Sandals: Perfecting Customer Service

"The customer is always right" is the phrase coined by 19th Century British magnate Harry Gordon Selfridge that regulates business functions across industries. Whether internal or external; large or small, the concept of customer satisfaction is a universal metric by which success or failure can be measured. Recently, I was treated to otherworldly customer service while on vacation with my wife in Jamaica.

Sandals Resorts International, which is widely recognized as one of the better resort operators in the luxury tourism space, prides itself on offering its clients worry-free experiences that allow for the complete disconnection from daily concerns most people deal with on a regular basis. And the closely-held company's values serve as a blueprint to show employees how to achieve business success by applying high-level customer service principles (see the Sandals Corporate University training program). However, not every organization is able to boast consistent growth in repeat business simply by "following instructions" on how to treat customers.

View from the Terrace at Sandals Royal Plantation Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

View from the Terrace at Sandals Royal Plantation Resort in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

While in Jamaica last week, I met Arnold Nugent, General Manager of Sandals Royal Plantation Resort in Ocho Rios. Mr. Nugent has a staff of nearly 250 people for a resort with little more than 70 rooms. Virtually all of the employees - ranging in experience from two weeks to over a decade - hail from Jamaica and often have never left the island nation. Yet, the noticeably professional way in which every person we encountered delivered service really surprised me; particularly when comparing such client-focused service to experiences I've had in the United States and other countries.

I wanted to understand what Mr. Nugent's "secret" is to consistently provide such team-focused customer service across the board. And he was kind enough to spend some time with me to talk about his approach to leadership success.

"It is really all about the people we bring onboard," he said. "We give people an opportunity to show their potential and if I see the potential in someone, I will try my best to put them in a situation to be successful."

Royal Plantation, a perennial top perform amongst all the Sandals properties, offers high-quality hospitality training one would expect from a luxury resort. But, what I found unique is that general managers of properties are given significant autonomy to achieve the daily, weekly and monthly goals Sandals demands of its 16 resorts. And talking with Mr. Nugent, it is clear that he has an approach that is designed to get the most out of everyone that steps foot onto the Royal Plantation property.

"We work hard to find people who want to be the best," Nugent said.

And it shows.

Some of the key leadership traits that I gleaned from our experience with Royal Plantation that could be helpful to other leaders include:

  • Systematic Recruitment Process: Mr. Nugent told me that he has a rigorous approach to hiring. He gives people a chance to do well. But in order to pass the first test, he has a set of assessment criteria that he uses to be predictive of a candidate's success.

  • Belief in the Potential of People: It was clear from talking with staff from virtually every department at the resort that Mr. Nugent believes in everyone that he has hired. He practices a level of engagement that focuses on both compassion and clarity of goals.

  • Importance of Variety: Given the pool of potential employees in this part of Jamaica, Mr. Nugent can't just rely on skills listed on a CV to determine who will make a strong employee. He appears to be looking for people who are willing to do every and all jobs at the resort. My understanding is that he rotates people frequently to provide experience and test candidate's adaptability as he assesses leadership potential in his staff.

  • Promotion of Pride: A native of Jamaica, Mr. Nugent is immensely proud of his country and his culture. When identifying potential leaders on his staff, he takes care to look out for the candidates that carry themselves in a way that projects pride and confidence. These attributes are important when trying to market an unique experience for clients that often come from places that aren't familiar with the culture of the Caribbean.

  • Customer Focus: The experience that Royal Plantation offers both its clients and its staff is that of a wholly unique pampering that is provided in a completely authentic and cheery way. Getting staff to not just be responsive to customer needs, but anticipate their wants, comes with experience that Mr. Nugent has. And he is clearly passing it along to his staff, as the vast majority of employees use subtle yet specific techniques to understand the profiles of their guests over a short period of time.

The result of these and many other techniques applied by Mr. Nugent and his staff is that Royal Plantation is the standard that virtually all other Sandals properties (as well as other non-Sandals resorts) are trying to emulate. At OVP Management Consulting Group Inc., we believe these are five keys to customer success that all businesses can learn from.

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Now, we don't have specific financial results to compare, as Sandals is a closely-held operation. Nevertheless, it is clear to me as a repeat customer that their approach to customer service is having some impact on sales. And if nothing else, an unofficial survey of some of the guests that were at the resort with us, shows that most everyone we encountered signed up for future visits before heading home!

"We are really proud of the reputation we've developed here at the Royal Plantation," said Nugent. "We know others are trying to understand what we're doing, which is why we have to continue to be innovative."



7 Ways to Improve Meeting Productivity

How familiar does this sound? “Why do we have to have so many meetings?” or “I hate meetings.”

Anybody involved with being a leader in an organization know that meetings take up as much as 50% of the average workday. And for those that are in the start-up phase of an entrepreneurial endeavor know that number is often even higher. But how closely do we examine our meeting habits to determine the value they bring to our bottom lines?

Rereading a piece in Inc. Magazine from several years ago on the subject was a great reminder of how important it is to understand the impact meetings have on my organization’s productivity.

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For example, as the first quarter of 2019 comes to a close and you look back on what went right during the first three months of the year, entrepreneurs, leaders and managers automatically look at predictable indicators, including sales numbers, achievement of cost savings or maybe the success of your marketing campaigns.

While all of these indicators are important, it is how are meetings are conducted and organized that can serve as a “real time” KPI and help steer your organization towards success. Just as you “entrepreneurial elevator pitch” can open up doors to start-up investment, good management of your organization’s meeting culture can help leaders maintain a steady cadence towards business success.

I know, meetings seem like the least important activities businesses (and their leaders) participate in. In fact, we’ve previous noted in this blog that the four major activities businesses must master are Decision Making, Organizing, Controlling and Leading. Establishing a meeting structure is an essential subset of the Management Process.

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Below are 7 ways you can improve effectiveness and impact of your meetings: 

Establish the ‘why’

Make sure each meeting that is convened has a clear objective or purpose. Don’t just meet for meeting’s sake. If there is no discernible outcome that you are aiming for, the meeting isn’t worth happening.

Pick the right people

Make sure that the right people are in the meeting. That means people who have decision-making authority; people who’s creativity on the subject can offer unseen alternative solutions; and key leaders of the activities being discussed should be the core members of important meetings.

Keep it short

There are no rules that say every meeting must last at least an hour. Meetings as short as 15 minutes can be very effective, provided you prepare well for each.

Build an agenda

An agenda is important for the flow of meetings. It is also important for memorializing decisions and assignments. But maybe the most important, agendas are designed to help you (and your team) be productive.

Design the structure

Whether it’s a reporting-out meeting, an update meeting or a brainstorming session, each meeting should be designed in a way where there are pre-specifications that are measurable. This allows meeting facilitators to opportunity to evaluate the relative success of their meeting styles.

Everyone participates

If you have the right people in a room, then every voice in the room has an important contribution to the success of the meeting. Make sure everyone has an opportunity to share their perspectives.

Get agreement and follow up

An effective agenda helps participants get agreement on the relevance of specific issues, thereby allowing for the editing of items to be discussed. Once decisions are made in a meeting, there needs to be an acknowledgment of all of the follow up activities that are assigned.

 If you have other meeting design suggestions to increase productivity, please share your ideas in the comment section below.

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The Paradox of Leadership: Seeking Help

You’ve done everything right.

You went to the right schools, studied hard, got the best internships, joined the right firms, executed on the right projects, made smart business decisions. You’ve prepared yourself to take charge and lead your company to great heights. You’ve got your dream job. So, are you ready to take advice from an outside consultant?

It’s a dilemma facing many company leaders. You’ve relied on your intelligence, you’ve hired good people and you believe you have the right strategy to move forward. Is it worth bringing in a second pair of eyes that points out areas of your operation that need help?

Translation: Should you hire a consultant to help you refine your strategy?

I came across a wonderful passage by leadership expert Mark Vincent of Design Group International that paints a picture of the leadership paradox that many executives are faced with. In a 2013 blog post, Vincent states “a leader needs to communicate or followers cannot know what is expected. But, to communicate is to increase the possibilities of being misunderstood or of someone not hearing the message. “

As the owner of a consultancy, what I get from this passage is that there is always another perspective that can be helpful to reaching organizational goals. Particularly, when you are talking about “getting your message across”.

In her book Dare to Lead, author Brené Brown offers a very personal example of how the mantel of leadership can sometimes keep us from being brave and generous leaders. In an encounter with her team, Brown is told by her CFO that she is “not good at estimating time” which is hindering the team’s effectiveness. Brown’s reflexive response to this is to essentially deflect and find an excuse for why he was wrong.

This is a familiar position that leaders find themselves in, when confronted by hard truths. The question is how can leaders trust the advice of others, if they feel that “only they know what is best”? At OVP, we believe it is our job to help clients understand that while most times they DO know what is best, that there are still other perspectives that are necessary to consider, if an organization really wants to improve.

Despite the hard work and success companies (large or small) have achieved, executives must consider how alternative approaches to problem-solving may impact their organizations. And here’s a secret: Seeking advice from outside sources is often a precursor to innovation.

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Get Agreement To Move Your Agenda Forward

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Last week I was in Michigan giving a presentation to a group of leaders about the importance of adopting universally understood leadership language. This notion of leadership language was preceded by commonly asked question of managers across industries: “How can you get the concept of engagement to show up in behavior and performance of associates and team members?”

The short answer I gave was practice.

Providing leaders of teams with a common language to talk about performance and behavior expectations is half the battle. It’s the “secret sauce” for getting team buy-in. And once you have a common language, everyone has to practice using it, in order for there to be a common measure of performance.

Some organizations use assessment tools to establish behavioral norms.

For example, using behavioral interviewing tools, pulse surveys, personality and/or problem-solving tests to begin establishing a set of expectations from potential employees. And once they are on the team, organizational norms are further reinforced by training modules.

Below is a partial list of tools that organizations can use to help develop a common language and shared values amongst team members:

Regardless of the tools selected, each of these assessments offer unique approaches to establish organizational language that, if adopted, can serve as foundational blocks for determining the types of behaviors that are expected in your organization. And if those blocks are set, they can then be used to inform the written and spoken materials that describe the culture your organization hopes to display.

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For example, what do you mean when you things like: “I want my associates to be more engaged.” or “Our teams are operating in silos.” or “We lack good communication in our organization.”? It’s these types of assessment tools that can narrow the definitions of the terms you want to be a part of your organization’s lexicon.

Finally, when your organization’s “cultural artifacts” are on display, you will need “ambassadors” that exemplify the qualities needed to succeed in your culture. These are people that walk the walk, talk the talk and are able to translate the nuances that form your unique culture. And this is where finding support from outside your organization can be a competitive advantage.

While applying the tools noted above can be straightforward, getting an accurate interpretation of the results of the assessments is often done best by people outside the organization. The role of a change management consultant, for example, is to be able to help leadership see how well or poorly new language is taking hold with an organization. That same consultant must also be able to provide a set of measures that can track the team’s adherence to the new language being used to change culture.

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All of this work is designed to help companies identify, validate, practice and improve ways of engaging employees, who in turn represent your organization’s values to your customers. Further, it provides managers & supervisors (often considered the most important roles within organizations) with actionable data to move the needle on engagement in your company.

The more employees understand, appreciate and internalize your company’s unique language, the better equipped they are to help others understand and appreciate your company.

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