Twice this week, we encountered two situations that, if we were visiting from out of the area, might convince to avoid stopping in the Gila Valley the next time through.

The first occurred Monday. Knowing we had a late night ahead of us, we decided to break for an early dinner and made our way to a fast-food drive through. We ordered a basic meal, paid and waited. We waited a while. We waited so long, in fact, that we were “parked,” which is a term fast-food restaurants use to move a vehicle out of the way while a complicated order is being filled. Except, as we said, our order wasn’t complicated at all, nor were there cars in front of us or behind.

We ended up waiting 15 minutes before heading into the restaurant, canceling our order and requesting a refund.

Two things about this encounter bothered us: first, anyone who worked in a position with an inflexible meal break would have lost virtually his entire break without getting food. Second, and most importantly, there was no apology by the manager. In our youth, we happened to work within this particular chain, and we know the rules on customer complaints and refunds . . . none of those rules were followed.

The second occurred Tuesday during a visit to a recently upgraded convenience store. We, along with four others stood in line for about five minutes while the cashier happily chatted with a young lady, ignoring those in the queue.

We bring this up because both are examples of poor customer service. And poor customer service at one establishment affects every other business in the Valley, especially when that poor customer service drives away visitors or convinces locals to shop in Tucson or Phoenix instead of locally.

About a decade ago, hoteliers and restaurant owners in Lake Havasu City believed the local tourism agency was being derelict in its duty to promote the community. So those business owners formed a new group called the Hospitality Association. In addition to conducting its own marketing, the newly formed association realized quickly that all the advertising in the world wouldn’t keep customers coming back if hotel and restaurant employees didn’t exhibit exemplary customer service.

That association set about training those employees in good customer service — as well as training employees at mom-and-pop shops, gas stations and convenience stores — turning front desk clerks, maids, waiters and cashiers into community ambassadors.

Havasu’s hospitality industry eventually patched up its differences with the tourism agency, and the pair — along with the local Chamber of Commerce — worked on effective promotion of the community as one of the state’s premier tourism destinations. Now Lake Havasu State Park is the busiest in the state — almost double that of any other park in the state system and accounts for more than one-fifth the total number of visitors to parks throughout the state — and second in revenue generation to Kartchner Caverns. It’s so busy that Arizona State Parks is developing a third park in the area to meet demand.

We understand that debate over what type of industry sector we wish to focus on for economic development will not be decided overnight — such an undertaking requires extensive discussion with a number of stakeholders and significant community input.

What can’t wait, however, is addressing our need for improved customer service. The Gila Valley needs to initiate customer service training so we keep local dollars circulating here, as well as ensuring that visitors leave with a good impression of the area, making them more likely to return.

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