Customers Are King at Gateway Travel Plaza


At the family-owned Gateway Travel Plaza in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, the No. 1 priority is treating customers right. That emphasis starts at the top with the Bittner family—the location’s owners—and trickles down throughout the organization reaching every employee.

The staff members at Gateway Travel Plaza in Breezewood, Pennsylvania, aren’t just selling items. They’re selling service. Take a smartphone. If you buy a smartphone in the Radio Shack at Gateway Travel Plaza, the manager will help you set it up. And then if you can’t figure out how to use the phone, bring it to Assistant General Manager Danielle Berskresser. She has been known to sit down with a customer in her office and spend ten minutes showing him how to use it. If that cell phone runs out of minutes and you need to call dispatch for another load, they’ll probably let you use a phone as well. In other words, the customers at Gateway Travel Plaza are treated very well.

“Our specialty is customer service. It isn’t hard to give and it is free. It doesn’t really matter who comes through the door. It is all about the bottom line of they need help and we’ll do it even if it is outside our scope,” Berkstresser said.

Customer service may be free, but it takes hard work, good training and careful dedication to excellence. Berkstresser shared several tips with Stop Watch on how to excel at customer service.

Hire the Right Employees and Train Them Well
Customer service starts with the hiring process. “We hire people with good values and morals and then we train them well and treat them like family,” Berkstresser said, adding that the location seeks out new hires that have good social skills. “You want to make sure they are easy to talk to. You can’t really teach that. Your associates are the most important part of your business. They talk to everyone that comes through.”

Once hired, the Bittners create a culture of excellent customer service by providing customer service training, such as the FiSH! Training. They also have leadership classes so that everyone is on the same page and has the same major goals.

There is also a family atmosphere at the location. “We have picnics at our house where we include everyone and their family. I go down and get everyone’s lunch most days. We have a lot of fun time while we work. You have to be here eight hours, have fun. If we are happy, our customers are happy,” Berkstresser said.

Get Personal 
At Gateway Travel Plaza, they put a premium on knowing their customers and having their customers know them. To do this, they go above and

beyond and think outside of the box. “We always find a way to get them what they need. Whenever possible we do things that you normally wouldn’t do. For example, we once cut a hole in the floor of a trailer, we’ve redone wiring on a trailer, and even built a cone on the back of trailer so the driver could keep going,” Berkstresser said.

They also take time to know their customer on a personal level. Berkstesser’s personal trick is to wear pink tennis shoes. “It really is just a conversation piece to get people’s attention, but it works,” she said, adding that she also pays attention to any sports teams customers are wearing on their clothes and comments on it.

To further let customers know they care, staff in the shop always make sure customers know who is working on their truck and that the employee knows whose truck they are working on.

Meet Your Customers Where They Are
To provide the best service, Gateway Travel Plaza makes sure it knows what their customers really need. “Everyone is different and so you really have to listen. There is a huge variety of drivers. It is sometimes hard to find the right path to what they need,” Berkstresser said.

“Our thing is we deal with everyone,” said Berkstresser. “From cars to trucks to U-Hauls to just about anything, if we can we will repair it. It doesn’t matter who comes through the door, whoever they are, it is all about the bottom line. If we can help them, we will do it. The staff at the front of the line, they deal with it all.”

Although it can be difficult, Berkstresser has several tips for truly understanding customers. For example, if there is a language barrier, they’ve learned to draw pictures to help bridge the language gap. She suggested having employees match your clientele. After seeing an increase in female drivers, they added two more females at the parts desk.

They also look at their shop sales to see if certain specialty parts are being ordered frequently. “We take special orders. If have to we go get things repeatedly, we start to just them order so we’ll have them,” said Berkstresser.

Put Employees in Control 
Lastly, Berkstresser said the location has created an atmosphere of empowerment among its employees. “We have such a good staff who have been here a long time. They have the ability to help the customer. If something arises, there is no dollar amount set or specific plan, so everyone can take of issues quickly.” She said this works because “the faster you take care of someone, the easier it is to handle it.”

Photo credit: Amy Toner/NATSO

Amy Toner's photo

Amy Toner

Toner markets NATSO products, services and meetings. She is the content editor of NATSO's core websites, Stop Watch magazine and Highway Business Matters biweekly articles. In addition, she provides creative services across all departments. Toner joined NATSO in 2006. Prior to joining the association, she served as director of membership services at an association for ambulatory surgery centers. Toner lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and son. More
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