|Panelists at the Caribbean Tourism Summit & Outlook Seminar discussed the connection between investing in employees and guest value.
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica—To hotel guests, value received comes in two forms: the physical product and the customer service aspect.
While the physical product is something that can be maintained by putting up capital, training employees to consistently deliver exceptional service is more difficult to control, according to panelists speaking at the Caribbean Tourism Summit & Outlook Seminar.
This consistent delivery of guest service has to be planned, said Bill Clegg, regional VP of brand performances and programs for Choice Hotels International. “It cannot be something that is left to the imagination,” he said.
In an age where guests have access to social media, which allows them to share negative experiences with the rest of the world in a matter of seconds, customer service must be at a tip-top level, Clegg said.
“Our guests are world travelers who have experienced the best elsewhere,” he said. This makes it imperative that Caribbean hoteliers match that service.
If the guest is a business traveler who travels all over the world on someone else’s dollar, and then goes to the Caribbean on vacation on their own dime, it is more important to them that service be good, he said.
Training, by itself, is not the solution to the challenge, according to Mirta Rivera, regional HR director for Hilton Worldwide.
Hilton, however, has developed a program making each employee responsible for his or her own personal development within the company, Rivera said.
Hilton University is an online tool available 24 hours a day, seven days a week that team members can use to study and learn about working for Hilton. “We are not limiting them to learn and to grow only while they are working with us,” she said.
The ability to connect people through different time zones and locations via webinars has been beneficial for employees, Rivera said.
“Once we foster that feeling of growing and that feeling of wanting to be better at what they want to do, (we provide them with) e-courses developed in partnership with Harvard and Cornell,” she said.
Showing employees that management genuinely cares about their personal development is crucial, Rivera said. “The ability the employee has to go out in the community and talk about how you are as an employer will impact the kind of people you attract in the future,” she said.
Mentoring programs are one way to do that, she said, adding: “You don’t need an iPad to do that. You just need face-to-face, person-to-person contact.”
Investing in employees
Managers often forget to let employees know exactly what is expected of them as well as what guests have seen in marketing materials, said Hugh Riley, secretary general and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Many times employees are in the dark about what is being advertised, and are clueless when guests arrive asking about certain promotions. It is the manager’s job to keep them informed, Riley said.
When employees do well, they need to be rewarded with genuine compliments. However, if an employee happens to make a mistake, the matter should not be handled in front of guests, he said.
“It’s so shocking to see that some staffs are actually admonished in the presence of guests. What is more crass than that?” he said.
By creating programs and opportunities that will take people out of their silos, employees will understand more about how the world works, Riley said.
One way to do this is by participating in hotel exchange programs. “Let (employees) find out about where guests are coming from. It is shameful … not to know where our guests are from,” he said.
“Let your staff understand that you are doing more than just training, you are developing them into better human beings,” he said.