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Teach Employees Behaviors That Work

I recently conducted a research project that involved interviewing companies recognized for their passionate commitment to hospitality: Walt Disney World Resort, Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Union Square Hospitality Group, The Pierre Hotel, and the Four Seasons Hotel, all in New York City. The representatives of each company provided a wealth of information. Walt Disney World's goal is "to make every guest feel special." Union Square Hospitality Group's philosophy is: "Hospitality occurs when the person receiving it believes in their heart that the provider is on their side." The Pierre Hotel believes in the Golden Rule: Treat others as you would like to be treated. The Four Seasons Hotel incorporates the acronym SERVICE. (Smile, Eye contact, Recognition, Voice positive, Informative, Cleans, Everyone). All interviewees emphasized the importance of an effective hiring process followed by a well-executed, maintainable training program, as well as the importance of continuous training by qualified trainers. Union Square Hospitality Group's belief is that an employee's emotional skills — intelligence, curiosity, a strong work ethic, kind disposition, empathy, and a caring personality — are more important than their technical skills, and can be identified during the interview process. Walt Disney World Resort employs professional recruiters. Their new employees, called "Cast Members," undergo extensive training prior to assuming their new positions.

The key to great service is within your grasp.

What do these organizations have that sets them apart in terms of service? My research focused on the non-technical skills that these companies have incorporated that enable them to provide a truly memorable hospitality experience. From the results, I created a "Hospitality Skills Profile Model" that can easily be adapted and customized to meet the needs of any restaurant, foodservice organization, or hospitality business and expanded once the basic skills have been mastered and consistently demonstrated.

While hiring people with excellent emotional skills is the first step toward achieving superior customer service that creates customers for life, they also need tools with which to make every guest and employee truly feel special. Training employees to master these five core hospitality skills will help you to reach that objective:

Make Eye Contact with a Smile:
Train employees to make eye contact with guests and employees. Those who actually make eye contact should be able to describe the color of the other person's eyes. Have them follow eye contact with a genuine smile.

Speak First, Speak Last: In any guest encounter, the employee should greet the guest first, and bid them farewell last. This should happen at all times in every location within your facility. Train employees to initiate conversation.

Be Aware of Hospitality Zones: Teach employees that wherever they are, they always stand within a five-foot-diameter Hospitality Zone. When a guest enters that zone, the employee is to make eye contact with a smile and immediately initiate conversation.

Location, Location, Location: Every employee, regardless of his or her location within the facility, is responsible for insuring that the immediate area is clean.

Body Language Speaks: Train employees to present themselves with an enthusiastic, active posture, facing guests with a straight back, arms at their sides, making eye contact and smiling. Teach them to take an active, genuine interest in serving every guest.

How can you insure that hospitality skills, once mastered, are consistently practiced throughout your organization? Consider implementing these six tasks:

  • Establish ongoing training in hospitality skills
  • Train new employees in hospitality skills before they assume their positions.
  • Write hospitality skills into every job description.
  • Continually add new behaviors as employees consistently practice previous ones.
  • Periodically test employees to confirm that hospitality skills are being practiced.
  • Reward and recognize success.

By hiring people with superior emotional skills, training them in hospitality skills, and supporting them with an environment that values and rewards hospitable service, you're on your way to becoming the kind of place guests want to come back to.

My special thanks to those who participated in this study.

Patrick Bottiglieri, Ph.D., CHA, CHE is an assistant professor of management studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. E-mail [email protected].

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