Training: Focus on Service

A program to orient employees toward helping customers has spread throughout Broward County’s government and tourism sectors.

By Diane Sears

Three years ago, Fort Lauder dale and Bro ward County officials decided the way to set the area apart as a tourist destination was to focus on customer service.

Taking cues from customer-service experts like Disney World, Ritz-Carlton and Hilton, the Greater Fort Lauder dale Convention & Visitors Bureau established the SUN sational Service program. Initially, the program – which cost the bureau $30,000 over three years – trained convention center employees to forget their old job descriptions and focus instead on helping visitors solve problems whenever they found someone who needed assistance.

“We were looking for something to take our visitors beyond a great experience,” says visitors bureau President Nicki Grossman. “We were looking for a ‘wow’ experience.”

Each employee participated in a mandatory daylong program of class work and practical lessons in courtesy and service conducted by south Florida consulting firm Hospitality Excellence.

“It’s amazing how uplifted the employees are,” Grossman says. “They feel they are truly a part of the success of this $5-billion industry.”

Now 90,000 workers in all segments of the hospitality industry are booking the same training in SUN sational Service, including airports, airlines, hotels, cab services and even some retail businesses.

Catching on
Broward County Administrator Roger Desjarlais liked the idea so much, Gross man says, that he adopted it for his 7,000 employees.

Susan Dell Cioppia, Broward’s human resources manager of employee development, says county leaders noticed the effects immediately after spending $178,000 on the training. Suddenly employees stopped visitors in the hallways of the county building and helped them find their destinations. Telephones were picked up before the third ring. Voicemail offered callers an option of talking to someone immediately and reminded callers to “have a SUN sational day.”

A countywide “prize patrol” rewards over-the-top acts of hospitality with watches, cruises, even a 24-hour loan of a Porsche. Kathy Shurte, Broward’s assistant manager of employee development, says one county employee won prize patrol recognition after helping a new resident track down not only the hurricane preparedness information she had requested but also a list of shelters that would board her pets during a disaster.

Now Dell Cioppia and Shurte are working on a second level of SUN sational Service that helps employees and agencies identify ways to improve their skills or service and then implement those changes.

“It’s a culture change,” Dell Cioppia says.

Short Takes

Flying High
Travelers enjoy stopping at Tampa and Orlando international airports even if they’re not there to stay, according to two polls. Conde Nast Travel ranked Tampa as the best airport in the nation, followed by Orlando International and Palm Beach International. Tampa’s airport ranked No. 3 internationally behind Changi Airport in Singapore and Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Meanwhile, Newsweek named Orlando International “The Top U.S. Airport for just hanging around,” ranking Tampa International as No. 2. Among other things, rankings were based on location; ease of access and connection; Customs and baggage handling; food, shops and amenities; and comfort and design.

Travel and War
In studying the effects of war on the travel industry in the U.S. and in Florida, tourism officials say the impact of the Gulf War in 1991 was short-lived, with visitor counts rebounding to prewar levels by the following year. A report by the Orlando/Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau concludes that demand for travel accumulates during hostilities, but it cautions that a quick rebound after war assumes a relatively short conflict with a decisive conclusion, as well as no additional hostilities or acts of terrorism.

Domestic vs. International
Florida recorded record numbers of visitors last year, boosted by domestic travelers who made up for a sharp drop in international tourists, according to Visit Florida, the state’s official tourism marketing corporation. The 2002 total reached about 75.5 million, topping 2001’s total by 8% and 2000’s figure by 4%. Tourism officials cite the state’s aggressive advertising and marketing campaign in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. The number of tourists coming from within U.S. borders was up 10% over 2001 and 6% over 2000. Meanwhile, visits by overseas travelers fell 4% from 2001 and 10.5% from 2000, and visits from Canada dropped 15% from 2001 and 21.5% from 2000.

Dixie Stampede
Builders in Orlando are wrapping up the final touches on Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show, set to open May 23 with horses, buffalo, ostriches and racing pigs.