Insiders and MR,
I have read several references in recent posts to the critical role of training in creating and maintaining appropriate levels of service throughout the hotel industry. For Marriott itself, as we have heard and read, training occupies a central place in its overall human resource strategy.
And yet I confess to wondering. This is not to say that I doubt the genuinemess of Marriott's commitment to training (reading "Spirit to Service" leaves little room for doubt), or that I am trying to belittle the general role of training in human resource development. But I do feel that, in today's world, there are reasons to look hard at prevalent assumptions about the overall efficacy of training strategies and programmes.
Let me offer three observations in support of this cautionary note:
1. The success of training in the area of customer service depends in good part on the existence of a supportive "culture of service" in the wider community. From my own observations over the past few years, there are parts of the world where such a culture is clearly strong, but others where it struggles to exist, if it ever did. In my own city in the north-west of the UK, for example, I have often heard visitors and locals comment that it - the service cuture - is palpably absent. It is interesting to speculate a little on why this might be: first, it is probably a myth to suppose that, other than at the highest/luxury levels, it was ever a strong card in the UK' work-based skills resource; secondly, the move towards more heterogeneous communities here has heightened the likelyhood that the notion of "service" will seem demeaning to many new/immigrant groups.
2. Young people today - in "developed economies" - tend to think and behave in ways that are almost inimical to the notion of service. Raised in "consumer societies", and influenced far more intensely by peer groups, they aspire to instant gratification (rather than the deferred gratification of past decades); they tend to give less credence to the concept of career development; and they value assertiveness as opposed to deference.
3. Training is not an ab initio strategy; it depends for its success on having a bedrock of basic skills and competences on which to build. Providing this foundation has traditonally been the role of state education systems. Again, speaking only of my own context, the last 20/30 years have seen a profound deterioration in the extent to which children leave school equipped with those basic skills on which to achieve to any degree of success at work. Employers are finding that not only would potential employees need basic "remedial" training in key competences, but that many are literally untrainable.
And so when I read statements which appear to articulate what amounts to an uncritical faith in training, I wonder. Is it still realistic in many places today to depend on the efficacy of training in the modern context as we undoubtedly did in previous generations where manufacturing industry was the norm and building a career an almost universally recognized goal?
If there is anything to this line of argument, it would suggest that there are good reasons to look behind the creed of existing claims for training strategies and programmes - both at Marriott and elsewhere - to establish to what extent they are effective in bringing about the levels of improvement in service and other core competences that increasing well-informed customers will expect in an ever more competitive market place.
I arrived in Venice a few hours ago and will write a response if I can. So this one's a test because I wrote a long answer to another post and then after I hit send it said Error: You must enter text. (In other word my whole message went missing.)
So if this goes through I'll answer.
It seems to have worked so here goes. I arrived in Venice under the most amazing of circumstances. Going through four airports, all planes left and landed on time, I got three empty seats in Economy Comfort to sleep in, and arrived at the Hotel Metropole, originally built in 1300 and lived in by Vivaldi in the 17th C.
I think one of the things I love about so many places in continental Europe (no offense, and in general I except Paris from this comment, because there is a certain attitude of contempt that you have to adapt to and develop yourself to get by there successfully). But let me tell a story about the Hotel Metropole. I book on Expedia about five weeks ago, a cancellable reservation without fees if done, and got a room rate that is now more than $500 per night more than what I actually paid. As a result, I expected they'd find me the smallest room possible, both because of doing so on expedia and because I was such a cheap guest.
None of that happened. Instead, when I showed up at the desk, the whole staff greeted me (I had written a short note in Italian telling them the time of my arrival) and acted like I was someone important. Then I was led to my gorgeous room, which is not a suite, but has its own foyer on a lower level and is decorated in antiques and classical brocades, and a chandelier. The only thing new is the LCD tv.
But besides the treatment I had at the desk, I had two hand-written notes to me welcoming me to the hotel from the Guest Room Manager! That's something I have often encountered in Europe (as well as Egypt, Turkey and Israel), largely because working at a good/great hotel is itself a great job and a professional position that people often stay at for many years).
So the service does still exist in places...
Now I will try to write my message to BigDogBill and Shoeman again.
PS - Didn't expect to have wifi after reading Tripadvisor, but I do.
At the risk of sounding less than charitable, I would comment that a daily meal at McDonald's does not make you a hamburger, and getting training does not necessarliy mean that the training works.
Dear Arkwright I appreciate your very insightful comments and am concerned that Marriott is role playing in the training, but often this kind of exerise does not accomplish the goals, no matter how noble. Without a metric for success it is an exercise in training and not much more. (call me sarcastic or worse) My experience in getting folks to do what they necessarily do not want to do, is that it is very difficult to know if the training sticks and can be then translated into behavior modification. I am, along with others, guilty of being realistic about panaceas.
I am hoping that Marriott will take this issue seriously, and by that I mean, that corporate folks there will keep this training going and not just mnake it a flash in the proverbial pan. The need is clear for a champion at Marriott, someone who lives and breathes customer serivce training, and followup.
I'd love to hear what others think.
Actually, I wouldn't dissent from your reply at all. My only concern is that conventional training should not be seen as a universal panacea for all customer service shortcomings; for many problems it represent a very effective remedy, but for others the causes need to be sought elsewhere - in corporate strategy and management style, for example.
Perhaps I should have said just that - rather than ramble on for 30 lines or more.
Definitely a good read with many good points. But, I would add certain observations I have seen to complete (in my mind) some of your thoughts. To wit: Yes, youngsters are influenced by peer groups, but they, most unfortunately, are, in too many cases, living in an 'entitlement world' brought about by the parenting (or lack of) that some youngsters receive.
I would disagree somewhat that the educational system has the responsibility of providing the basic bedrocks and competences for training. Another huge factor in that scenario is that parenting is a large influence on whether or not one is able to 'serve society' or 'expect to receive what they think they are entitled to from others in society'.
Making my point: When I went to school, I 'feared' what the teacher would say to my parents about my academic behavior and attentiveness. Today, the teachers 'fear' what the parents are going to say to them about the bad things their kids say about what a lousy teacher they are.....and how they demand the teacher change their methods for teaching....when they know nothing nor care nothing about what the teacher might have to say. I could never be a teacher.
I look at service as an issue that is most prevalent in those who have a desire for 'doing things right' and have a strong understanding of 'common sense principles'.
A quick service story: The first time I went to Prague (just after the Velvet revolution), I went on a tour with a wonderful lady who courted us around this beautiful city and gave us a magnificent view at what Prague was and also a sense of what is was to become...in her mind. She had a tremendous knack for pleasing her guests. Funny thing though...her socks were filled with holes and she wore sandals (it was cold). When asked why she went out like that, she explained what life was about in earlier years where socks and clothing of any type was given out once a year...and you got no more. So, she did not feel strange about wearing these socks and sandals as that was the life she had lived. But, that tour business was started by her and I might add, very successful. She said she loved serving her clients and thought the free market system was wonderful.
On the other side of that coin was the gentleman we met with who was a 'big dog' in the former Politburo. He did not have a job. All he could talk about was how he used to drive a brand new Mercedes and now he rode a bike. He used to live in a penthouse, but now he lived in a studio with a pull out bed. He always had more money for anything he wanted while under Communist rule. Now he had none. And on and on it went. He hated capitalism.
The difference in the two...one was entitled and can't even begin to figure out what life and service is about. The other had the basic understandings from a tough life and knew how to make the best of it by....applying her learned common sense and decency principles of how to do something right....because she had no chance to do it wrong when growing up.
I know which one I'd want greeting me at Marriott.
TE and other Insiders,
Many thanks for your responses; they make for a much more rounded piece.
The "entitlement" issue sems particularly vexing. At a particular historical moment, it represented, at best, a noble response to the suffering of war and deprivation of poverty. Unfortunately, as subsequently became clear, the provision of practical welfare was underpinned by an ideology that brooked little challenge or modification. In time, it has created a monster, a generation of politicians and recipients for many of whom the essential reciprocity between "entitlement" and "responsibility" is all too rarely appreciated or acknowledged. Witness recent events in my country.
What, if anything, does this mean for the likes of Marriott? I can imagine a CEO saying, clearly and with some emphasis, "we are not in business to change the world." True.. in many respects. Nor, to be honest, do I know to what extent contemporary training strategies and operating policies take account of the trends identified above - whether, for example, the image of training has been rebranded and/or "incentivised" to sit more comfortably alongside the primacy of individual aspiration; and whether modern corporations can extend their presence in higher education to helping, in one way or another, design and deliver earlier interventions in schools. If there is a useful role to be played in these respects, perhaps it is increasingly to the large corporations that we should look to support small-scale innovation and, where it proves fruitful, to provide leadership in subsequent "roll-out" strategies.
ProfC: give my love to Torcello, Other friends: have a good week-end.
Simply put, the quality of customer service is based on the quality (attitude towards the job, mostly) of the people hired. I believe Marriott needs to do a better job of screening their applicants with an appropriate aptitude test of some sort. If I hire a donkey, no matter how much training I may give it to be a horse, I will never end up with a horse.