Sunday, January 13, 2013

Having written THE BOOK on Customer Service for Hospitality and Tourism last year, I just had to investigate service in the snow.

Here's my article for the Dallas Morning News:

And here's the unexpurgated version:


American ski resorts have been setting the bar for customer service for decades, pioneering free guiding, organized liftlines and Disney-style staff training.

Nowadays, high-end hotels such as Four Seasons Vail have to go the extra mile to retain their five-star clientele, developing slick, slope-side concierge services to reduce the discomforts of a typical ski day. Customers are mothered by solicitous attendants who put on and take off ski boots, stack and carry skis and snowboards, store belongings, dry and warm boots overnight and après-ski footwear during the day, and also offer free cappuccino and cookies - all included in the room rate.

So how are Canadian counterparts competing with these cushy comforts?

At the top of the wintersports’ food-chain are heli-skiing operators which access five-star snow. At around $1000 per day, guests have justifiably high expectations of lodging, food and service as well as skiing. Beyond its decadent down divans and dinner-party dining in remote lodges, Canadian Mountain Holidays also throws in thoughtful freebies: pre-ski stretch classes, never-ending cookie jars, afternoon tea, socks, hand/toe warmers, heated boot storage and free skis and poles to alleviate luggage.

Recently named Best Ski Resort in North America at the World Snow Awards, Fernie Alpine Resort, BC is also a winner in customer service. Resorts throughout Canada have free mountain guiding but Fernie’s hosts go beyond advice and directions, sorting out specific problems for customers with their “service with no boundaries” philosophy. Free wagons help families transport equipment and kids to and from slopes. And sister resort, Kimberley gives free airport shuttles for arrivals from Canadian Rockies International Airport to Trickle Creek Lodge.

Whistler/Blackcomb is enhancing service standards with healthy/sustainable food, gluten-free and vegan options. There’s free Wi-Fi onhill and complimentary newspapers. A free Wonder Route tour highlights views, runs and Olympic legacies. The new “Family Certified” icon visible on slopes, shops, restaurants and website helps parents and kids pinpoint appropriate amenities. Fairmont Chateau Whistler guests and non-residents get lift passes, rental and valet ski service on site rather than trudging around the village. And service levels are so high at Four Seasons Resort Whistler that when one visitor requested glacial ice to be shipped home, the resort concierge obliged and the ice was used for cocktail party drinks in Alabama.

Lake Louise - credit: Jason MacQueen
Lake Louise has adopted a “service with no boundaries” policy. Staff are empowered to solve problems on the spot and also compensate for them: “For example, if a washroom has no toilet paper, the staff solve the issue but if, as the customer, you are still really pissed off, the staff member offers you lunch in return,” says Lake Louise’s Director of Business Development, Sandy Best.

Guests at Sunshine Mountain Lodge check in at the base and can ski all day while their luggage is transported by gondola to their room. Staff are very vigilant in recovering lost items and will drive to Banff or Canmore to return lost wallets, cell phones and cameras.

Another Alberta ski hill offers hugs at its lift lines. Lifty, “Huggy” Marie embraces every person whose ticket she scans at Castle Mountain. The solicitous resort also offer a ‘conditions guarantee’ giving guests a rain check voucher for another day if the snow’s unsatisfactory during the first ski hour.

Ferrying kids to and from daycare and ski school can be exhausting for parents so BigWhite, BC has developed personal pick-ups for kids enrolled in lessons. Instructors shuttle their charges to and from the family condo or hotel – free for private lessons and $10 per child for group programs. Other thoughtful touches include free family après ski events, grocery deliveries for a small charge, fully-decorated Christmas trees and delivery turkey dinners.

The creation of Revelstoke Mountain Resort has a built-in wow factor giving skiers access to former catskiing terrain for the price of a regular day ticket. The new Sutton Place Hotel facilitates easy access to the slopes, hot tubs, pool and restaurants. On arrival, guests sit down to a free wine and cheese reception while staff handles checking-in procedures and luggage delivery.

SunPeaks was also designed with convenience in mind with snow-ploughed streets, ski in/out lodging, 360 degrees of skiing around the ski-through village and no slippery steps to negotiate. Another added free feature is the regular slope tour hosted by Nancy Greene, former Olympic and World Champion and founder of Canada’s kids’ racing league.

So, it looks like Canada is heading in the right direction with finishing touches to customer service. Ski towns like Banff and Jasper may never have Aspen and Vail’s heated sidewalks but skiing in the untrammeled wildernesses of national parks and wildlife preservation areas has its own cozy compensations. 

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