Unfolding plans 148 – Know your customer

So, it’s day one of this year’s National Customer Service Week.  I’ve already told you what our plans are but like the best laid plans of mice and men I haven’t got off to the greatest of starts.  Perhaps that’s a little unfair.  I had planned to go down to Durham to meet up with Joanne from Business Durham and then Michelle from Visit County Durham.  They are literally next door to each other in Millennium Square.  At short notice I was required to attend an urgent meeting right bang in the middle of when I was in Durham so it meant I had to go up and down from County Hall twice.  It also started to pour but it did help with the number of steps I ended up doing today.

The idea behind today was to go and visit some customers and get a better understanding of what they do.  Of course we should be doing this all the time and in the main we do, but it is always good to have an excuse to get more involved with the people who pay our wages.  As it turned out I have learned a lot new about the two organisations yet I was surprised by how much I already had in my head.

Let’s get back to Business Durham then.  It was only formed in 2011 from the County Durham Development Corporation and the business development sections of the former district councils.  It is involved in three main areas.  Firstly it provides a portfolio of business premises, including offices, workshops and compounds that are available to rent out to the private sector and some third sector organisations.

Secondly it works to encourage business growth and innovation, by focussing on inward investment incentives and the technologies of the future.  The NetPark business centre near Sedgefield is one of their buildings.

Thirdly there is a business development team which gives business advice to the private sector such as business plans, or the third sector wanting to be less dependent upon grant money.

We talked about Future Business Magnets, a competition across secondary schools in year eight, supply chains, venture capital, pier to pier lending, long term thinking and JEREMIE (Joint European Resources for Micro to Medium Enterprises).  It’s a whole new world.

I went up and down to County Hall.  I got wet.

Visit County Durham is the management and marketing organisation for Durham County, at a national and international level.  They work with tourism providers, of which there are seven hundred and seventy seven partner businesses covering accommodation, attractions, events, food and drink.  They develop the brand for the city and County and are most interested in people who stay overnight when they visit.

The County has eighteen million visits per year but only about ten per cent stay overnight. There is a huge difference in what people spend though. Day visitors spend on average £19.70 while those overnight spend £150. You can see where their focus is.

Why do people come to Durham?  They come for heritage, cycling and walking, particularly around the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the coast.  Many people come to the city for a bit of VFR (visiting friends and relations).  We have some great products such as the world heritage site around the Cathedral, Beamish, Locomotion, Killhope, Bowes and Auckland Castle (where they are developing the Eleven Arches re-enactment event.  I was surprised to find out that Christian heritage or religious tourism is not a big driver but is a part of our overall story.

It’s been an interesting and informative day.  I can’t wait until tomorrow.

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