Customer-service lessons set for Clark County businesses

By Wayne Bryan Originally Published January 6, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated January 4, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.
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— Has it ever happened to you? You’re on a highway, away from home, looking for a place to stop. You pull off in a pretty area, and while you buy gas or a burger, you talk to the person taking your money.

“What is there to do around here that’s interesting?” you ask.

“Oh, nothing,” is the reply.

After such an encounter, the natural reaction is to get back in the car and go on down the road.

In 2009, the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism conducted a survey of visitors to Arkansas and found many of them were getting that kind of response.

Scott Sudduth of the Arkansas Hospitality Association travels around the state trying to change that behavior.

Sudduth will hold a class at DeGray Lake Resort State Park in Bismarck for local businesses. The class is sponsored by the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance and Chamber of Commerce in an effort to attract more tourism business to the community and to offer a refresher course on customer service.

“This kind of training is so very important,” said Vickie Egleston, director of the Diamond Lakes Regional Visitors Center in Caddo Valley, which is operated by the alliance. “We did it with the businesses in Caddo Valley last year, and not just for restaurants and hotels, but all the places visitors might stop.”

Sudduth said the free program is good for anyone who deals with the public.

“If the visitor gets in the car and leaves after being told there is nothing happening here, they take their wallet with them and the money they would have spent here,” he said.

In the class, Sudduth said, he wants to help people be more aware that some of the places they might pass by every day are attractions to visitors.

“We don’t need to tell them what is in their own town, but we want them to be aware that there are places around that people come to see,” he said.

Sudduth said customer-contact people will be given a sheet with information about attractions, historic sites and events.

“It can be kept behind the counter, and if someone asks, the employee can have a quick reminder about what’s going on,” he said.

A second part of the class is training to improve guest-services skills. Sudduth said the same 2009 survey found that employees working with the public needed to sharpen their approach to visitors.

“When was the last time the person you had a transaction with made eye contact, spoke to you in a way that was warm and inviting?” Sudduth asked. “Employees are trained to take money, but they are not being trained to take care of the people.”

He said that if the people whom visitors encounter do not act with any emotional conviction, they will lose business.

“Disney developed the concepts over many years to create happiness and repeat customers,” Sudduth said of the origins for this training. “Train employees in the task, but also in the role of making the customer happy by creating a positive experience.”

The hospitality-industry trainer said retail and other business operators should invest more in their employees so they can improve the business.

“At Southwest Airlines, they say the employee is their first concern because that is who the customers see, and the employees are the ones who will bring the customers back,” Sudduth said.

For more information about the customer-service class, call the Arkadelphia Alliance at (870) 256-1460.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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