The Butler is Here to Stay, But Will the Guests be Happy Driving Fords?

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | April 03, 2011

The last project we were asked to bid on in Asia was to train 100 butlers at a time for 3 hours each. Anything related to understanding what a butler is, how he thinks, acts, his persona, goes right over the heads of those inquiring, who can only think in terms of their employees learning rote procedures. The essence of the butler is glossed over, missed, rejected in the drive to offer butler service in name alone.

Having written the book on hotel butlers that has been used to create many butler departments around the world, one has to wonder if the whole concept of the hotel butler has been a failed experiment, a mistake, simply unleashing a Pandora’s box of tired knock-offs—like the inferior and short-lived knock-offs that pour out of Asia, displacing Western manufacturers and offering consumers choices between cheap knock-offs; or is it a work in progress that necessarily involves a clash of cultures in the face of which, a calm insistence on standards being met will win the day, eventually?

One hopes the latter, but the economic pressures on hotels to train their staff without an adequate budget and of butler trainers to take any work means there are precious few troops fighting on the side of quality. When I first began training hotel staffs as butlers, the program was one month long with follow-up visits. Keep this in mind as you read the next few paragraphs.

The pressure to institute butler service pushes up against the lack of budget and results in the solution to take the training in-house and fudge the program, much in the same way that some hotels are looking for any green certification to look green, rather than institute an honest-to-goodness program that will cost some money upfront to save a lot in the long run and reduce the ecological footprint of their facility. One famous chain, for instance, was given three of the Hotel Butler books as a first step in engaging the Institute’s training services, and from those created its own program, which ended up being a 2-3 Butler rating on a scale of 0-5. A start, to be sure, but hardly doing justice either to the full range of services a butler can provide in a hotel, nor to the guests, nor to the stature of the brand.

The same DIY impulse can be seen in the hotel that justified to the monetary powers-that-be the bringing in of an Institute trainer on the basis that representatives from other locations in its chain could also attend and then demand the trainer’s materials so they could (as it finally came out) train others as butlers back at their hotels. Yet the training had been designed as adequate for the half-dozen butlers from the host hotel, and the addition of a further 14 students stretched the trainer sufficiently thin that it was hard to provide the needed practical training for any of the students, let alone train them to train others.

In another example, a government training agency made permission for the Institute to provide training to a large hotel contingent upon its own trainers sitting in and cribbing the materials verbatim—while not engaging in any of the practical training—with the expectation that they be able to offer the course themselves as the sole supplier to other hotels in the country.

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Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.