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Retailers not eager to improve customer service, say advisers.

Retailers not eager to improve customer service, say adviser

Retailers in Thunder Bay and Fort Frances are not taking steps to improve their customer service despite some evidence that it would help them battle cross-border shopping, say two officials with the Northwest Enterprise Centre.

A survey conducted earlier this year by Mandev Consulting International Ltd. indicated that half of the Canadian shoppers who cross the border do so not only for the savings, but for superior service as well.

"All the buying signals are there. They (Canadians) are greased to buy, and the American clerks know it," states Paul Zaremba, regional business adviser with the Fort Frances office of the Northwest Enterprise Centre. "The shoppers are coming down to part with their cash and the retailers know it, so everyone is happy. And the positive frame of mind rubs off."

While some Fort Frances business owners have taken advantage of the customer service workshops and seminars offered during the past year by the Northwest Enterprise Centre, "not enough take part in the programs," says Zaremba.

In addition, Zaremba reports that business owners and managers have trouble getting their staff members to attend the sessions.

Carol Rusak, a business adviser with the Northwest Enterprise Centre in Thunder Bay, says the attendance at her customer-service training seminars has been good, but most of the participants are from the public sector.

"Basically, the government wants to serve the public better, but the retailers are the ones with the greatest need," she adds.

"The principle here is not just good manners, but having the proper attitude," adds Rusak. "The person has to buy into wanting to serve the customer and make them happy."

However, both Zaremba and Rusak admit that improving customer service only addresses one aspect of the cross-border shopping problem.

"Out-shopping has become a form of recreation, like going to the cottage," Rusak points out. "People travel, find accommodations for the night, there's things for the kids to do and there's shopping. If the customer service is good, it's just icing on the cake."

However, in Sault Ste. Marie shoppers are not crossing the border for recreation. They are crossing for economic survival because of the turmoil at Algoma Steel, says Burt Simpson, administrative manager of the continuing education department at Sault College of Applied Arts and Technology.

PHOTO : Customer service is more than good manners, explains Carol Rusak, a business adviser with the Northwest Enterprise Centre in Thunder Bay.
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Title Annotation:Thunder Bay and Fort Frances retailers; business advisers from Northwest Enterprise Centre
Author:Krejlgaard, Chris
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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