Iowa Welcome Center Responds to Concerns

On Tuesday, Chicago Public Radio’s Gianofer Fields reported from her LH trip that her reception at the Harrison County Historical Village and Iowa Welcome Center along the Lincoln Highway in western Iowa was not very welcoming. She has even subtitled that day’s entry, “What happens when the welcoming center isn’t so welcoming?”:

FIELDS: Tell me about this place that we are standing in.
HEIM [center employee]: Well, this is the welcome center that we are standing in.

I suppose that I should have taken that massive silence as a sign that the welcome center lady wasn’t in the mood for company. When I saw the old cabin perched on a small hill by the highway; I thought it had, “Stop here roadside attraction,” written all over it. So I did in hopes of learning more about it.

HEIM: Well, it has a wealth of information and antiques in it and it takes about an hour to go through, self guided usually.

Did I just get the bums rush? Clearly, I am on my own.

Above: Half the operational expenses for the village/welcome center are covered by sales in the Iowa Products Store and village admission fees.

I asked center coordinator Kathy Dirks about the two things that seemed to bother Ms. Fields—the lack of enthusiasm and the self-guided tour. Here is her response:

I wish I would have been here and that I could be here everyday to guarantee every person’s experience that steps through our front door would be stellar and involve the highest level of customer service. Unfortunately, it’s not humanly possible because we are open 361 days a year. So on many weekends and other days when I’m unable to be here due to meetings, vacations, etc., we pay some of our volunteers to man the facility. Almost all are elderly because the hours are limited and the pay low due to our limited budget. (My opinion would be almost all of them would be totally intimidated by a surprise microphone interview as well.)…

Not to make any excuses for what happened because there are none, but it can also be somewhat of a challenge to work at this particular facility because of the volume of knowledge the volunteers/workers are expected to know about Iowa – from everything tourism-related, to agriculture, to state laws, to about anything else that could cross your mind. I’ve worked here 13 years and still get questions I’ve never been asked before. I would have hoped though that everyone working here could have answered questions about this facility. I see much more intensive training needs to happen.

Our goal at the Harrison County Historical Village and Welcome Center has always been to supply the best service possible. I believe that on many occasions we do succeed in achieving that goal based on comments from customers and the amount of repeat business we receive. I absolutely hate when it doesn’t happen. Unfortunately, I can’t repeat Gianofer Fields experience here and make everything perfect. I can only learn from it and do whatever possible so it isn’t repeated….

We only offer self-guided tours on a regular basis and state that in our brochure. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough business, nor large enough income, to offer guided tours on a regular basis. The facility sits on 17 acres and the museum is in five different buildings covering about 4 1/2 acres. On many days, we only have one person that works the entire facility – beginning people on museum tours, answering welcome center questions, waiting on people in the gift shop, sweeping the floor, etc. If I had been here by myself, I would not have been able to give Gianofer Fields a guided tour of the museum either without locking the door to the welcome center/gift shop.

It’s obvious Ms. Dirks cares an awful lot about customer satisfaction while struggling with limited staff and resources. And Ms. Fields (who has not responded to my emails, though the station’s Director of Communications did one time) would probably understand these points too if she had known or been told in a more positive manner. Maybe Ms. Fields can return some day and give us all an update.

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2 Responses to “Iowa Welcome Center Responds to Concerns”

  1. RoadDog Says:

    Ms. Fields was definitely there on a bad day. When my wife and I visited several years ago, the lady couldn’t have been more helpful and nice.

    Just like anywhere, you have your good and bad days. Definitely a stop anytime we’re out that way.

  2. DynoDave Says:

    A disappointing reception to a traveler who has traveled any distance to see the place, no doubt.

    Still, from Ms. Fields ill-planned trip that appears to have missed many of the highlights of the road, to “popping up” to interview the near-volunteer staff at the Iowa welcome center, I’d say she needs to work on her reporting skills. What happened to planning a trip? If you expect to get detailed, informed interviews, wouldn’t you contact those you plan to interview, and make some prior arrangements? If you are going to head out on the road to report on what’s up, and your series of articles relies on finding interesting things and speaking to interesting people, wouldn’t you try to organize your travels and co-ordinate your interviews a little better? I suppose there a “realism” to just showing up, but would the reader have been better served by the info above, or by a planned interview with Ms. Dirks? I would think it is the latter.

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