Last week I placed a call to a Maine-based national company. After listening to the automated operator’s instructions, I began my journey. I started by speaking my “commands,” but quickly learned that the computer couldn’t correctly understand my Maine accent.

Hoping to purchase a new service from this company, I next tried using the number pad on my phone.

When I was halfway through the lengthy sequence of instructions, I pressed a wrong number. That earned me the privilege of starting over. All of this effort because I wanted to purchase something. “Shouldn’t businesses be making it easier for us to purchase their products?” I thought to myself.

Still in the endless circle of computerized menus, I finally was given the option to press “4” to reach an operator. Success! A live person! The first item on his agenda? Asking for my Social Security number. Something I already had provided the computer prompts at the start of the sequence. Twice.

Now I’ve already invested 18 minutes in this phone call, but I’m about to be able to select the product, make my purchase and begin the service.

Or so I thought.

Apparently installation requires someone to be at home for a full day, which means I now need to invest more of my time into this process.

This business was missing the mark on the importance — and value — of customer service.

Regardless of industry, if you have customers, you’re in the customer-service business. With increasing access to information and alternative products and ways to purchase them, each customer is choosing where to do business based on the level of service they receive.

Many factors determine the economic growth of a region. Factors such as proximity and distance to market, regional income and access to raw product generally are determined by geography and global market needs. However, quality work force and customer service are factors and attributes that can be managed.

Maine is a place where excellence in customer service has the opportunity to be a brand which sets us apart from other places around the globe. We have the potential for our small businesses and Maine-based industries to be recognized for their high-quality service standards.

Maine already is showing its commitment to this goal through two recently announced programs aimed at helping our business people learn and improve their customer service skills.

“Welcome ME: Quality Customer Service Training for Maine Businesses” is a new easily accessible, Web-based customer service training program that is “interactive, combining videos filmed with Maine people in Maine locations, learning exercises that reinforce key concepts, and quizzes at the end of each module.” After passing a test centered on important learning points, participants are awarded a certificate of completion endorsed by the Maine Office of Tourism, Maine Woods Consortium and University of Maine; all collaborated to make this possible. The Welcome ME program is available now.

Another great opportunity to improve customer service skills is the chance to learn from a company recognized internationally for providing the highest quality service.


Disney’s world-class reputation for service is based not on “magic,” but on time-tested methods and sound business ideology. The Disney Institute program “Disney’s Approach to Quality Service” provides a framework for consistently exceeding the expectations of your customers. While it’s not magic, your customers just might think it is.

Last September, Eastern Maine Development Corp. (of which I serve as president and CEO) brought Disney Institute to Maine for the first time. It was a wonderful opportunity for members of our business community to learn from the best.

Disney Institute sessions are more than just one-day workshops. It’s an experience that changes the way you look at business, and EMDC is thrilled to be bringing their expertise back to the Bangor region this April. This session will feature a full day focused on providing the best in customer service. No matter what business you’re in, there is something to be learned from Disney. We all have customers — internal and external. The way we treat them is how our business will be known, and learning new methods to deliver great service is something we all can use.

We are fortunate to do business in a place with a growing commitment to helping its businesses operate at their very best. Providing high-quality customer service is in Maine’s best interest, and we should never stop trying to exceed our customers’ expectations. Whether you choose to take advantage of one of the opportunities mentioned here or find another way to make sure your business is doing its best and then doing even better for its customers, building our state’s reputation as putting customers first will have a far-reaching result, for each business and for those of us who call Maine home.

Michael W. Aube is president of Eastern Maine Development Corp. in Bangor. He is a past commissioner of Maine’s Department of Economic and Community Development and former state director of Maine USDA Rural Development.