If you stay at a Four Seasons you may have wondered the secrets to providing great service in a diverse portfolio of more than 90 hotels and resorts spanning over 30 countries.
Service is so important J. Allen Smith, the CEO calls it his company’s “differentiator.” Unlike other service icons such as The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and Disney, the Toronto-based hotelier doesn’t have a program offering training to outside companies. So the opportunity to see what’s behind the curtain during the grand opening of Four Seasons Orlando at Disney World was of great interest.
Not surprisingly a large emphasis is put on who is hired. Like most large scale employers there are multiple interviews, at least five. The interviews, rather than hurdles passed on a racecourse, are a round robin. Four Seasons executives from human resources to line managers, department managers and the hotel general manager each add their perspectives before final decisions are made. There are also group problem solving exercises to see how candidates perform in a team environment. The multiple interviews provide the candidate “a sense of achievement” in being selected, says Todd Williams, Senior Learning & Development manager for the company.
In opening the Florida resort over 2,000 applicants showed up for less than 200 initial spots, many lining up as early as 5:30 a.m.
Four Seasons brings in a sizable force of existing employees to open new hotels ensuring culture, and Orlando has a deep pool of hospitality workers to draw. Williams said the best local source for the team ended up not other hotels but a supermarket. A quick visit to Publix website sheds some light. It’s founder is quoted as saying, “Publix will be a little better place – or not quite as good – because of you.” Employee empowerment is a key tenet of the Four Seasons way. New employees are pushed out to serve VIPs right away. Williams describes it as helping your child learn to ride a bicycle. The child is focused straight ahead, gaining confidence as he pedals, but feels the parental support on his shoulder.
Four Seasons is “the business of the soft stuff,” Williams says. He reports two keywords guests use in describing their employee interactions are “care” and “kindness.” The feedback is so simple, he says, that sometimes it confounds senior managers and consultants.
The Four Seasons approach is individualized. It begins by finding out about applicants’ hobbies. Williams says, it is an essential element to draw on the same emotion people have for their personal pursuits and “shape it into what’s needed for the environment.” He wants people who are disappointed their shift is ending and look forward to coming to work for with the same excitement as they have running marathons, gardening, painting, going to the gym or whatever their passions are. He describes one front desk representative who gets sad when her day is ending saying her work with guests is “like Christmas morning everyday.”
Transferring that same vigor people put into their personal pursuits is essential in getting employees to want to learn from the heart instead of merely memorizing manuals. He notes with hobbies people are self-taught and doggedly research information that will help them excel. Williams wants employees to have that same “hunger” to do well at their job.
While many companies focus on solving problems with unhappy customers Williams says it’s important to “worry about the happy customers.” To that end Four Seasons employees are encouraged to “tap into the core in their heart” to provide guests unique experiences. As an example, a gardener at the resort in Maui noticed a elderly blind lady seated on a bench adjacent to the entry, waiting for her husband to bring their car around. The gardener asked if she wanted a tour of the flora and then led her describing the various plantings. Needless to say the “extra care” resulted in a tear-jerking letter from the husband about what the experience meant to both he and his wife. “Cerebral interactions lead to temporary satisfaction. Emotional connections lead to loyalty,” Williams quotes an unknown source.
What does he look for out of the group exercises? “People who are passionate, but also loved hearing somebody else’s opinion.”
Where does the trainer get ideas on how Four Seasons can enhance its emotional connections? Williams says he has lots of training sources, but one place for inspiration is advertising. “Good advertising taps into people’s emotions in 30 seconds.”