MACHIAS, Maine — Among tales of worst customer service experiences, Linda Godfrey of Eastport’s is near the top.
While biting into a burrito at a midwestern restaurant a few years ago, Godfrey encountered a bright pink telephone message note.
Customer service disasters such as this were part of Tuesday’s discussion at a workshop held for Washington County business owners and managers at the University of Maine at Machias.
The Sunrise County Economic Development Council sponsored the event, and although it was intended to focus on tourists and their dollars, it evolved into a discussion of all aspects of customer service and business strengthening.
Godfrey, who heads the Atlantic Leadership Center and is part owner of The Commons in Eastport, a shop for artists, said the most memorable part of the pink message incident was not the paper in the food, but rather how poorly the management handled it.
Instead of focusing on Godfrey, her experience and how to make it right, they crowded around her table blaming each other, trying to determine who the telephone message was for and trying to fix guilt.
“It was handled neither graciously nor comfortably,” she said.
Poor service, or even marginal service, will nearly ensure that customers — whether locals or tourists — will not return.
“If we have a good experience, we tell six to 12 other people,” Godfrey said. “If we have a bad experience, we tell 20 to 60 people.”
“Surveys show that a bad experience will be repeated for 18 years and remembered for 23 and a half,” she added.
As a result, Godfrey said, sensitivity training is part of what she teaches The Commons’ staff.
Patti Sansing, owner of Whole Life Natural Market in Machias, said consistency in training and in the experience customers are offered is key. “If you offer consistency, they will come back,” she said.
Panel discussion presenters Godfrey, Sansing and Shelley Roberts, manager of the Machias Motor Inn, all said that offering a customer a positive total experience is vital.
“Your business needs to be a total look,” Godfrey said. “You need to determine what you want your customers to see, smell, hear and feel. You will get two seconds for a potential customer to make a first impression.”
Attractive flags, landscaping, window boxes, planters, a handrail, a well-swept sidewalk, all combine to entice and greet customers.
Once inside, customers should find spotless businesses, and they should feel welcomed but not overwhelmed.
“Give all your attention to the person you are waiting on,” said Roberts. “Oftentimes it is not so much what you say, but how you say it.”
Roberts said there are days in every business when “you get the pink note in your burrito. It is how you handle it when things go wrong that will make or break you.”
“I tell my employees that their job description is the sixth thing on their list,” Godfrey said. “Customer service is the entire experience.”
The workshop also covered issues such as hiring adequate, stable employees, determining who are a business’s customers, how to find out what they want, how to evaluate and work with staff, and how to better train staff.
The workshop also provided information on tourism resources from the Maine Office of Tourism and a guide by Sunrise County Economic Development Council on public sources of commercial financing and technical assistance.