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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There Social media platforms have revolutionized the hotel industry. Popular sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube and Tumblr now account for 2.3 billion active users, and this phenomenon has forever transformed how businesses interact with consumers. Given that social media allows for two-way communication between businesses and consumers, the emphasis of any marketing strategy must be to positively and personally engage the customer, and there are innumerable ways to accomplish that goal. One popular strategy is to encourage hotel guests to create their own personal content - typically videos and photos -which can be shared via their personal social media networks, reaching a sizeable audience. In addition, geo-locational tags and brand hashtags can be embedded in such posts which allow them to be found via metadata searches, substantially enlarging their scope. Influencer marketing is another prevalent social media strategy. Some hotels are paying popular social media stars and bloggers to endorse their brand on social media platforms. These kinds of endorsements generally elicit a strong response because the influencers are perceived as being trustworthy by their followers, and because an influencer's followers are likely to share similar psychographic and demographic traits. Travel review sites have also become vitally important in reputation management. Travelers consistently use social media to express pleasure or frustration about their guest experiences, so it is essential that every review be attended to personally. Assuming the responsibility to address and correct customer service concerns quickly is a way to mitigate complaints and to build brand loyalty. Plus, whether reviews are favorable or unfavorable, they are a vital source of information to managers about a hotel's operational performance.  The February Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to effectively incorporate social media strategies into their businesses.