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Three Sanibel businesses win Lee County’s E-Awards for outstanding service

By Staff | Sep 14, 2016

Park ranger Volunteer Coordinator Jeff Combs of “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge accepts Ginny and Ken Kopperl’s award since they could not make it to the ceremony. PHOTO PROVIDED

Three Sanibel businesses won the Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards on Sept. 1 at the Sanibel Harbour Resort & Spa in Fort Myers.

The 16th annual E-Awards are a program of the Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau. The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated excellent service satisfaction, leadership, work ethic, job knowledge, performance skills, familiarity with the destination and assistance during an emergency.

The winners for this year includes Maria “Pathy” Segura of East End Deli who was the restaurant category winner. Segura was recognized after tracking down customers who forgot their sandwiches at the deli.

“I was very happy and honored to receive the award, I was surprised and did not expect it” said Pathy Segura. “The customers are always so nice and we like to reflect their joy with being here on Sanibel in our customer service. We take a lot of pride at the East End Deli / Sanibel Oasis Cafe in our Cuban sandwich and I wanted to make sure that nice couple was able to enjoy it while here on our island paradise. I want to thank them for writing in, it was very nice!”

Ginny and Ken Kopperl of “Ding” Darling won the attractions category. Visitors raved about their deep knowledge of the environment. One visitor even thanked them for doing a private tour with their family and teaching their 4-year-old about bugs, trees and plants.

Diana Duhaney who works at Inns of Sanibel, holds her award. PHOTO PROVIDED

“The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is honored to receive the award for best customer service in the attraction category this year. Ken and Ginny Kopperl received the award after receiving multiple nominations from visitors. They work with environmental education and interpretation here at the refuge during our Winter season. Since 2013, they have each contributed over 2,000 hours of their time volunteering at the refuge. The Kopperl’s have a love for nature that inspires our visitors to get outside and enjoy the natural world. Visitors commented on how inspiring they were even at just showing them insects on a rainy day. Congratulations to the Kopperl’s for a job well done,” said Jeff Combs, volunteer coordinator at “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge.

Diana Duhaney, who works at the Inns of Sanibel, won the accommodations category. Duhaney took care of a customer who sustained an injury at a local shopping center. During the duration of her stay at the hotel, Duhaney helped the woman put her clothes out, prepared her bathroom each night so she could shower, prayed with her, talked with her when she was upset, wiped away her tears, put Bandaids on her fingers, propped up her broken leg, brought her ice and even drove her to the airport so she could return home.

“I was doing it from my heart. I know that she was a guest but I treated her like my family,” Duhaney said.

The honorable mentions for the award were Tim Stone of Billy’s Rentals (attractions category) and Roger Hartley of Bailey’s General Store (other services/businesses).

For the 2016 awards, Visitors from around the world submitted a record-breaking 943 nominations, giving high praise to 494 local employees who provided outstanding customer service.

Maria "Pathy" Segura of East End Deli, accepts her award. PHOTO PROVIDED

The Elaine McLaughlin Outstanding Hospitality Service Awards were introduced in 2000. The brainchild of former VCB executive director, D.T. Minich, who wanted to acknowledge the incredible customer service provided by tourism professionals throughout Lee County.

“The VCB had started the ‘Guests First Customer Service Training Program’ the year before and he wanted to take the next step by recognizing customer service professionals for their extraordinary outreach to visitors. Customer service excellence was a mantra espoused by Elaine McLaughlin, who preceded D.T. as executive director. She knew a cornerstone of building repeat and new business was to provide exemplary customer service to guests. Thus the awards were named after her,” said Judith Durant, director of visitor services at the Lee County Visitor & Convention Center.

Durant says that taking care of people is an art not a duty. She encourages the winners to keep up the exceptional work.

“You are part of an elite group that knows what it means to be customer service super stars. Our visitors are here to enjoy their time in our beautiful destination. They are not concerned about borders, but are interested in experiencing their vacation the way they wish to. Continue to give them only your best customer service, anticipate and fulfill their expectations before they even know what they are, make their dreams come true. They will come back because of you and how you make them feel. That’s exceptional service,” Durant said.