Tourists can’t get good help in Nunavut

Nunavut Tourism is tackling shoddy service, but some business owners say it’s not worth it



IQALUIT — Nunavut Tourism’s executive director thinks too many Nunavut employers are throwing money out the window.

“Employers should realize that it’s cheaper for them to train their employees properly rather than training them inadequately,” says Madeleine Redfern, the executive director of Nunavut Tourism.

Redfern is referring to the lack of quality customer service in Nunavut — for tourists and Nunavummiut alike.

“Tourism is about people communicating with each other,” she says.

And, she says, many tourists aren’t getting the message that Nunavummiut want their business.

“Lack of good customer service is one of the biggest complaints we hear from tourists,” Redfern says. “Tourists don’t spend a lot of money to travel here just so they can wait 15 minutes to be served at a restaurant.”

But hassles like these are why her organization started training some Nunavummiut about “Arctic Excellence” this year.

Arctic Excellence is a professional training workshop for people working in the service industry. Nunavut Tourism adopted the workshop’s format and mandate from a customer-service training program that’s used extensively in Alberta.

The overarching goal of Arctic Excellence is to satisfy customers by exceeding their expectations.

But Iqaluit business owner Kenn Harper thinks people like Redfern are too optimistic about the future of Nunavut’s tourism industry.

“There’s not enough people to warrant catering to them,” he says. “It’s a ‘chicken-and-egg’ scenario.

“It’s so expensive to get here that we don’t get the volume of tourists to warrant establishing that level of customer service.”

Harper says the employees at his store, Arctic Ventures, are trained to be courteous and are expected to use common sense when dealing with customers.

But he says he can’t justify spending a lot of time and money on training because “there’s too much competition for employees, especially from government, so many people don’t stay long… It’s a revolving door.”

The general merchandise manager of Iqaluit’s Northmart store, Kieran O’Sullivan, shares Harper’s lament.

O’Sullivan says offering customers good service is a priority for Northmart managers, but admits they sometimes fall short.

He also blames high staff turnover for the inconsistent customer service offered by Northmart employees.

Redfern thinks explanations like Harper’s and O’Sullivan’s are insulting and nothing more than weak excuses.

She says managers should look at their management skills before accusing high turnover rates for shoddy customer service.

She says employees are like tourists — their loyalties lie in their affections.

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