“It’s night and day from the year before."
Pre-season staff training at Keltic Lodge brings dramatic difference in approach to customer service, says GM Hudson
When his phone stopped ringing at night, Graham Hudson knew he had made the right call.
At the start of this year’s tourist season, the manager of the iconic Keltic Lodge arranged a week of training in communication and conflict resolution for 12 staff members at the oceanside hotel, with the intention of allowing them more authority to handle problems. Would he do it again? “The results were more than wonderful,” Hudson said. “It’s night and day from the year before. They really needed the empowerment. They did not feel they had it before, and they would call me or their supervisor on absolutely every little thing.”
“With this course, we said, ‘the worst you can do is make a mistake and we can correct it in the morning, or live with it and learn from it’.”
“I don’t recall getting one call after hours for a problem this year, because the front office staff were able to take care of it themselves. They felt I had their back, they could deal with the situation and I wouldn’t be upset with their decision.” “I was very pleased.” The course helped staff understand that supervisors trusted the staff’s good judgment, Hudson said.
“To give them the attitude that they could step a little further into the pool was good."
Ian Macneil, who taught the course that was funded by the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Advanced Education, said the main point was to empower staff to make decisions on their own, and to handle issues that arose with customers.
“On the first day and the last day, I invited the management of the Keltic Lodge to join the customer service staff in the same room. I presented situations that would call for a response by the staff, and asked them what they would do,” Macneil said. “I then turned to the management to ask for their feedback on the approach.”
“The message that management consistently delivered was that the response was appropriate, and that making an effort to respond, even if it might have been slightly incorrect, was still an effort to make better customer service and to solve the situation. They (staff) could make no bad move.”
In the past, when staff turned to managers, “just the time that passed would be enough to upset the customer further,” Macneil said.
“The message from management was ‘do something’,” Macneil said, explaining that an immediate reaction to an incorrectly-cooked steak, for example, could smooth ruffled feathers.
“The server says, ‘sorry about that, I’ll get you another steak, and may I offer you a free dessert,” Macneil said.
“In the past, they would have had to go to the head chef or the supervisor and ask if they could offer this. The time that passed would lead to delay in providing the remedy. It was the delay that made the situation worse, not the remedy.”
Hudson said the course helped with staff retention, which he said was “perfect” for the season.
“Everyone committed to their dates and stayed right through,” he said. ““I think they’re going away happy and with more confidence.”