Creative Strategies for Maintaining Training Quality without Busting the Budget

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | July 08, 2012

Since the publication early last year of The Butler is here to Stay, but will the Guests be Happy Driving Fords?, a noticeable trend has been observable in the hospitality industry toward the serious training of butlers and the establishment or improvement of butler programs or imparting superior butler service levels in guest-facing positions.

In the wake of mass affluents pulling back on their vacations and businesses also restricting budgets to deal with increased costs of business travel, the tourist industry has had to be even more creative in providing perceived value for money to attract guests in an environment where facilities and pricing do not differ materially within any one category—all while staying within their own restricted budgets.

With trainers similarly concerned with providing what the industry needs, hotels and even cruise lines have found a way to meet in the middle where all can win, from owner to investor, guest to management, butler to training company. It is this spirit of cooperation, rather than each party being totally intent on securing an advantage, that underlies or characterizes the smartness being applied.

Shared Training
Assuming a full and proper curriculum is offered, inclusive of provision of SOPs and classroom and en-suite hands-on training and apprenticeship, and the establishment where needed of an efficiently run department, then trainers have to be brought in who actually have worked as butlers in private estates and preferably also hotels, and know how to pass on their wisdom and skills effectively to trainees from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

This then involves travel costs, because no butler training operations have an office in every country or state. These travel costs are reduced by the training company and/or hotel reaching out to hotels and resorts in nearby cities, states, or countries (or even the same city) to share in the travel costs by scheduling training sequentially. Resorts and hotels tend to be more comfortable knowing that the partners are in a neighboring country rather than the hotel next door, but this has not prevented competitors from collaborating to their mutual advantage in our experience.

The main difficulties are a) simply pushing through the various administrative details needed to obtain approvals and funding in a timely fashion from different hotels and their hierarchies, and b) then coordinating scheduling. The former just requires someone excited about the project and staying on top of requests for a rapid confirmation. The latter is not so difficult, as regions tend to have the same low seasons when training would be arranged normally.

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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.