How do You Improve Hospitality in Your Town?

Train Everybody

By Simon Hudson Endowed Chair in Tourism & 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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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.