In a town that prides itself on treating the visitor the right way, you'd think there wouldn't be much left to learn on the topic of delivering effective customer service.
But the 100-plus people at the executive-level seminar on service excellence learned last week that there's always room to grow.
As part of the Whistler Chamber of Commerce's (WCC) reinvigorated Spirit Pass program, the Fairmont played host last Wednesday to University of Victoria professor Mark Colgate, an internationally renowned customer service consultant and behaviour psychologist. Colgate has worked for some of the biggest companies in the world. He played a key role in reshaping the public's opinion of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia, now recognized as the country's preferred financial institution, according to polls.
Colgate uses behaviour psychology principles to help companies uncover new ways to attract and maintain customers, as well as energize their employees. He's developed an executive training program, called the 8 Moments of Power, and presented a condensed version of the seminar tailored to Whistler's customer-service community.
Even for someone like Tourism Whistler president Barrett Fisher, who knows a thing or two about offering an exquisite guest experience, there was something to take away from Colgate's dynamic presentation.
"I thought the seminar was excellent, and it was probably one of the best seminars I've seen on visitor service, but what I also liked about it is that it went beyond visitor servicing to encompass employee relations, human relations, even parenting skills," she said.
One of the most enticing components of Colgate's seminar was that it's designed to be applied to all levels of service staff, not just top level executives, and according to Fisher, could be utilized on an even broader level across the entire community.
"When you have a training session of this quality, I think it can apply to all levels in organization or business, from the frontline to the managers to the owners, where everyone is talking the same talk, acting the same way, and presenting a unified message," she said. "You can even take that a step further and go resort-wide, so that we are providing a really positive experience for our guest."
Madison Shenker, currently enrolled in the Fairmont's Leadership Program, said she took away some meaningful lessons from last week's training session, lessons that can be applied directly by service staff on a daily basis.
"For me, the seminar reinforced the idea of how important personalization is, and how every interaction you have with a customer is a moment you have power to change their impressions," she said. "I feel like everyone that went, whether it was the hospitality or service industry, there were definitely things they could take and apply right away."
The workshop was part of the Chamber's recent efforts to offer a deeper level of engagement with members, and judging by the overwhelming response to last week's seminar — which had to be expanded four times due to popular demand — CEO Val Litwin is taking a step in the right direction.
"The Chamber's on a three-year mission to update and reinvigorate our Spirit program," he said. "One of the big things we've heard loud and clear is that we need to get the content to a more sophisticated level, so that was the impetus behind reaching out to a world-class post-secondary institution that actually specializes in service excellence, the UVIC Gustavson School of Business."
The WCC also recently launched its Mega Mind speaker series, bringing in top-level executive minds from around the country to mentor Chamber members on a one-on-one basis.
The next session is April 3 with strategic planning facilitator Louise Watson, president of Adura Strategy. Visit www.whistlerchamber.com for more information.
The Moments of Power
1: The Power of Context
The first Moment of Power centres around what Colgate called "the golden rule of social psychology," the idea that human behaviour is sensitive and strongly influenced by environment and the conditions that surround it.
"Everything in life is driven by the context in which you put someone," Colgate said. "What we're interested in is how we can shape that context, particularly by helping the customer feel good about the services they're receiving and that they're making the right purchasing decisions."
A healthy service culture is created from the ground up, said Colgate, and starts with the physical environment of a business. More important is creating a behavioural framework that guides employees' interactions with each other and their customers. A collaborative and transparent atmosphere should be fostered, with all staff working towards the same goals. Empower your employees by giving them an opportunity to master their skills, a clear sense of purpose and the room to work autonomously.
Building on another principle of social psychology, Colgate outlined the importance of presenting contrasting options to customers as a key to shaping context.
"It's what you do before you present the real option to a customer that's more important than the actual option," Colgate explained.
"Most wine lists are listed as the cheapest to the most expensive," he continued. "If you put the cheapest bottle first, then that will be the customer's anchor, and they'll be harder to push off the $25 bottle of wine."
2: The Power of Expertise
"The most powerful moment in business is the moment the customer realizes they are talking to an expert," Colgate said. "You cannot trump that moment."
The first key to becoming an expert is having an effective mentor to guide the way, Colgate said. Next is ensuring that employees are given opportunities to work just outside of their comfort zones — too far out and you risk breeding disillusion, while only handing out familiar tasks can stifle progress.
The most important factor in creating expertise, Colgate said, is fostering a growth mindset that views intelligence and ability as something you can develop, not something that's inherited.
But once you assemble your crack team of experts, how do you portray that acumen to customers in an effective way? Colgate said you have to deliver relevant information in a proactive manner. Talk in the customer's language, and anticipate their needs before they arise.
Finally, remember Colgate's mantra, TOFU, which stands for Taking Ownership and Following Up. Never pass the buck; if you can handle a customer's problem on your own, then do it, and always follow up to ensure the customer is satisfied.
3: The Power of Liking (Your Customers so They will Like You)
The foundation of this concept is developing personalized interactions with customers to create a more memorable service experience. Always use a customer's name, identify similarities you may share, build a rapport, and offer personalized compliments that lets the client know your company's willing to go the extra mile.
"That personalized attention, that power of liking is what's going to set Whistler apart," said Colgate.
Research shows that people always remember the ending of an interaction more vividly then the beginning, Colgate said, so it's crucial to close with confidence, leaving the customer with a lasting impression that is more likely to push them to recommend your company to others.
4: The Power of Going First
Treat others as you would wish to be treated.
It may be an overused adage, but it's the basis for Colgate's fourth Moment of Power.
"By acting in good faith and expecting nothing in return, you'll often find you do get something positive back," he said. "Everything changes in a service context when you go first."
This means is that by doing something memorable and unexpected for a customer — like offering information, time or advice — without any strings attached, you're creating a memorable connection.
This isn't about offering a gift or a promotion, Colgate said, but rather something unexpected that's significant and personalized to the individual customer.