Training Day

By Hannah Wallace August 31, 2005

While writing about the pending retail explosion for the August issue, I couldn't help but feel upbeat about the possibility of quality merchandisers such as Tiffany, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus coming to our region. My sanguine mood turned to real concern, however, when in my mind's eye I saw myself going into Nordstrom, walking up to a counter and asking for assistance. My unease was and still is: How helpful will the person behind that counter be?

This apprehension is not about Nordstrom, which has a well-deserved reputation for being an outstanding service-oriented store. And it's not about my own satisfaction. It's our workforce that concerns me. Will we have enough qualified workers to manage the future retail counters, restaurant tables and hotel front desks? I'm not sure we have enough to satisfy the needs of our existing retail and service industries. Many customers as well as managers/owners themselves have expressed the same worry to me. If there is a meaningful lack of personnel with product and service knowledge in our market today, what can we expect when the retail boom occurs?

Having an ample supply of qualified workers is obviously a priority, and businesses of all sizes can institute and maintain effective training programs. Yes, good old training. Setting the bar high enough and then diligently working every day to ensure that everyone on the staff maintains those quality standards with scheduled, organized tutorials and daily one-on-one, on-the-job tutoring.

In fact, many existing local businesses that consistently provide superb service already have these programs. It's no wonder such service-savvy companies are thriving. These firms have hired inexperienced yet smart, high achievers and have taught and trained them effectively to embody the high standards of management.

Speaking about standards, one has only to enter or telephone The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota to experience what all businesses should be about. While some of the management has been transferred from other Ritz-Carlton markets, most of the staff comes from Sarasota and Manatee and is extensively trained in the respected Ritz way-120 hours of training per employee per year. The company's Gold Standards, which are carried by each employee on a pocket-sized laminated card, represent The Ritz-Carlton core values and are the basis for employee orientation and training.

Recently, while walking through the hotel lobby, Andrea Kazanjian, director of membership for The Ritz-Carlton Members Club, Sarasota, was stopped by a guest and asked if she knew The Credo. Looking straight into the guest's eyes, Andrea recited the powerful words that each employee's highest mission is to provide care, comfort and satisfaction to the hote'ls guests, as well as to fulfill all their needs and wishes-even unexpressed ones.

The guest then asked her to come with him into a boardroom where board members of his company were about to begin their meeting. Wanting to make a point about admirable standards and thorough adherence to them, he asked Andrea to convey The Credo to his board, which she proudly recited.

Every businessperson should make it a point to read The Gold Standards on The Ritz-Carlton Web site. One can't help but think how bright the futures of our retail and service industries-and therefore our economy-would be if more companies created their own sets of standards and trained their employees to adhere consistently to them.

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