“MOMENTS OF MAGIC” WERE ON OFFER in both the social and business programmes at the SPVSVPMA congress.
After the talented illusionist and RCVS staff member Megan KnowlesBacon performed her tricks at the congress cabaret, a different audience was shown how simple acts of kindness can transform a casual visitor into a loyal client.
Tracy Israel, learning and development manager at the Celtic Manor resort, explained how SPVS and VPMA members can learn from a large employer in the hospitality industry about the selection and training of staff. Her colleagues at the hotel complex aimed to provide a five-star service for all visitors to the resort, she said. So the goal was to employ staff who would create “moments of magic”, those little things that make the difference between adequate and excellent service, and make customers feel valued.
Mrs Israel used the example of a waiter serving breakfast who engaged a couple of guests in conversation. When he found that they were marking their wedding anniversary, he brought two free glasses of Bucks Fizz to their table to help them celebrate. Such gestures do not cost much in time, effort or resources but would mean a great deal to those people, she said.
The secret was to employ staff with the right attitude towards working in the service sector. That attitude was the difference between the people who will carry out a given task because they have to do it – and those who will do so because they want to.
“It is about hiring for attitude and then training for skills. If you try to do it the other way around then you are creating a lot more work for yourself,” she said.
She asked her audience to list the factors that will determine the attitude of a job applicant and what clues may be apparent at interview that they have the right one. They offered a wide range of possible influences, age, education, prior experience and nationality, etc. She regretted that it was often easier to find a good work ethic in those born outside the UK.
Asked to identify possible clues that a candidate will show the right attitude if given the job, the audience suggested an equally wide range of possibilities. These included attention to detail in preparing a CV, timeliness, a ready smile, good body language and a curiosity about the job. Mrs Israel noted that it was remarkable how often candidates applying for a job in food preparation turned up for the interview with dirty nails and a slovenly appearance.
She noted, however, that outward clues to the person’s suitability or unsuitability will not always be that obvious. “On occasions, we do have to be a little like detectives in weighing up the evidence and we don’t always get it right,” she said.
Asked about the value of psychometric tests in providing objective evidence on the applicant’s suitability, she agreed that it was unsatisfactory to rely on subjective impressions that could introduce biases reflecting the interviewer’s own attitude and experience. However, it was possible to look at factors like the amount of preparation made for the interview to establish a fair basis for comparing different candidates, she said.
In the hotel business, the management go to considerable lengths to find out what customers feel about the service they receive. Staff are asked to encourage guests to provide feedback on the hotel website and other channels. “We tell them, we want you to tell us what it is we are doing well so that we can keep on doing it.”
The hotel also subscribes to a web analytics service called Review Pro, which scours the internet and social media for comments from guests that will reveal areas where further work may be needed in improving the service.
In the hotel and hospitality trade, as in any business, the management will analyse the success of its services on the basis of both the total demand (i.e. room occupancy statistics) and the numbers of customers who are sufficiently satisfied to provide return business.
Mrs Israel acknowledged that sometimes there may be tensions between these two objectives. It may be more difficult for staff to provide those “moments of magic” when the hotel is busy and running at full capacity.
At Celtic Manor, they aim to achieve room occupancy targets of at least 90% over the course of the year, she said. “Ideally, we would like 90% of those guests to be people who have been here before.
“We all know that marketing to attract new clients is very expensive so if we can create the loyalty that brings customers back, then it is much cheaper for us in the long run.”