates. With ten volunteers in last year’s crop, we saw a jump to 15 for 2015 and actually had very little similarity in participants.
So how do we look as a community? First, a quick description of our system: Last year we analyzed six categories (store appearance, greeting, staff attention, staff appearance, the selling process and the time it took to complete a transaction). This year we added product knowledge, whether our unpaid secret shopper would recommend the business, and if the business did anything to elevate the experience for the shopper.
Overall, we actually improved our customer service rating from 86% to 89% by using a scale of one to ten for all previously mentioned categories. Our greeting took a hit, decreasing from 98% to 89%, but participants improved dramatically with the selling and care they provided to the shopper, increasing from 78% to 89%. Five our businesses graded out with an A+ (99-100%), four received an A grade (90-98%), while five graded in at a B. Unfortunately, while there were no C grades, two dining participants received D ratings. Their biggest downfalls: the greeting, selling and care, and time of transaction.
We also learned that our shoppers felt our participating businesses could improve the overall first impression. How does it look when you first walk through the doors? Go look right now!
A 600-word column cannot do this topic justice, but it will hopefully provide guidance for the customer service experience in Seaside. Close to a million people visit Seaside every year and we owe it them, our employers, and each other to help foster the best experience possible. Let’s please remember that as we launch into what promises to be a fantastic summer in Seaside.
Have a thought or a question about tourism in Seaside, or maybe an idea for a future column? Drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jon Rahl is the director of tourism for the Seaside Visitors Bureau and assistant general manager of the Seaside Civic & Convention Center.