By CAPT Bill Diehl, GHPB President
Delivering an exceptional customer experience is the mainstay of any successful venture. It doesn’t matter what the goal may be – a school fundraiser, opening a franchise, or moving the goods through our ports – customer satisfaction will be the largest factor in determining the future of our endeavors. A satisfied customer will return; an unhappy one will go elsewhere.
Customer satisfaction is so imperative that it begs the question: how far will we go to ensure customer need is met? In 1935, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) initiated the Pack Horse Library Project, which delivered books to remote regions in the Appalachian Mountains. Carried out predominantly by women, the program delivered books to homes and small schoolhouses in rural Kentucky.
The “book women” received $28 a month from the WPA and had to provide their own animal. Often, they were the only wage-earner in the family. Routes covered 100 to 120 miles per week across rugged terrain. They distributed books, provided reading lessons, and frequently brought new ideas into isolated areas. With patience, the persevering librarians managed to conquer the suspicions many locals harbored toward newcomers and establish a close rapport with residents. Their dedication to meeting the needs of their assigned communities won over families so much that some people would not consider living anywhere that lacked a pack horse library.
Such a reaction shows the pack horse librarians met the need and served the customer. Those valiant librarians were determined to find a way to make reading accessible to the remotest areas. In winter their feet would sometimes freeze in the stirrups, but they pushed on despite the hardships. They were willing to go the distance to deliver their customers an exceptional experience.
That kind of dedication and visionary attitude in serving customers is one we want to keep embracing in the port region. The history of building commerce along our waterway is filled with stories of remarkable people who went the extra mile to meet customer needs. It has kept customers coming back to a port 50 miles inland for more than 100 years.
Through the fall, the Port Bureau will be working on a strategic plan. One of our core drivers is to ensure that we are providing the right services to our membership. Whether it’s hosting networking opportunities or providing quality data for your business decisions, we want to deliver an exceptional member experience.
Our goal is to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure the direction of the Port Bureau is responding to member priorities in a changing world. Part of this effort will include hearing from you. We are sending out a survey to get your feedback on how you’d like to see the Port Bureau align resources and actions in serving the maritime community for the next three to ten years. We are eager for your input and look forward to what you have to say.
The pack horses are long gone, but Kentucky’s public libraries now have the largest bookmobile service in the nation serving their rural customers. When needed, the bookmobile librarians connect residents in remote areas to broadband through the bookmobile’s hotspot. They are still delivering an exceptional customer experience – hopefully minus the frozen feet! That’s exactly how we view serving you. Methodologies may change, but we plan for our service to you to be better than ever in the years to come.
About the Author
CAPT Bill Diehl, USCG (Ret.), P.E. is president of the Greater Houston Port Bureau. Utilizing his 30+ years of marine safety and port operations experience, he guides the Port Bureau in bringing members and community partners together for cooperation and collaboration to improve and advance the port region.