Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts proudly celebrates its Founder and Chairman Isadore “Issy” Sharp, recipient of the prestigious 2016 Cornell Icon of the Industry Award.
Presented by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration, the award honours the lifetime achievements of hospitality and travel industry visionaries, recognising their professional and philanthropic contributions that have transformed the global hospitality industry and society.
“True visionaries lead by example. They see what the future can be, decide to act, and inspire others to follow their lead. In the world of luxury hospitality there is no greater visionary than Issy,” said J. Allen Smith, President and CEO, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
“Issy’s passion for hospitality, his unwavering commitment to the highest standards of excellence, and his incredible generosity are an inspiration to us all,” continued Smith. “On behalf of 43,000 Four Seasons employees worldwide, who share a deep sense of pride in being part of the remarkable Four Seasons story, we extend heartfelt congratulations to Issy on this important recognition of his leadership and vision.”
In 1961 Isadore Sharp opened the first Four Seasons, a motor hotel in Toronto. He approached the business from a guest’s perspective, asking “what would they value?” And from this premise, many innovations were born. From pioneering approaches to service to setting the standard for in-room amenities and the bold rethinking of hotel features, Four Seasons came to define modern luxury travel.
Today, the company, which continues to leverage its focus on a single brand and an unwavering commitment to luxury hospitality, operates 99 hotels, resorts and branded residences in 41 countries. With a pipeline of more than 50 projects at various stages of development, Four Seasons continues to grow its global portfolio, further enhancing its well-earned reputation for operating some of the best and most highly awarded hotels in the world.
“It’s no secret that from the very beginning it has been the people of Four Seasons who have played the most significant role in our success,” said Isadore Sharp, Founder and Chairman, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. “Receiving this recognition is a great personal honour and, equally as important, a chance for me to celebrate the collective efforts of many.”
“I started out with a vision of what I believed luxury hospitality could be, but it was Four Seasons employees who brought, and continue to bring, that vision to life,” continued Sharp. “Every day they deliver a genuine, personal style of service that has earned us the trust and loyalty of the world’s most discerning travellers.”
With a guiding philosophy based on the Golden Rule – the simple idea of treating others as you would have them treat you – Sharp empowered Four Seasons employees to deliver the highly personalised brand of service that would become synonymous with Four Seasons the world over. Today Four Seasons employees around the world share a commitment to service excellence that embodies the guiding values and philosophies set out by Sharp.
This commitment to service is also reflected in the company’s culture of giving and social responsibility, which is focused on advancing cancer research, building communities and supporting sustainability. Sharp is the founder of the annual Terry Fox Run, the largest single-day fundraising event for cancer research worldwide, which has raised more than CAD 700 million to date. Today, introducing Terry Fox Runs in cities where Four Seasons operates is one of the many ways the company supports efforts to find a cure for cancer.
The Cornell Icon of the Industry Award is the latest recognition for Sharp, who is the proud recipient of many global awards and honours celebrating his business achievements and lifelong commitment to philanthropy.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow gives us a model for making every customer’s wishes come true.
“Picky” is not a word I would use to describe myself. “Perceptive,” maybe. “Incisive,” most definitely. But “picky,” never. And yet there I was, in the dining area at the hotel where I was lodged, picking at my breakfast while I picked apart my stay experience. The property, I was deciding, had not lived up to its brand name. The front desk staff was undertrained, the public areas were under-cleaned, the breakfast was undercooked, and the hotel rooms were, quite incongruently, overpriced.
As I sat there not being picky, I overheard a woman one table over describe her breakfast as “not too shabs.” She added: “And the selection is pretty good, too.”
My attention now pricked, I listened on as the woman’s tablemate (her husband, perhaps) concurred with her assessment of the hotel’s buffet. He then made a statement I thought was a little too sweeping if based solely on our breakfast service: “Not a bad place to stay.”
Suddenly feeling like Mr. Persnickety, I decided to forcibly insert myself into the couple’s conversation in the hopes of getting at the source of their perfect contentment with our accommodations. The explanations they offered were so simple, they boggled my mind.
“The staff is friendly enough,” the woman said.
“The rooms are clean enough,” the man said.
So why hadn’t all this been “enough” for me? Were my fellow breakfasters blissfully ignorant to the kind of service owed to them by this particular brand of hotels? Or was I just being overly critical of my stay? I finally reached the conclusion that certain customers simply operate on more basic service needs than others. This wasn’t to say, however, that customers whose needs are more advanced don’t deserve to see their expectations realized, as well; a need is a need, after all. But then, what are the various needs of customers, and how can businesses work to meet them?
Psychologist Abraham Maslow believed that all humans are motivated to satisfy certain needs by order of priority. These needs he categorized into five different levels, from the very rudimentary to the transcendental, in a model that came to be known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. A quick review of his model reveals how it easily could apply to customers.
1. Physiological Needs
The first level in Maslow’s hierarchy comprises the physiological needs that all humans must achieve for their very survival. Access to food and water is an example of just such a need. Similarly, customers have physical requirements they seek to fulfill. They require that a business’ products be of a certain quality necessary for the preservation or restoration of their comfort and convenience. Just as food and water contribute to one’s overall standard of living, the products consumers buy must prove to do the same. If customers deem your products to neither improve nor maintain their material comfort levels, they will see no reason to continue doing business with you.
2. Safety Needs
With their physiological needs met, humans look to satisfy their safety needs. This refers to physical safety, but also to one’s sense of financial and emotional security. Businesses can encourage financial security for their consumers by offering good bang for the buck. They can promote peace of mind by keeping the quality of their products consistent over time. Customers also feel safer doing business with you if your products or services live up to marketing hype—or, for that matter, to any promises made by a representative of your organization. You also can inspire trust in your customers by ensuring that your staff is trained to answer queries and sell offers confidently and knowledgeably.
3. Love and Belongingness
The next set of needs that humans share fall under the category of love and belongingness. We all yearn to feel close to others, and customers are no exception. Their loyalty to a business often is dictated by the strength of their relationship to its employees. Customers form an impression of your organization as a whole based on their interactions with a few of your people, and in this way, rarely see the forest for the trees. By stark contrast, businesses tend to treat customers as just faces in the crowd, often forgetting to customize service to the specific requests of the individual. Demonstrate to your customers that you see them as people, and not just as dollar signs, by taking the time to understand their precise needs and matching them up with a personalized solution. Always exhibit a friendly and enthusiastic attitude that conveys your interest in accommodating them. And if certain customers have a bone to pick with your company, empathize with their complaints and show them they’re not alone in their feelings.
4. Esteem Needs
The fourth level in Maslow’s model houses the esteem needs. These concern our requirements for respect and appreciation. Customers will not throw money at an organization that treats them with disrespect. Customer service personnel must watch their verbal and nonverbal cues to avoid insulting anyone. People become insulted if their self-concept, or the manner in which they view themselves, is compromised. You can diminish an individual’s self-concept by doing something as subtle as rolling your eyes, crossing your arms, or staring. Other more blatant forms of disrespect include making offensive jokes, using demeaning language, or raising your voice. Always be courteous and professional in your dealings with customers, providing fair and equal treatment to all.
The final level in the hierarchy deals with self-actualization and the human need to realize personal potential or a sense of fulfillment. A business can contribute to the fulfillment of its customers by striving to always deliver a little more than is requested. It also can exceed expectations by rewarding its loyal customers with exclusive offers. In going the extra mile, you suggest to your customers the many benefits that are possible to them, thus, giving them license to dream.
I never ended up telling the couple at breakfast how I really felt about our hotel. After all, here were two people who had achieved fulfillment on nothing more than the most basic of needs, somehow skipping past all the other requirements in between. That’s the funny thing about needs: You often don’t need them until you realize you can have them
Cross-cultural training is not only useful for employees from different cultures and ethnicities to work together but it is also necessary for employees to learn how to handle certain situations that are raised by customers from diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities
Globalization has greatly affected the tourism industry. People from newly developed countries now travel in large numbers As such, diversity has become an increasingly strategic component of the tourism and hospitality industries.
The need for diversity training is serious and urgent, because diverse customers have different cultures and traditions that have to be dealt with. Otherwise, they will be unsatisfied customers. In today’s age of digital devices, unsatisfied customers can share their bad experiences with others via many different tools. When a consumer is making a purchase decision for an intangible product or service, such as those offered in the hospitality and tourism industry, he often will use interpersonal influence and word-of-mouth. As such, an unsatisfied consumer who is sharing his negative experiences with his neighbors or the online community can have a significant impact on a company’s reputation. His opinions can negatively influence and affect the company’s brand. This bad reputation can affect the employees’ work environment, leading to disengagement.
Employees in the tourism and hospitality industry are already subject to high turnover even as new hotels open every day around the world. This means employees won’t hesitate to quit their job if they find a better place to work. This is why it is important to focus on their training, so they can learn how to handle the gap between different cultures that coexist in this type of workplace.
Ultimately, cross-cultural training is not only useful for employees from different cultures and ethnicities to work together but it is also necessary for employees to learn how to handle certain situations that are raised by customers from diverse cultures, religions, and ethnicities.
Here is my proposal: First, study the population among your customers. Different people from different countries have different traditions. Once you establish the different type of nationalities that come along in the company, it is important to set up training programs with scenario sessions that allow employees to learn up front about their customers’ cultures, which will help ensure employees to react in a proper way when faced with cultural differences.
As an example: Saeed is an seasoned traveler. He is 20 and comes from Abu Dhabi. His traditions are fundamentally different from those in Western countries. Privacy, for example, is very important. When I asked him if he had a bad experience from one of his previous travels, the answer popped up immediately in his mind. In Paris, an employee from a five-star hotel knocked at his door and then came inside the room, where his family (mother, aunt, and sister) were, despite the “Do Not Disturb” sign hung on the door handle. This was a behavior he judged unacceptable. A simple training on the restricted definition of privacy for people from Gulf countries, many of whom travel to France, would have changed everything.
When I asked him if he would come back to this hotel in France, his answer was, “No.” Such experiences are not uncommon. However, people sharing a tradition of privacy and discretion will feel highly disrespected and will not forget these embarrassing situations. But customers are not the only victims. Every employee working in the tourism and hospitality industries have faced, at one point, a cultural misunderstanding with a customer. Most of them would deem these events “bad experiences” because none of them knew how to deal with them.
After keeping track of the tourist rates based upon their different countries of origin, it is important to create a training plan. The manager should set up a meeting that includes the following topics :
- Importance of convincing employees of the necessity to attend these courses.
- Sharing the result of the tourist rates and teaching employees the behaviors to adopt when they deal with tourists from a country with a different culture.
- Emphasizing that what is acceptable to one customer might not be acceptable to another customer from a different culture. This is important because it affects the company’s reputation.
- Understanding that behavior is not the only thing employees have to modify. They might have to set up new rules to be sure tourists won’t have issues while they’re enjoying a company’s hospitality. For example, for some people, it is important to take off your shoes before going inside the room. Employees have to make sure this situation won’t lead to any trouble (i.e., shoes being stolen), which can be avoided just by being more attentive, and provide practical solutions such as warning the customer about the risks or finding a safe place to leave these shoes. For a restaurant, a new rule might be noting in writing what foods include meat, pork, beef, and so on, so customers with special dietary needs or allergies can be aware.
In the end, if customers feel their traditions are being taken into account, they will be more likely to develop loyalty toward the company and share their positive experience with other people.
Your star employee has handed in her notice or your business has expanded, and you need to hire someone new. The impulse might be to hire someone as quickly as possible to minimize disruptions, but it’s much more effective to do some talent planning so your new hire reflects your current and future goals. Think of your business like a cake and your employees like the ingredients. You can’t just throw ingredients into a bowl and expect to bake a cake successfully. You need to follow a recipe such as the one below:
1. Understand the purpose of your cake. First, you need to know what kind of cake you want to make. Are you making a cake for your grandma’s 90th birthday or for a raucous bachelor party? Is it a fancy cake for a sophisticated palate or a plain cake for fussy eaters? Are you feeding five people or 200? Your vision will drive the kind of recipe you need. Similarly, you should have a clear vision for your company. Are you a healthy fast-food chain that is hoping to expand geographically? Are you a software value-added reseller that is expanding into another vertical? Are you a hotel chain that is trying to rebrand? This will tell you what kind of talent plan you need. Just because vanilla layer cake has worked well in the past does not mean that hazelnut crunch might not work better now.
2. Identify possible cakes. Before you start baking, you need to think about who will be enjoying your cake. If you want to dazzle pre-school princesses, look is probably more important than taste. You are going to need a big fancy cake, preferably with a lot of glitter (subtle flourless chocolate cakes need not apply). Let’s say you run a chain of small hotels trying to rebrand and are in need of a new customer service director. Will your ideal customers travel for business or pleasure? Do they have a tight budget or do they expect a first-class experience? Has your ideal customer profile changed since you last hired for this role? Thinking about how the job has changed will help you identify the type of person who could help you execute your vision.
3. Select your recipe. Once you know that you need to make a fancy princess cake that is heavy on the glitter, you need to find some inspiration and a recipe. You can research “fancy princess cakes” on Pinterest and see what appeals. You might discard the cakes that require $200 worth of ingredients or a trip to a specialty store based on budget and time constraints. You might discard other possibilities because you have not mastered fondant icing. Eventually, you will find a recipe that suits. In your business, you need to figure out what kind of person would best help you get to where you want to be, keeping resource constraints in mind. If you are trying to upgrade your level of service and redefine your hotel as a luxury brand, you might not want to hire the manager from a competing mid-price chain.
4. Take stock of the ingredients. Once you know what recipe you are making, you need to gather the ingredients. First take a look in the pantry; in the consulting world, we call this a talent audit. Whenever you are replacing or hiring a key member of staff, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your other people, too. What skills do you have? What skills do you still need? Who can you train? Who should you hire? Perhaps you already have all the ingredients you need. Perhaps there was a more junior person in your organization who now is ready to take on an expanded role. Perhaps someone can make a lateral move to broaden his experience.
5. Source new ingredients. Let’s say you’ve taken inventory and need vanilla extract. What type of vanilla extract do you need? Do you need the organic, hand-blended variety in the fancy glass bottle or is the generic-label variety fine? This is the stage where you need to draw up a list of specific skill requirements for the new job. In the case of a replacement, it’s tempting to simply use the existing job description, but if you want to maximize this hiring opportunity, you should determine what skills you need today and in the future. Review your existing talent pool. If your hotel chain is well staffed and your only missing ingredient is someone with a luxury approach to customer service, you might be able to take a creative approach to hiring. Could you hire someone from a luxury retailer or a restaurant group and then train her in the specifics of the hotel world? The interview process will show you what ingredient might work best in your business.
6. Mix the ingredients together. Once you have found the missing ingredient, you need to mix the ingredients together. In business, this is the onboarding stage and it’s good to give it some attention as you don’t want your cake to flop or burn. If you don’t have a good new employee orientation program in place, now is the time to create one. At a minimum, you should take the employee out for lunch, make her feel welcome, appoint someone who can answer her job-specific questions, get any company specific training underway, and make sure she has some projects to tackle. Before long, the new hire will be up to speed and contributing to your business.
Talent planning can seem complex, but if you follow the recipe above, it’s really a piece of cake.
The phone representative is gratingly polite but ultimately ineffective. The clerk at a store doesn’t know the inventory, pointing you toward merchandise that doesn’t exist. The hotel front desk staff makes you feel like you’re inconveniencing them when you call. As the old saying goes, good help is hard to find. But with more refined training programs, nurturing employees who can deliver stellar customer service is getting a little easier. Here is some quick tips to ensure your employees provide service with a smile—and make customers smile in return.
Measure your employees’ level of customer service via customer feedback on surveys and through the use of videos and recordings of customer- employee interactions.
Tap the expertise of successful customer service-oriented employees, encouraging them to mentor co-worker
Make customer service a key part of your new hire training, asking all employees to make a formal commitment to providing a high level of service. Consider creating a form they have to read and sign stating their promise to exceed customer expectations as part of their employment requirements
Consider a blended approach for customer service training in which classroom lessons are combined with simulations, in-person role-plays, and mystery shopper experiences.