Capital City Wants ''Certified Friendly'' Hospitality Workers
With a new convention center opening, the city of Columbia, SC, wants to establish itself as a major tourism and business destination. To back an advertising and promotional campaign, the Columbia Metropolitan Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) has decided to upgrade the city's face to the customer--the men and women in front-line hospitality positions. A new, four-month training program dubbed Certified Friendly is designed for hotel, restaurant, attraction, and local government staff to improve not only their customer interaction skills, but also their knowledge of the Columbia region, so they can be better advisors to tourists.
"[CVB] developed a taskforce, and they developed a tag line that would follow Columbia: 'Where Friendliness Flows,'" says Douglas O'Flaherty, director of education and workforce development for The Hospitality Association of South Carolina. "I was approached as they decided they needed to deliver on that promise--they knew that people had to know how to be friendly."
The four-part program meets for three hours once a month. The class rotation includes basic customer service skills, diversity training, a trolley tour of local attractions, and even personal hygiene standards. Employers participating in the program are asked to treat the class time as work hours, to show employees that they are dedicated to the concepts being taught. Funding comes from a city hospitality tax.
EdVenture Children's Museum currently has most of its welcome staff engaged in the program. "They most appreciated being able to tour the downtown area, it was a real eye-opener to things going on [in Columbia]," says Kim Bowman, EdVenture vice president of marketing. "We have a lot of college students who didn't grow up in [the region] and aren't aware of the shows or the art crawl, and it makes them more informed, which makes them more confident, which makes them friendlier to customers who come in and ask questions."
The pilot group of 25 students is in the third month of training; the next group is expected to be twice as large, and program organizers say they hope it will continue to grow. "We want to go much bigger than that, go region-wide, and get participation from two counties," says Dave Zunker, CVB vice president of sales and marketing.
Columbia wants to ensure that more than lip service is paid to the concept of Southern hospitality. "The old saying goes that the customer is always right, but in today's age sometimes people don't recognize that," O'Flaherty says. "You have to find out how
the customer is always right."
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