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View your business through customers’ eyes

If you really want to know what your customers think, try being one. Sit in your waiting room, stand in your checkout line, walk through your showroom, or schedule a service call. Of course, your staff will know who you are, but the majority of your customers may not. Then simply hang out with the other customers and get them talking. You might be proud of what you hear, or you might be devastated. But you will be more informed.

The last two weeks have placed Spokane in the national spotlight and brought thousands of “customers” into our city as part of the NCAA basketball tournament, the Pacific Northwest volleyball qualifier and several small conventions. I had the honor of flying out with many of the visiting volleyball teams and back in from Washington. D.C., with NCAA fans. What stories I heard!

According to the Spokane Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau, tourists to Spokane County spend $741 million annually – so we should all care deeply about what they think when they leave. That kind of spending is like renting a taxpayer, and reduces each household’s tax burden by $315 a year. Those visitors make our lives easier. They open our eyes; they see promise and possibility, not just potholes.

Tourist dollars reach all area business in one form or another. If you sell directly to them, you see it firsthand. If your customer buys more groceries or adds air conditioning because of the paycheck they get thanks to visitors, you see it too. And that’s why we should all care what tourists, meeting attendees and contestants think about our fair city. We want them back and we want them to visit for fun, to bring their friends and to hold more meetings and events here.

What are the visiting “customers” saying about us before arriving and then when they leave?

“People are so friendly and helpful.”

For people who’ve traveled to larger cities, the genuine caring of our citizens is almost hard to swallow. Some did not believe it until they saw the “let me care for you” attitude across all sorts of industries. They also mentioned how polite we are, though sadly, that is a skill we seem to lose a bit of each day.

“The Spokane River is simply stunning.”

Wow, thanks Mother Nature for making the water so spectacular during the tournaments! But there are those who live here who have never ventured across the pedestrian bridges in Riverfront Park, and have no idea how inspiring that walk can be. Those who visit us are struck by the river’s beauty, by how clean the water is, and the power of its flow. (Those muddy Eastern U.S. rivers seldom roar.)

“Your citizens are great sports fans.”

On one flight I sat next to an agent for women’s basketball and she mentioned several times how impressed she and her peers were at the level of support in Spokane. We really can go sports crazy, and that creates an excitement other cities wish they could bottle.

“Your facilities are top-notch.”

The Spokane Arena, the McCarthey Athletic Center and the Spokane Convention Center are jewels, but as “locals” we sometimes take them for granted. We should not. I know firsthand what it is like to live in a city without those venues. Ours are well cared for, up-to-date and first class. People notice.

“You have an amazing assortment of great little restaurants.”

Rest assured, I am not bashing chain restaurants, but anyone who travels more than a bit loves to explore the local offerings and there are cities that have few options. The Spokane area is full of great places to discover. I have a local friend who dines each week at a new place, and has been doing it for years. Just look around, and you’ll find a new favorite all the time.

Last Sunday I walked, as I often do, through Riverfront Park with a friend. The Stanford fans, the NCAA fans and the regular park users were plentiful, as was the friendly banter between them. But the best part was watching the obvious visitors look at our city, that river and our people and break into big smiles.

If Spokane’s visitors were to adapt the Better Business Bureau grading system of A-F, like a report card in school, it seems our “business” would earn an A. The “customers” are giving positive feedback. And that can only be good news.

Jan Quintrall is president and CEO of the local Better Business Bureau. She can be reached at

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