How do You Improve Hospitality in Your Town?

Train Everybody

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism and Hospitality, University of South Carolina | April 09, 2017

When guest satisfaction scores started to slip in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, the town made an unprecedented move by offering customer service training to every single resident in town. The program, initially involving four four-hour sessions over the space of a month, taught the very latest in customer service culture using many Disney examples of ‘going the extra mile.’ This article takes a closer look at this initiative and focuses on how service providers in Steamboat both benefited from, and built on this initiative to exceed guest expectations.

It’s most unusual for a town to train the whole community in customer service techniques. But this is exactly what Steamboat Springs, Colorado decided to do in 2014.

The innovative plan was hatched by management consultant, Ed Eppley in conjunction with the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and also the Steamboat Ski and Resort Company (SSRC). Pivotal in planning and implementation were Jim Clark, Executive Director of the Chamber, and Rob Perlman, Senior VP of Sales & Marketing for SSRC.

Steamboat has long been known for its western, family-friendly atmosphere, so focusing on service isn’t new, according to Perlman. “The new part is how we approach service,” he says. “The Service Excellence program at Steamboat is really a derivative of a sales conversion initiative through our call center operations at Steamboat Central Reservations that we started back in 2010. This whole thing began as an exercise to convert more sales leads into Steamboat vacations. During that process, we really moved the needle with a consultative selling style that connected with customers in way that isn’t possible through traditional product sales. This approach of building relationships with our guests quickly spread to other departments and Service Excellence was born.”

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Creekside Cafe, Steamboat Springs (Courtesy of Creekside Cafe)

According to Eppley, owner of Ohio-based company, ProspeX at the time, it was all about exceeding customers’ expectations. The impetus for the dramatic move came after the town of Steamboat Springs witnessed the resort achieve two years of industry leading guest service results from their Service Excellence program while comparing those results with the town’s visitor survey in 2013 which revealed a significant decrease in responders saying they would recommend Steamboat Springs to friends and colleagues. The town’s survey showed a seven-point drop from a previous 2010 study.

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Coming up in April 2018...

Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.