I recently had the opportunity to spend some time at Sandals Emerald Bay in Exuma. The location is beautiful: a wonderful beach, great food, great accommodations and all the amenities you could want. There is one aspect of the resort that stands out even more than all of these and that is the focus of customer experience of each guest from everyone on staff.
Guests are greeted by every team member all over the property whenever they see them. A smile, a wave and a greeting. It is the level of service we would always like to see in many organizations, but it really shows here. What are some ways that they are able to make this so consistent across a large workforce?
I was curious, so I started talking with the staff and asking what made this place so special. Here are some of the nuggets that I heard:
Sandals does much of it’s hiring from the local communities around the properties. Wanting to instill the local Caribbean feel to each property, this makes sense. Another aspect of hiring from the local community is that they gather a workforce where courtesy is a way of life.
“Growing up if I did not say hi to a person who walked by, my mother would point out that I was not being nice.” – Rinald, Sandals Photo Shop Team Member
It is easier to find staff who will care and be personable if they were raised that way.
“We all know each other on the island, it is natural to say hello and wave to each other.” Lamon, Sandals Concierge
There is a bit of an advantage hiring from small communities, where people have an expectation to connect with others. The rule for Sandals, like many companies, is to greet the customers. Here it is expected that you will greet all other staff the same way. This becomes just the general pattern for all interactions. What a wonderful way of honoring all. The Head of Loyalty mentioned that they hire people who like people, they can train anything else.
Believe in your people and provide opportunities
As I began talking with staff, they all talked of opportunities to move in the organization, learning new skills and growing. All talked about starting in their first job, but having the opportunity to grow.
“I have been able to work in entertainment, water sports and now photography, many opportunities to grow and learn by doing well where you work” – Nelly, Sandals Photographer
Train for what you want
Sandals provides training for the job skills as well as training around customer service and leadership for the staff. Several staff mentioned the opportunity to travel to other properties in other countries as a way to learn and grow.
“I hope to travel to other locations in other countries for further training and bring the lessons back home.“ – Lamon
A robust feedback system is in place to capture comments from guests. The property uses a website feedback system to capture comments regarding compliments, concerns and requests.
I used the system several times during the week. It was simple to use and to post my comments. The aspect that impressed me was the quick response from the manager of each area to any comment. It was beyond collecting customer feedback to reacting to and taking action on customer feedback.
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Engaged caring management
Several members of the staff mentioned how engaged leadership is. The property General Manager knows the staff and what they aspire to and learning what talents they may possess to be able to grow and prosper.
Several staff mentioned someone in management who has helped them to grow. It was brought up that management is looking for “diamonds in the rough.” If you start as a dishwasher, admittedly shy at the time, leadership might see more in you and you might end up to bellman and all the way to Concierge, being the face of the property to many guests.
The General Manager might be found not just greeting guests, but helping to load their luggage to go to their rooms. Managers can be seen serving guests snacks or drinks as part of the service team.
Reward the behaviors you hope for
The property has several awards for staff to capture people doing the right things. The awards are around service, support for guests, being a great team player, etc. A sampling of the awards:
- Smile and Courtesy Award
- Most Guest Nominations – employee mentioned most often by guests in the feedback system
- People’s Choice Awards – award won by votes from colleagues
- Team Player of the Year award
Awards focus on both the guests and the team. If you are part of a great team that respects each other, you can accomplish great things.
From seeing the staff dance at a social hour and watching them joke with one another throughout our stay, it is obvious that the staff has fun. While keeping a sharp eye on the guests, they understand that the best service is provide by people who are having fun and love their work.
“I love working here. I love my job.” – Lamon
I chose Lamon’s quote, but I heard a similar line from each of the people I talked with. People frequently start meetings or the day by sharing a joke or funny story with other staff. There is a spirit of play that much of the staff demonstrates throughout their work.
There is a saying that by your third visit to the Bahamas, you are half Bahamian. Seeing the way this staff enjoys their work and provides the highest level of service, makes me think this sounds like a pretty good idea.
Family-owned Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has transformed itself from one brand and one resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica to become one of the most well-known and award-winning hospitality companies in the world. With five brands and 24 properties in seven countries including Antigua, The Bahamas, Grenada, Barbados, Jamaica, Saint Lucia and Turks and Caicos, Sandals Resorts International is the undisputed leader of Caribbean vacation experiences and remains fiercely committed to the region, dedicating itself to innovative resort development that in the words of Chairman and Founder Gordon “Butch” Stewart, “exceed expectations” for guests, associates and the people who call the Caribbean home.