Court Customers & Exceed Expectations

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These two people are my parents. Remarkably, they have a wonderful marriage despite working together every day for the last 36 years! Their roles are definitive in both work life and home life. Dad handles logistics and operations and Mum fine tunes the intricate details between the customer and the operation. Neither is as good without the other – personally or professionally. Between the two, they make a beautiful whole. They are so attached that Dad has often said to me, “If your mother ever leaves me, I’m going with her!”

Through the years, they have made entrepreneurship look easy. Every business they have operated has been very successful. Their current venture began twelve years ago establishing an eco-kayaking company named ‘Antigua Paddles.’ With humble beginnings ‘Paddles’ grew from a few kayaks and a boat to a thriving business working with 90% of the major cruise lines that visit the island. Their tour is regarded by many as one of the best tours in the Caribbean.

The island of Antigua is a literal ‘dot’ on the map – a tiny 108 square miles (12 miles long and 9 miles wide) with no commercial industry or high rise buildings. Visualize a simple, tropical island with white sand beaches and crystal clear water and you’ve got the right image. Tourism is the dominant industry and the country relies upon the daily visits of cruise ships during the months of November through April to keep the economy moving.

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Visitors have an abundance of choice with more than 65 different tours on offer, so it’s highly competitive. How does a literal ‘mom and pop’ stand out amongst the crowd with limited funding for advertising? The answer is they have allowed their customers to become the marketing arm for their business.

Capitalizing on the Expected and the Unexpected

My parents have built their business around exceeding expectations. Everyone has preconceived ideas of how things should be. What makes their tour stand out is they add an element of the unexpected and do it effortlessly. Their business has grown because guests share their experiences via TripAdvisor and other online resources about their time with my family.  Here’s their recipe for success that can be applied to any business, anywhere.


Poor service is so rampant it allows my family to separate themselves from the competition immediately. Service is established from the moment guests arrive. The tour never begins on the kayaks; it begins when the bus pulls up in the parking lot. My mother greets guests with a smile and a warm “Welcome to Paddles.” The walk from the parking lot to the boats winds through a lush garden allowing guests to feel at ease after having been transported from a wrenching, cross-island bus ride to a place that is tranquil and well-manicured.

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Once guests begin their three hour tour, attention to detail rules. Without going into every movement of the tour, two consistencies exist throughout:

1. CLEANLINESS – Everything is clean! Boats, life jackets, kayaks and especially bathrooms. ESPECIALLY BATHROOMS. When receiving feedback, it is not uncommon for people to mention that the bathrooms are cleaner than anyone else’s used throughout the Caribbean. Plus One for the parents!

2. DETAIL - No detail is left without examination. Whenever there is interaction with guests, attention to detail is examined. The litmus test is “If I were the customer, what would I like to see / hear?”


My  parents have honed in on the “je ne sais quoi”… the finer details . Examine the feedback from TripAdvisor and you’re more apt to read about the chilled face towels presented at the conclusion of the tour, or the foot bowls with flower petals or the homemade banana bread and tours of the garden. This feedback is mentioned more often than the amazing wildlife seen while paddling and snorkeling in azure waters that leave people in awe. People connect with personal touch and my parents go out of their way to ensure that everyone feels as if they’ve had a day out with our family.


There is no better marketing than relationships. We all wish to be inspired and to feel connected. Like a new relationship, court your customers, take a little extra time to know them and do all you can to exceed their expectations. They’ll fall in love with your business and will support you for years to come.

About James

James La Barrie is passionate about marketing and changing a company's service culture. Originally from the Caribbean island of Antigua, James melds his approach of marketing and delivering elite service together as one. James has injected his 'service marketing' approach throughout his career to transform companies from good to great.