My husband and I had a series of incredible experiences on a recent trip to Minneapolis. It started with the pleasant volunteer who was staffing the information booth at the airport and it continued from there.
When checking in to the hotel, we asked the clerk for a recommendation to a sushi restaurant. He gave us a recommendation, directions on how to get there and offered us a map of the city.
The entire staff at the restaurant impressed us. But our waiter was over the top wonderful. He was very good at his job. He smiled. He learned about us so he could serve us better. He was very busy but we never felt like he was rushing us to attend to another table. After we had paid our bill and were watching the Tigers' game (they were playing the Twins in Detroit - see the irony?), he came back over, tore out a page from his notebook, and jotted down recommendations for other dining choices, entertainment options, and transportation tips.
The next day we visited several of the waiter's recommendations and experienced an impressive level of customer service at each one. Sometimes it's the little things that make the difference and I was very impressed that every location had hooks near or under the table for me to hang my purse or umbrella. We also had staff at multiple places offer us maps so we could easily find our next destination.
At one point we missed a bus stop and landed a few miles past our desired destination. We asked the next bus driver for help. Not only did she help us, but she made sure we were paying attention as we came up to the stop so we didn't miss it.
That night we had tickets for a comedy show. Riding the bus, but crunched for time, we simply asked anyone who was within earshot what stop we should take. Several people jumped at the chance to help us. One couple got off the bus at the same stop and walked with us almost the entire way to the theater. Before separating, they made sure we knew exactly where we were going.
While standing in line for the show, a group of three unknowingly cut in line ahead of us. When one noticed the look of surprise on my face, all three became incredibly apologetic. They offered to let us go ahead. They ended up sitting behind us at the show, and apologized several more times that evening.
After the show, we decided to walk back to our hotel. When we finally admitted we were lost, I knocked on the window of a tour bus to ask for directions. The driver told us that we were on the south version of the street when we should be on the north. He said that his customers were going to be a while yet and he would be happy to give us a ride back to our hotel while waiting on them. After making sure he was legitimate, we accepted the ride, which he provided at no cost.
Our trip was filled with one positive experience after another. What stands out most to me is that it wasn't just employees who had been trained to provide good customer service. We interacted with great employees of several businesses but also had a great time because of other locals we ran into. Everyone treated us like we were the only people in town. They clearly wanted anyone visiting their town to have a great time.
My question to you is, when visitors are in Alpena, are they experiencing a level of customer service at every turn that makes them feel like we felt? Our experience in Minneapolis demonstrates that it isn't up to just the clerks at the hotel. It isn't solely up to the Chamber of Commerce or the Visitor's Bureau. It isn't completely up to the server at a restaurant. For a visitor to have the kind of positive experience that makes them want to recommend our community to others, it has to come from everyone. Not once did someone tell us that there was nothing to do, we never felt like someone was miserable in their job, and we didn't feel unwelcome at any time.
We will return to Minneapolis and we will recommend it to others because of our incredible experience. Our goal is for visitors here to leave feeling the same way. But don't expect it to happen unless you help by showing every visitor you encounter that you are proud of your community and want them to have a great time here.
Jackie Krawczak is the executive director of the Alpena Area Chamber of Commerce. Her column runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Jackie on Twitter @jkrawczak.