By Sonia Walker -Russell

The decline in visitors to the island of Grand Bahama is a direct affect of 'bad' customer service, laying the responsibility to deliver exceptional customer service at the feet of us all, says six year Senior. Manager of The Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association and Marina Operators of The Bahamas (MOB), Ms. Shamine Johnson.   "If I was to take a poll, there would be far more negative exchanges of customer service experiences on this island than positive ones. A recent labour survey conducted by the Inter Development Bank (IDB) and the Department of Labour showed that there is a decline in visitor arrival to our island - a direct result of our customer service. I could say 'we need to address this issue', but I pose this question: who are the we and what are we prepared to do about it?"



 With over 20 years experience in the Hospitality and Tourism field in The Bahamas and extensive background in resort operations, administration and association management, Ms. Johnson told Rotarians, during the Rotary Club of Freeport's weekly meeting, that business owners and operators are in the driver's seat to secure exceptional customer service.   "The Ministry of Tourism, the lead partner in addressing customer service challenges for tourism, has a Service Recovery Visitor Unit which facilitates dialogue between the visitor and the service provider. Its goal is to bring together owner and consumer to alleviate challenges. We work as a mediator, mitigating such challenges to bring resolve for the good of our destination.  However as business owners and operators, exceptional customer service is a vital component to the success of your business no matter what your service or goods, and the core of your business is directed by human capital.

Your employees, no matter how big or small your organization, are the most important element to drive your business through the roof or into the ground," she said.   Ms. Johnson noted that delivering exceptional customer service, first of all, starts with ensuring that your employee is satisfied. "This is paramount. As in marriage, it is said, 'a smart man knows that a happy wife equals a happy life'. The same principle generally applies to a successful business."   The industry leader recalled her tenure at the former Our Lucaya Resort where she was a part of the opening team and employed for seven years.   "One of the biggest challenges we faced, especially during the opening, was 'burn out'. It was very normal for us to work 13 to 14 hour days. So how did we cope? We came up with the idea of a decompression chamber - we converted an entire wing of a part of the resort into an atmosphere where staff could come and relax, with free food, drinks, movies, games, etc. to meet the need. We created an atmosphere where no matter what you did as an employee at the resort, the playing field was level. There was no classification or distinction based on your job title. This promoted a sense of family for the employees, staff were more productive, theft decreased and overall moral was up. We worked our butts off but we had a hell of a time doing it because there was a sense of pride and camaraderie and what we accomplished we accomplished as a unit."

 According to the Senior Manager, the property went through an extremely difficult period. "One of my last recommendations to the management at that time, to address the root of our issues, was to allow the staff to invest in shares of the property. My theory was that it would be able to do the following: curb theft, reduce energy cost, improve morale but most of all deliver exceptional customer service."    Though her advice was not adhered to, she submitted the idea to attending Rotarians to consider. "You see, when you involve people in a tangible and meaningful manner, there's a new attitude of vested ownership. What is stopping you as business owners and operators from seriously thinking about this?"   She also relayed the many employee initiatives by the Google corporation including the provision of free healthy food to promote wellness, daycare facilities, onsite doctors and nurses, gyms, savings and retirement plans and planning.   The second necessity to deliver exceptional customer service, said Ms Johnson, is to encourage employee loyalty and capability.   "In a recent research I conducted of how long a Bahamian employee remains on a job was qualitative, and the aggregate figure I came up with was 15 years.

Though this may be debatable, Bahamians do not necessarily jump from job to job and for the most part we are comfortable with what we do. There is a level of loyalty attached."   She put forth that to make an employee loyal to a job is based on the manner in which he/she is treated. "A loyal employee would often times go beyond and above what is required to actually perform a task. There is a direct correlation to how an employee is treated and what customer service is delivered. What are we doing as business owners and operators to promote employee loyalty to produce exceptional customer service?"   When it comes to encouraging employee capability Ms. Johnson gave an example: "You operate a heavy consumer serviced-based business that involves constant contact and interaction with your clients. Now you know full well that 'Anna' does not have an outgoing personality, why on earth would you place her in such a position? Having such a 'wrong fit' can easily create a cycle which many times negatively effects your customer service index and eventually causes the demise of your business. To circumvent, why not take a look at 'Anna's' strengths (and weaknesses). Anna may be excellent with figures. Why not place her in the finance department?"   The movers and shakers of the corporate world of Grand Bahama were advised to capitalize on the assets of their employees, and that how well this is done can either help or hurt their business in delivering exceptional customer service. "For at the end of the day your bottom line will tell the story," she said.   The Bethune-Cookman University graduate noted that along with employee effects on one's business, there are challenges on the island with service providers and partners and a need for the promotion of customer loyalty.   Ms. Johnson mentioned the mass confusion and unparalleled frustration of Bahamians and visitors alike concerning the fast ferry because of non-specific and unclear information given to travellers.  "As long as correct information is shared and feedback, negative or positive, is considered and adhered to, customer service levels will increase."   To promote customer loyalty she sited the Butler's Food Store card that allows customers to receive discounts every time they shop, and Fidelity Bank's money back mortgage plan to which they attach a savings plan for the borrower. "So, by the time your mortgage is paid you have a big fat savings account as well. These are the types of initiatives that encourage customer loyalty.

 As a consumer it is important for them to understand the 'what's in it for me factor' for you to deliver exceptional customer service. Give them something to come back for, build a relationship and give incentives."   She left her audience with this to think about: "If you were to be evaluated by your staff today what would be the outcomes? How effective is your leadership style for driving the best out of your employees? As leaders in your respective organizations, you are the driving force of the beginning and ending of the successful circle of exceptional customer service - 'You must be the change you want to see in the world'!"
Curb Decline in Visitors to the Island with Exceptional Customer Service