Barbados Delegation Learns About Service, Seattle-style

The Pacific Northwest may be known for coffee, technology and airplanes, but it has also earned a world-wide reputation as a center of excellence for customer service. This area is home to an impressive list of companies that regularly receive top rankings in national customer satisfaction surveys, including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Costco and REI. Leaders from organizations all over the world travel to the region to study the innovative service practices that these companies have pioneered.

The latest group to make the journey is from the Caribbean island of Barbados. Eighteen delegates from Barbadian business and government agencies were in town from June 27 through July 2, 2010 to visit Seattle-area companies and learn about their customer service policies and practices.

The organization behind the tour is called NISE, which stands for the National Initiative for Service Excellence. NISE is a unique partnership that brings representatives from government, labor and business together, with the mission of raising the level of service in Barbados to world class levels. It provides information and education to its members, and sponsors international benchmarking tours to visit the world’s best companies and learn about their approach to serving customers.

This is the third time that NISE has sent a group to visit with customer service leading companies in the Seattle area. “Seattle is home to numerous major organizations globally renowned for service excellence and business success,” says Kim Tudor, CEO of NISE. “These companies provide opportunity for our business leaders to gain hands-on learning and exposure to alternative ways of delivering excellent service, new organizational models and opportunities to exchange knowledge.” Among the Barbadian delegates attending this year were Senator Harcourt Husbands, Member of Cabinet and Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office, and Arni Walters, a Former Senator and Minister of Government and Executive Chairman of the Barbados Water Authority.

Over the week the Barbadian delegation visited Nordstrom, Starbucks, REI, the Pike Place Fish Company, Boeing and other service-leading organizations. They also stopped in at Umpqua Bank, an Oregon-based financial institution that is known for its hands-on customer service and branches that seem more like community centers than banks.

The delegates’ host for the tour was the Seattle-based firm The Cicerone Group, founded by customer experience experts Christine Frishholz and Peter Gurney. The Cicerone Group is a research, training and consulting company that helps organizations improve their service quality and create more distinctive service practices. Frishholz and Gurney have worked with organizations in the hospitality, banking, retail, telecommunications, travel and technology industries. Among the companies they have worked with are Starwood Hotels, Wells Fargo, Expedia, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Eddie Bauer.