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Mr. Ferry

Guest Service / Customer Experience Mgmt

Creative Strategies for Maintaining Training Quality without Busting the Budget

By Steven Ferry, Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers

Since the publication early last year of The Butler is here to Stay, but will the Guests be Happy Driving Fords?, a noticeable trend has been observable in the hospitality industry toward the serious training of butlers and the establishment or improvement of butler programs or imparting superior butler service levels in guest-facing positions.

In the wake of mass affluents pulling back on their vacations and businesses also restricting budgets to deal with increased costs of business travel, the tourist industry has had to be even more creative in providing perceived value for money to attract guests in an environment where facilities and pricing do not differ materially within any one category-all while staying within their own restricted budgets.

With trainers similarly concerned with providing what the industry needs, hotels and even cruise lines have found a way to meet in the middle where all can win, from owner to investor, guest to management, butler to training company. It is this spirit of cooperation, rather than each party being totally intent on securing an advantage, that underlies or characterizes the smartness being applied.

Shared Training Assuming a full and proper curriculum is offered, inclusive of provision of SOPs and classroom and en-suite hands-on training and apprenticeship, and the establishment where needed of an efficiently run department, then trainers have to be brought in who actually have worked as butlers in private estates and preferably also hotels, and know how to pass on their wisdom and skills effectively to trainees from a wide range of cultural backgrounds.

This then involves travel costs, because no butler training operations have an office in every country or state. These travel costs are reduced by the training company and/or hotel reaching out to hotels and resorts in nearby cities, states, or countries (or even the same city) to share in the travel costs by scheduling training sequentially. Resorts and hotels tend to be more comfortable knowing that the partners are in a neighboring country rather than the hotel next door, but this has not prevented competitors from collaborating to their mutual advantage in our experience.

The main difficulties are a) simply pushing through the various administrative details needed to obtain approvals and funding in a timely fashion from different hotels and their hierarchies, and b) then coordinating scheduling. The former just requires someone excited about the project and staying on top of requests for a rapid confirmation. The latter is not so difficult, as regions tend to have the same low seasons when training would be arranged normally.

Where budgets are really tight, we have had some hotels share in the same classroom segment of the training at one of the partnering hotels, and the trainer then traveling to each hotel in rotation to do the hands-on segment of the training in their specific environment and with their tools.

This shared classroom training has the effect of reducing training costs by a third approximately, or alternatively, of allowing more days to be allocated to training for more in-depth coverage of data and more classroom drilling to be done for a greater likelihood of retention and actual change in skill-sets, particularly the soft-skill training that needs to be done and which is so critical to effective butling.

Generally, the host hotel receives a discount for helping organize the training with other hotels and for the use of their conference room, and also has fewer costs because their staff do not have potential room and board to be covered, as do any participating hotels for training in a different city/locale.

Establishing Long-term Relationships While the Institute has been the trainer of record for several chains, this often merely means that hotels will come to us first, but won't necessarily use our services (usually because we tend to have higher rates than competitors). Other butler trainers similarly have established relationships with, and are recommended by, the corporate level of other chains. This, however, is not what is meant here by establishing long-term relationships. More particularly, a chain will partner with a specific butler-training provider to see to their entire butler program, certifying it. Several such chains have established relationships with the Institute, one of them because their main competitor was already in a relationship with another butler training company.

Norwegian Cruise Lines is perhaps not one that one would associate with butlers, catering more to mass tourism, but first looks are often deceiving: Norwegian has had butlers for over a decade (with strong retention records when compared with the rest of the industry or any hospitality venue) and it has a strong innovative drive that has seen it implement multiple firsts in the cruise industry, with competitors generally following suit. They have the largest ship-borne suites in the world, which lend themselves particularly well to butler service.

Recognizing the value of butlers to guests who would like and have plenty of opportunity to be pampered, they have either retrofitted several vessels by adding butler-service suites, or built newer vessels with butler service in mind. Moving beyond the four bulkheads to those providing the butler service, a top-down directive brought in an outside trainer, in this case, the Institute, to standardize and raise their butler service to the next level. This was not just conceived as a quick in-and-out training session so certificates could be displayed proudly by butlers and marketing alike, but as a long-term rollout of improvements.

The first thing to resolve was how to make the budget fit the Institute's fees and the logistics of training on a dozen or so vessels where training times are generally doubled in order to allow half the butlers continue to service their customary 100% occupancy figures. This is where creativity won out by a simple stratagem.

The first action was a mystery guest visit on one representative vessel to determine current levels of service and training, so it could be determined where "here" was and how to then reach the "there" of the goal: offering the best and most extensive butler service in the cruise line industry-including the likes of the venerable QM2. This consultation included proposing what new services could be delivered and working out SOPs for new or improved existing services.

The Institute then trained the butlers, who had never had external butler training before, on the narrow focus of what is a butler and proprietary materials to bring about the required mindset and soft skills. This was done (still ongoing) on each vessel.

The next stage was to bring in the top butlers from each vessel to train them on one vessel, all at the same time, on the hard skills and SOPs, which were fine-tuned during the training. These butlers have now been armed with the approved SOPs and let loose to train their fellow butlers repeatedly and continually on the SOPs until they are all confident and competent.

With the necessary props and materials being organized by corporate, the new services will then be rolled out one at a time. The process continues thereafter, with regular quality control and recertification by the Institute, refining old and adding new services. Total time frame for roll out less than two years, but all accomplished within budget and without lowering standards by abbreviating training.

Contrast this thoroughness with the issues highlighted in The Butler is here to Stay, but will the Guests be Happy Driving Fords? and we can see clearly the difference between an organization that is serious about delivering (and taking full advantage of) what a butler adds to service offerings; and a resort that, in order to reduce costs, brings in a trainer at cost for three days to train 150 butlers and then believes its butlers are trained-but the guests don't experience any significant improvement.

In the luxury market is the rarified uber-luxury LVMH, Louis Vitton Moet Hennessey, which is working on establishing their second property, Maison Cheval Blanc Randelhi, in the Maldives-and what promises to be one of the most exclusive destinations of the world. They are by no means the only hotel wanting to establish their butler department properly, and they have certainly moved heaven and earth to bring in all the needed partners to realize their goal over a time line that is adequate to the occasion. By taking a team approach and bringing in best-in-field trainers, with such as Thailand-based 365playground and Tailored Values to coordinate the rollout of everything from consultations and provision of SOPs to extensive on-site training, soft-opening coaching, and hard opening, LVMH is creating efficiencies while ensuring the highest quality standards are met.

Another example of collaborations directed at bringing about quality training is the coalescing of three butler schools (the International Institute of Modern Butlers, The British Butler School, and the Australian Butler School) and their syllabuses into a high-powered amalgam, and partnering with colleges around the world to raise service standards for the people in their region. Likewise, partnering with colleges individually so as to bring butler training and standards online in the hospitality industry training line-up.

These are just a few examples of a trend toward ensuring that what is purported to be quality actually is, while still recognizing that budgets are what they are-the two connecting based on the old adage: where there is a will, there is way. There is certainly plenty of will these days, as well as forward progress in the drive to maintain standards without busting the budget.

Professor Steven Ferry was born and raised in England, where he worked in education, hospitality, and private service before moving to the USA to continue in private service. He took a break from service to establish a photographic and writing communications company that produced a wide range of educational, PR, marketing and editorial products for many major US publishers and corporations, while also writing books for the butler profession and ultimately, being drawn back into the service industry to train and consult. At the request of peers, he founded the International Institute of Modern Butlers (www.modernbutlers.com) in 2004 to set and raise standards for the profession. Mr. Ferry can be contacted at 813-354-2734 or stevenferry@modernbutlers.com Extended Bio...

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