The Training Train: Key points in providing exceptional service training experience for hotel employees

ALL ABOARD! Interviews are complete. New employees are hired. Orientations are scheduled. Training is about to begin. How does your organization view and define the training experience before it takes place or before it leaves the station? Who are your lead engines and how will they fuel the service attitudes and disposition that will be a lasting foundation for new employees? What criteria and guidelines should be used for trainers and those who teach the examples that will be translated into real results for guests?

Training employees can be a whole service excellence experience before training is even implemented. Trainers are role models who not only instruct service skills but instill service attitudes. Most trainers deliver procedural information that is critical to job
success and show employees exactly how to perform their jobs but how many view the training function as an opportunity to also create a service excellence experience for those same employees?

How employees are treated is how they will in turn treat their guests or customers. Training, beginning from orientation, is a tremendous opportunity for employers to rev up the engines for service success. Taking time to understand, define and map out what a guest experience is and how each employee plays a critical role in defining that experience for each guest is powerful. And, employees will watch how guests respond as they are going through the training. Effective role models are effective trainers, and in turn, leaders.

I’ll never forget visiting a retail store in a major hospitality venue and encountering a training session in progress. I was there as a customer, getting ready to make a significant purchase, and was actually moved aside to make room for the training group. As the new trainees became a priority, I, the guest, was “in the way” of the training session. It appeared that my interest and questions were interruptive to the training session and I was moved aside. A wall was created between these “on the job” observers and a real, live guest. The trainer of the group led this charge and was the role model of guest insignificance. She was intent on showing the group how to do their jobs and through her own example, did not show appreciation for a guest, ready to make a purchase. As a trainer, she was intent on what she needed to accomplish, with or without the guests who make the business happen. What lesson did that teach to these new team members? These new recruits may have felt temporarily important as the priority of the day but they were subconsciously learning that the guest is insignificant to the job they needed to perform. They should have been learning that the guest IS the key to the success of their job and how they manage the experience for the guest will greatly impact the results.

It all starts with defining the Guest Experience. What does any hotel or hospitality organization want guests to experience when visiting their property or venue or when using their services? Once the desired guest experience is defined, management should map out how personnel in each role can positively impact that guest experience. This should be incorporated into each job description, before candidates are even considered. A service mindset and expectation should be introduced in the interview to gage a potential employee’s effectiveness in service delivery. This requires that those doing the interviews reflect that same service mindset and understanding. Just talking about it does not do the trick. An interviewer or human resources executive must fully understand what the guest experience is all about and be able to “walk the talk” before anyone is ever hired.

Once hired, the orientation of employees will continue to set the stage of how they will eventually perform “on stage.” Disney recognizes the power and value of the orientation. They go above and beyond to inspire and excite employees about the huge opportunity they will have to please guests through their roles. The orientation team motivates new employees and creates a fantastic experience for them before they even go “on stage.” They treat new recruits like they would soon be treating guests. They instilled the spirit of the job by making each candidate feel special each step of the hiring process. By the time, employees do go to work or “on stage” in Disney language, they are so ready, so motivated, so enthusiastic and so service-oriented. Delivering anything less than exceptional service was not an option as that is how the entire training was conducted. Are those that do orientations mechanical and perfunctory in their actions or do they truly embody what new employees will be expected to deliver? Has the routine and checklist of interviewing and orientating become too mundane or too removed from the mainstream of exceptional service delivery?

And, when training takes place outside office doors and allows new employees to interact with guests “on the job” as they are being trained, watch out as well. Many times when beginning a meal at a restaurant, two servers will present themselves. One is the regular and one is the trainee. Sometimes, the trainee is introduced and sometimes he or she is not. This is annoying. Guests may not want to be the guinea pig for training. Guests may not want to listen to explanations that talk around them instead of to them. Guests may not want the experience to take longer for the sake of the apprentice. However, if a trainee learns in advance, how to become part of the experience and minimize impact, if any, to the guest, everybody wins. The guest may actually feel like two people are a bonus rather than a hindrance. This requires the one doing the training to be more aware and proactive with the new trainee before leaving the station. Trainees should be prepped on how to interact with guests from the first point of contact, whether they are fully trained for their jobs or not. Guests can get frustrated very quickly when they are listening to trainers explain how to serve a guest right in front of them and they are that guest! Guests can feel momentarily invisible and become cargo shunted aside for the sake of training. This was my experience in the retail store mentioned earlier.

And, creating a training experience is not only for new recruits. Recurring training should get the same kind of attention and feel from trainers. People who have been on the job for awhile may need a fresh perspective and enhanced “behind the scenes” experience to get remotivated and recharged. The Training Train should be prepared to make each training moment, old or new, an exceptional service moment, an opportunity to serve internal passengers with delicious food for thought.

To ensure training gets on and stays on the right track, keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • Make sure those in a training role understand what the guest experience is all about and what the service touchpoints are that make any job successful.
  • Recognize that the interviewing process is the beginning of a candidate’s guest experience. What takes place in the interview, orientation and training is what will take place with guests. Attitudes are established early on, based on initial role models.
  • Ensure trainers can relate to employees on a variety of levels and platforms. Everyone learns and absorbs information based on their past experiences. They link new information with things they can relate to and with concepts that may be familiar. Trainers can use this premise as a foundation for introducing meaningful service touchpoints that will meaningfully impact the guest experience in whatever role they have.
  • Keep trainers in guest eyesight. Don’t let them stay behind office doors and quietly secure candidates. Encourage them to frequently be “on stage”, “on the floor”, “in the station” and stay connected to guest issues and needs and the things that make the service difference.
  • Do not use guests as training ground or interrupt the flow of service delivery for training sake. Do prep trainees to be part of the experience even while learning their new jobs.
  • Guests are not invisible while training takes place. Make guests a priority before the training train steams ahead.
  • Well-trained and motivated employees are those that stay longer too. Retention and low turnover are positive and profitable service results.

Exceptional service delivery begins at the first point of contact for employees as well as guests. Make the journey a service excellence experience before it reaches the destination. Make sure each link of the track is connected for the training train. Full steam ahead for guest service!