PUBLISHED: 6:21 PM on Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Meeting customer needs is key to success in tourism
Editor's note: This is the third of a three part series.

In one of my presentations, "The Fifth P of Marketing," I point out that the "Fifth P" after the four classic "product, promotion, price, and place," is people. People are the most important part of any marketing effort. Everything in the marketing effort has to be aimed at people.

Illustration by Lawrence Diggs
  South Franklin Street is shown without tourists.
If you don't like people, the service industry is not the place for you. If you hate tourists and would just like them to go away, with all their dumb questions, then please, go far away from the service industry. You can't fake it; it will leak through.

The tourist business is an industry that is based on people skills. Developing good people skills will serve you well in all walks of life, so if you don't have them, but are willing to learn, sign on.

People skills are the foundation of excellent customer service. There are many little tricks to excellent customer service, but it all starts with attitude. If you set your sights on how you can better serve your customer, the customer will teach you how to better serve them. And then it gets better. They will pay you for training you and pay you more for serving them. You can then take these lessons and profit from them the rest of your life.

To provide excellent customer service you must concentrate on the customer's needs - not yours. Your hours of operation have to be arranged according to your customer's needs, not when you feel like showing up.

Illustration by Lawrence Diggs
  A cruise ship docked in Gastineau Channel. The tourism season is over for this year, but it's not to early to be planning for 2009.
I've been quite surprised at the number of downtown businesses that are closed when there are ships in port. The competition is open before the tourists get off the ship and stay open until the last ship leaves.

But the most important thing is to have set hours. And when you say you're open-- be open! And you must put your hours of operation on your door and all your promotional materials including your business cards.

You do have business cards, don't you? If you don't, you are not running a business, you are running a hobby. Business cards are the cheapest and most effective marketing tool there is. Even cheaper than word-of-mouth. And whatever the other marketing tools and tactics you use, a business card will make them work better. Some people buy business cards and when the year ends they have the same number of cards they started with. What are they thinking?

The value of the business card is that it is cheap and effective. They are useless in your desk drawer. Give them to everyone you meet. Tell them what you do with passion and a business card.

If you have a storefront, make sure you have the name of your business, address, and hours of operation so that anyone can see it from across the street.

A walk around the downtown area of Juneau finds many businesses without name, address and hours. How can your word-of-mouth campaign work if people can't find you and/or can't figure out when you will be open? How can I direct people on my bus tours to your business if I can't give them the name, address and hours of your business? If your hours are not visible how would the tourists who discover your shop when you are closed know when to come back?

What would be the downside of putting your name and address and hours in an easily readable, easy to find spot on your place of business?

Armed with business cards, you are positioned to make everyone you meet part of your sales team. You are ready to cross promote.

Cross promotion is a must for micro-businesses. Passing out the business cards and promotional materials of other local micro-businesses not only helps the other businesses, it helps the person passing on the information. If you help someone get what they want, suggest to them a nice place to eat, or get a nice unique gift, they will have a warm and fuzzy feeling about you. I would say that 10% of my tips are a direct result of helping people find unique places in Juneau.

There are many low and no cost ways to draw people into local businesses which space does not permit me to go into here. People take cruises because they want to have a good time. Many, if not most, of them will reward you financially for helping them have a good time. If you focus on making it easy for people to find you and then give them great customer service, you will make money.

The season is over for this year. However, now is the time to start working on next year. Start networking and creating marketing partnerships now. Put your name, address, and hours on your business front and materials now. Get your business card printed, now. Start listing ways you can improve your customer service now.

Tourism companies are recruiting employees now, so if you even think you might be interested, talk to them now. All of these things take time, so if you don't start now, you won't be positioned for success next year. You'll be letting the tourist dollars slip through your fingers again.

Lawrence Diggs is a micro-marketing consultant who makes marketing presentations around the United States. He can be reached at 800-342-4519 or 605-486-4536.