A city’s service leaves a lasting first impression

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 14, 2006

Has this ever happened to you? You’re on a long road trip, you’ve been driving for hours and you need a break. That’s about the time you spot that the next stop, Anytown, USA, and it looks like an inviting place to stop and rest; what with their nice signs, quaint stores and well-manicured street corners.

This town has lovely murals, beautiful parks and well-kept homes and you think for a moment that you might like to spend more than just a few minutes here and learn a little of the history and charm that makes this place so mesmerizing.

Realizing that you’re running late already, you figure you’ll make plans to come back later for that sightseeing tour and instead you head directly for the nearest convenience or drug store to stock up on refreshments and take a quick break. Upon walking into the clean, well-stocked and modern store to find your purchases, you are not greeted with a friendly “Hello” as you would expect from your surroundings. Instead, you are met with a tired and lazy glare by a cashier who is either busy on the phone with a personal call or who is talking to a friend standing at the counter about the plans they have for Saturday night.

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You proceed down the aisles to select your drinks and chips and as you return to the counter you realize that your drinks and chips will have to wait until the plans for Saturday are finalized. Becoming a little impatient, you may try to get the cashiers attention by clearing your throat or calling to her.

If you do manage to pry her away from her very important conversation, you can certainly expect to be treated as though you yourself have just poured a bucket of tar on her plans for Saturday night.

As she begins to total your items, she realizes that a price sticker is missing from your candy bar. In an effort to find the correct price, she insists that you go select another bar or either she begins hollering to the clerk in the back of the store to check the price for her.

After that calamity is resolved, you try to pay for your items using your debit card only to learn that the processing machine is out of order (and from the unapologetic tone of the cashiers voice, it is apparently your fault that it is broken).

Not sure if you have enough cash to cover the few items, you proceed to write a check for the amount, only to be told (after the check has been written) that the store does not accept out-of-town checks. While digging through your pockets to find enough change so that you can collect your items and be gone, you realize that the cashier is impatiently drumming her fingernails and once again giving you the glare.

Finally, you have gotten your refreshments and are out of the door headed back to seek refuge in your car. As you pull onto the highway once again, you breathe a sigh of relief that you are no longer caught in that uncomfortable situation.

You crave comfort in that candy bar you just bought only to open your bag and discover that it must still be laying on the counter back at the store!

Deciding against turning around, you continue driving with only the negative thoughts cramming your head about Anytown, USA. Long gone are the images of the beautiful homes and colorful street corners. These images have passed, along with any desire to ever return to this once seemingly charming town. And why did this happen? It happened because of poor customer service!

Hopefully, you have never had to experience something similar to the above scenario when you were traveling. Unfortunately, I have experienced this far too many times.

In so many cases, the only opportunity that a community has to impress visitors comes from that community’s frontline workers. These are the workers in convenience stores, restaurants, hotels, car repair businesses and any retail setting. These are the workers that we need to make sure are well-versed in good customer-service skills, and have a basic knowledge along with a positive outlook on our community.

In an effort to make these goals a reality, and keep Demopolis from becoming like Anytown, USA, the Chamber is offering a ‘Providing Excellent Customer Service’ workshop on Thursday, April 20.

This workshop will be held at the Town Hall (old fire station next to City Hall) and will be facilitated by Danny Smith, Division Director of Human Resources and Special Projects at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital.

We will be offering two sessions on this day, the first will be held from 8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. and the second will be from 11:30 a.m. – 1 p.m. The workshop is free of charge to all current Chamber member businesses and there will be a $25 charge for non-Chamber members.

Please contact the Chamber office to make reservations for yourself and your employees.

-Kelley Smith is president of the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce. She can be reached by calling (334) 289-0270.