It's a truism that the lifeblood of the hospitality industry is good customer service. But that's even truer at a four-diamond luxury resort such as Wequassett Resort and Golf Club.
Wequassett (which means "crescent on the water") looks over Pleasant Bay and the Atlantic Ocean on Cape Cod. Between the pool, the golf course, the tennis courts, and the view, Wequassett is the place for the relatively leisurely to relax, enjoy, and be spoiled.
Training at Wequassett makes that spoiling a reality. Two things dictate the training calendar at Wequassett: the need to make high-end guests happy, and the need to help both new and returning employees know how to do that. But it isn't easy, and that's because of Wequassett's calendar.
From April to October, Wequassett is in full swing, offering mild weather and fun amenities to corporate travelers and vacationing guests alike. But from the end of October to April, Wequassett is closed. That means a bit of a break for its corporate employees, but it also means a big ramp-up time for its seasonal employees when spring comes.
"We have a high-end clientele, and they have expectations, so that's a short time to get a lot of people up and running," says Josette Willis, president of Wequassett Academy.
Wequassett Academy offers 70 courses in four schools: customer intimacy, technical training, information and technology, and management. A staff of eight designs and delivers the training.
The resort's calendar has a big impact on how training is delivered. After all, nearly 340 employees come on board at the same time in the spring before the resort opens again, and all of them need either refresher training or onboarding so they know how to provide the service the resort demands for its guests. "By mid-May, the resort is in full swing, and that's not a great time to try and find a four-hour block for employees to go to training," says Willis. "This year, we'll be conducting classes at night and on weekends to work around that."
But all that is only the logistical part of the seasonal challenge. Willis points out that many of Wequassett's seasonal employees come back year after year—the resort has a 50 percent return rate annually—and while those repeat employees need to be refreshed on Wequassett's procedures and standards, they don't want to be bored. So Willis and her team have to work hard to make the presentation inspiring despite its familiarity. "We have a large orientation program every year, based on the concepts of customer intimacy, and we put a lot of time into it to keep it exciting or put a new spin on it," Willis says.
The goal of the majority of training is to provide the kind of service guests will want to come back for and speak highly of to others. To do that, Wequassett's training emphasizes the idea of customer intimacy. Front-desk employees, housekeepers, and maintenance employees are trained to think of ways to know what customers want and give it to them, whether it's an ordinary service or a thoughtful favor. They're also trained to do whatever would make a guest want to come back again.
Toward that end, Wequassett's training emphasizes the heroic act. For example, Willis says, a guest who checked out one day had left something in his room. A bellman got the item and drove three hours on his own time to bring it to the guest. "We have an incentive program to encourage such acts, and each department has to meet a quota," Willis says. Employees can get awards for the most creative heroic act, and for championing the philosophy to others and encouraging them to participate. The monthly award ceremonies become a training tool, in that they give people ideas or inspiration to do their own kind of heroic customer service.
Although Wequassett is committed to expanding its use of technology in learning, the hospitality business requires a personalized touch, and Willis says the resort's training must reflect that. That means considerable classroom training with specific role plays, and technology (such as DVDs and online testing for repeat employees who want to test out of a course) plays a supporting role. "Everyone's committed to expanding our technology-based training, but we're independently owned, so we don't have a large corporation to go to for the funds," Willis says. "We'll be taking the appropriate steps to integrate technology, but it will just take us a little longer."
Employees also have to complete competency checklists before they are released to work. They shadow a trainer and complete the items on the checklist, which might include a specific set of courses; for example, food servers might have to take courses in menu knowledge, food service, and wine knowledge.
To measure the success of training, Willis says, guest satisfaction scores constantly are monitored. But other scores, such as employee survey data and the number of heroic acts reported also are watched closely. To maintain Wequassett's Preferred Hotel rating, the resort has to keep its scores high on hundreds of practical items such as cleanliness, and those scores are tracked throughout the season.
It's not easy to recruit enough employees for Wequassett's season, because not everyone wants to be employed for only eight months of the year. Willis says the resort has to rely on immigrants from Europe and the Caribbean, and with immigration laws getting tighter, that may be less of an option. "If that happens, our training will be all the more critical," Willis says. So partially as an incentive for potential employees, Willis is pursuing accreditation with a local community college, so employees who take Wequassett's courses can earn college credit.