CVB Trying To Satisfy Customers

January 17, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Cab drivers won’t be the only ones learning about customer service soon. According to the Convention and Visitors Bureau, many area businesses could be getting tips this year on how to keep a customer satisfied.

The Customer Service Task Force, a creation of the CBV, is getting ready to surface. The group’s three co-chairs are expected to be named this month, and the group’s first meeting is tentatively set for next month.

The goal of the task force is to build a culture of hospitality through a customer service orientation program, which the committee will share with hotels, restaurants and retailers. The effort is based on a simple business concept: if you keep the customer satisfied the customer will come back and buy again.

But in this case the customers are tourists and convention delegates, not natives, and the motivation behind the program is to keep bookings up at the new DeVos Place convention center and rooms filled at local hotels.

CVB President Steve Wilson said the orientation program will cover such issues as how to handle complaints and how to greet customers in a professional manner. And the target businesses aren’t just in downtown Grand Rapids, he said, but all of those that are crucial to the culture throughout the area.

If the program is not done properly, Wilson felt the consequences could be significant.

“A lot of times they’ll say they’ll never come back to Grand Rapids again,” said Wilson.

The CVB, the city of Grand Rapids, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, area universities and colleges, and local businesses are all expected to be represented on the task force, which will have from 18 to 25 members. Members will be named next month when the first meeting is held.

Convention and Arena Authority board member Lew Chamberlin, who also is CEO and managing partner of the West Michigan Whitecaps, said all any customer wants is to be seen, heard and treated fairly. Chamberlin, who chairs the CAA Operations Committee, said he was impressed with the work that has gone into the program and with its stated mission.

Amway Grand Plaza Hotel President Joe Tomaselli, also a CAA board member, said customer satisfaction surveys in the hospitality industry reveal that the main reason a guest doesn’t return to a hotel has nothing to do with how the coffee tasted or whether a mint was left on a pillow. It’s due, he said, to indifference displayed to a guest by a hotel staff member or because an employee came to work with a bad attitude.

The orientation program started out as one planned for taxi drivers only, as they are often the first contact a visitor has with a new destination. Grand Rapids City Clerk Terry Hegarty reported there are 255 licensed cabbies driving the city streets this year, and some may be harder to reach with specifics of the program than others.

“We have some language barriers and some don’t speak English,” said Hegarty.

The task force plans to identify all the business that are crucial to the hospitality culture and have the program running before the first convention group arrives at DeVos Place later this year. The 9th Biennial Industrial Woodworking Expo will open the $220 million building on Dec. 3.

Construction work on the exhibit space has been accelerated by five weeks in order to have DeVos Place ready for that trade show, which has been estimated as being worth $1 million to the local economy.           

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