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Helping visitors 'live the dream'

Spirit Learning is start of three-year program to elevate service

The Whistler Chamber of Commerce has rolled out its new look Spirit program, along with a new tag line: “Live it, Give it.”

The idea, said chamber president Louise Lundy, was to capture the idea that locals are here living the dream and we in turn need to make sure visitors get to live the dream too while they are in Whistler.

“That will happen through excellent service,” said Lundy last week at a chamber Spirit breakfast.

That same idea of elevating the level of service in the resort is a driving force behind the re-vamped Spirit program. Now known as Spirit Learning it has a new philosophy centred around three tenets: connect, assist and exceed.

The idea is that every person who goes through the program will commit the philosophy to memory and live it, said Lundy.

That means that workers, indeed anyone living here, will acknowledge, smile and greet guests and be genuinely friendly. They will help guests get what they want or find what they are looking for quickly and efficiently and they will try to exceed the expectations of the guest.

And just in case anyone might forget the philosophy, all Spirit Learning attendees received a wallet-sized laminated information card to hang on their mountain passes with all they need to know printed on it. Chamber staff will be stopping people who are wearing the cards on the mountain and handing them prizes.

“We have to have service to have success,” said Lundy, adding that the chamber wants to increase the ratings the resort gets in leading ski and snowboard magazines for service.

She also wants other resorts to be phoning Whistler to find out how to replicate the town’s service strategy.

In a quick interactive poll at last week’s breakfast, attended by over 200 people, only 8 per cent said they thought service in the resort was “excellent”, another 55 said it was “good” and 32 per cent said it was “satisfactory”.

“We have to do better and we know we can do better,” said Lundy explaining that all these changes are part of a three-year program to reach excellence in service.

During the same poll 55 per cent of those questioned said the biggest barrier to excellent service was finding and keeping employees.

The learning portion of the Spirit program has also been upgraded. Now up to 250 people attend a seminar at Millennium Place, rather than having a series of small group workshops.

“This is probably the biggest change to the program ever,” said Julie Morris, the chamber’s program manager.

The program has existed in some form for 20 years, and last year 4,300 people took the training.

The training seminars will be run by facilitators and include entertaining videos on the do’s and don’ts of customer service.

This year the mystery shopper program will be done as a pilot project. The chamber is looking for up to 200 businesses to sign up for the program before Nov. 26. It will cost $60 a month and will include four visits from undercover chamber staff shoppers each month. They will shop and experience the business then fill out a questionnaire about it. The results of the questionnaire will be shared with the business.

The results will be available in January.

The chamber has also launched a new recognition program and will run ads each month featuring an employee in the resort. Business owners can nominate an employee each month on line with the chamber. ( )

Achieving outstanding service takes work, said Peter Burwash, guest speaker at the Spirit Program breakfast.

“The only good enterprises are where everyone has good leadership skills,” he said, adding that people who get caught up in the rules and regulations of the workplace often fail to give good service.

To illustrate his point he regaled the audience with a story about a recent flight on Lufthansa airlines.

“I was flying from Frankfurt to New York and the flight attendant said, ‘what would you like to drink?’

“I said, ‘I would like a glass of milk,’ and she said, ‘milk is for children, what else do you want?’

  “And it is in their rules and regulations that milk should be served to children first. If you have those hard-nosed guidelines you aren’t going to be able to make people happy.

“You can be a great company but you really have to look at all the aspects of your service.”

He reminded the audience that if Whistler was going to be great it is everyone’s job. “If you see a piece of paper on the ground it is everyone’s job to pick it up,” said Burwash, founder of the world's largest and most successful international tennis management firm.

With a self-disciplined, service-oriented workforce now the make-or-break function of business leadership, Burwash was in Whistler to give a lecture entitled “Leadership is Service and Service is Leadership.”

In his view, great service grows out of great leadership.

In an entertaining seminar where laughter was almost constant he pointed to several key qualities that make a good leader, which in turn can lead to better service.

“The purpose of a great leader, I feel, is to make great people and this is missing today,” said Burwash.

“Most people think the purpose of a great company is to make great dollars, and that is really hurting the spirit of the work force today.”

The qualities Burwash outlined include:

• Enthusiasm — it’s contagious. “If you are passionate people are going to follow you,” said Burwash.

• Great leaders expand their horizons. “If you want to keep people you want to make sure that there is continuing education, you want the employee at the end of the day going home and saying, ‘I learned a lot this week.’”

• The importance of appreciating and thanking those around you. “Three things drive the human spirit, appreciation, recognition and creative freedom,” said Burwash. “If you take care of those three things you are not going to have nearly the turnover that you may have at this point in time.”

  Leaders need to be visionaries.

• Great leaders are secure enough to be more excited about everyone’s success than their own. “I know I am talking to a great leader when they are talking about their team not about themselves,” said Burwash.

• Leaders need to hold up under pressure.

• Good leaders are self-disciplined.

• Leaders need to be steady in their moods.

• Good leaders need to be humble. “Leadership is a delicate balance between self confidence and humility, in other words you believe you can do it but you just don’t talk about it,” said Burwash.

• It is very important to be a good example.

• Treat everyone with equal respect.

• Good leaders are good teachers

• Strong leaders need to be empathetic, positive, committed and they need to persevere.

Said Burwash: “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.”