Customer Experience

Can Seasonal Employees Still Deliver Great Customer Service? - By Steve DiGioia

Recently I was asked to teach a customer service training class for the new hires of a ski resort. The seasonal resort just completed their job fair and had their newest set of fresh-faced recruits all ready for work; they just needed to know how to deal with their customers.

HTrends In preparation, I met with the resort’s management to find out some information about the new hires, if there were specific topics they want covered and what their expectations were for the class. Here is what I learned:

  • Job Fair attendees: 200
  • Employees Hired: 180
  • Positions Hired: ski lift operator, equipment rental associate, retail store clerk, cashier, waiter, cook, housekeeper, etc.
  • Employee Age Range: 16 – 21 years old
  • Salary: $7.25 per hour, the minimum wage, for all new hires
  • Perks of the Job: Free ski pass for the season
Wow, this should be a challenge!

So after a week of training for their specific job category they will then be expected to sit in a meeting with me to discuss the company culture, guest relations, expectations of service and much more. There would be role playing, word scripts and job related phrases to learn, customer conflict and problem resolution examples, etc. All this for a 16+year old employee. Like I said, this will be a challenge.

The “skill positions” such as ski instructor, EMS and medical staff, bartender, etc., were staffed with older employees, many of whom have returned there to work year after year and are the foundation of the resort. They were not included in this wave of hiring.

Next, I asked for the work history of the average new hire and was told that, for most of the employees, this will be their first job and to not expect much of them. So why did they want me to teach a customer service training class to people that have never dealt with customers before? How much of the training did they expect the new employees to remember or even understand?

Customer service skills are greatly influenced by life experience, experience gained through years of interaction with friends, family, coworkers, and the strangers we meet every day. A strong work ethic doesn’t happen overnight but is either ingrained in the psyche of a person or heavily trained into them. How much life experience or work ethic does a 16 or 17 year old have? Not much a venture to say.

I laud the resort for giving this next generation an opportunity to work and potentially grow within the company but was that the main reason for hiring this collection of people? Or did they just hire the first, and only, “warm bodies” that entered the door? Out of 200 job fair attendees, 180 were hired so I guess we have the answer. What was the motivation for the employees to apply for the job?

Was it an opportunity to work for a company at a young age with the intention to start their career? I doubt it. Was it the opportunity to serve chicken fingers and fries or clean restrooms to the masses as they come in from a day of skiing? Of course not. Is it their excitement of earning $7.25 per hour with most of their 8 hour shift spent 3000 feet up the mountain? Not on your life. Then what could be the motivation for these youngsters to take this foray into the customer service job of a ski resort?

Free ski passes for the season, what else!

So if this is the only realistic reason for the employees to apply for the job can we expect them to take direction properly and provide the customer service experience to the guests of the resort in the manner that their management and owners expect? Not at all. Sure there will be the young stars that rise through the ranks and provide great service, all with a pleasant attitude, warm welcoming smile and an attention to detail. But most won’t.

Seasonal businesses all over the country are used to this method of hiring; many times they have no other way of operating. Think of the numerous small towns that dot the countryside where if it wasn’t for the local college and its students, there would be no business at all. Then there are the seaside restaurants and shops that are closed all year expect the few months the summer beaches are open. But can we expect more from this temporary staff? Of course we can and must.

The customers of any business are not concerned with the challenges you may have in hiring seasonal staff. The customer is not, nor should they be, aware that you’re your business model does not allow for a higher hourly wage to pay the staff. They just want the product or service you offer.

The customers don’t care that you can’t get an experienced employee to work for you when you offer work for just 4 months of the year and that “forces” you to hire anyone that walks into your door. The customer doesn’t care that this is the first job your new hire has had and doesn’t understand that he/she will be expected to work for a solid 8 hours each day and can’t be on their phone texting or posting on Facebook every chance they get.

The customer expects more than this, they deserve more than this.

The life-blood of any company is the service that is provided by its employees. Sure, a fantastic product goes a long way but if the service is poor, how long can a customer expect to tolerate it?

If your new iPhone suddenly stopped working and you took it into the local dealer, would you except poor service from the sales rep? If you had to send in your phone for repair and it took 3 weeks to get it back would you be happy with the service? If this happened more than once, would you consider changing to another brand of phone? Maybe so.

If your luxury car had to go in for service and your dealer treated you as if he didn’t care about your business or that you spent $100,000 for the car and now it doesn’t work, would you consider dealing with another car dealer in the future? Or maybe even getting another brand of luxury car? You can take your money anywhere; why not take it somewhere that appreciates your business. These are realistic scenarios. Just because the product is good will you as a customer be willing to take poor service?

We must spend time in our hiring process to ensure that the motivation for employment is more than just a free ski pass or discounted merchandise from the business. Our customers expect much from us and only the best hired, best trained and best customer service personal can deliver it. Even if they are only temporary personnel.

As for the ski resort service training…that was postponed until next year when the management reevaluates their hiring processes.



About the Author

A 25+ year industry veteran, and known as “the ops guy” during his tenure at Hilton Hotels, Steve DiGioia has redefined the operational and service standards for multiple food and beverage departments for some of the best names in the industry.

His book “Earn More Tips On Your Very Next Shift…Even If You’re a Bad Waiter” is an easy to follow customer service training method that can be used across all industries, resulting in better customer retention and repeat business for your company.

Remember: Only by making your guests feel special, feel as if THEIR enjoyment is YOUR primary concern, will you create the "WOW" experience we all hope for. All else is not important.



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