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    Holly Stiel on Creating a Culture of Service

    The VRMA International Conference, held this year October 23-26 in Las Vegas, is the biggest and most comprehensive event in the vacation rental space. It’s a one-stop shop for industry education and networking, including enlightening keynote speakers.

    On Tuesday, October 25, Holly Stiel—a speaker, trainer, consultant, coach, author, and president at Thank You Very Much Inc.—will deliver the general session keynote, “Service is a Gift: How to Create and Sustain a Culture of Service.”

    We caught up with Stiel to learn more about her and her presentation.

    Can you define “culture of service”? 

    Holly Stiel Headshot.jpgHolly Stiel: The concept of a company culture is based on a set of beliefs and behaviors that are reinforced through leadership and occur over time. To me, a service culture occurs when the focus of the company, property, and product is on the experience the customer receives and the environment the team member works within.

    In order to create a culture of service, it starts with a foundation of values; from that foundation, a set of measurable standards and pillars supporting the foundational values are designed. These standards and  measurable behaviors are supported through training, and training is supplemented with reward and recognition, in addition to ongoing conversations and reinforcement activities such as daily huddles and coaching.

    How did you get started in the concierge business?

    Holly Stiel: I began my career as a concierge working for a tour company located in The Grand Hyatt San Francisco. I fell in love with the work and expressed that love and passion daily. many guests wrote letters about me—so many that the hotel eliminated the tour company and hired me to do the job. Once I learned about what a concierge really was, I was relentless in convincing the hotel to open a real concierge department. At the time, there were only a handful of concierge in the United States.  

    When and why did you found Thank You Very Much Inc.?

    Holly Stiel: From the very early days of working at the tour desk, because I have a master’s degree in special education, and in my heart and soul I am a teacher, I thought, “Wow, this is the coolest job.” I thought, “I could TEACH this.”

    I wrote my first seminar, which I called “Courtesy Training For Profit,” in 1980. No one was interested, but I kept at it and persevered, and in 1992, after 17 years, I left the hotel, just before my first book was published, to start my business Thank You Very Much Inc. I have been teaching people in a multitude of industries how to think and act like a world-class concierge ever since. 

    What is your philosophy of customer service?

    Holly Stiel: My philosophy of service is that it is all about feelings and emotions. It is an inside job as well as the job of the company culture. It requires care, self-care, consciousness, desire, and a set of personal values that align with the company you are working with. To be truly good at being a professional service provider, you need curiosity, stamina, and the qualities of a turtle.

    Have a hard shell, so you don’t take things personally; be slow to judge so you don’t get stuck in negative triggers; and learn to stick your neck out. Service is a verb. It is an action word; sticking your neck out is required to move forward.

    What can short-term vacation rental property managers learn from the hotel business?

    Holly Stiel: Calling it “the hotel business” limits our thinking to come, eat, sleep, and pay. This is why those of us working in hotels always call it “the hospitality business.” Hospitality denotes welcoming, being gracious, and adding love to interactions. When hospitality is the focus, the business part takes care of itself because it is where people will choose to come, to dine, to sleep, and pay.

    Can you explain what the “Neon Signs of Service” are?

    Holly Stiel: The Neon Signs of Service in their simplest understanding are flashing neon signs in your mind’s eye that are simple reminders of the best way to handle a situation. I wrote The Neon Signs of Service book by hand in my backyard just a few years after I left my job as a concierge. The concepts are based on spiritual principles and, therefore, have stood the test of time. Let me give you an example that I teach people who are in the position of recommending.

    Neon Sign = “You're Not Going.” The principle behind it is to think of the other person and not yourself. This is important because most guests ask for a suggestion like this: “Where would you go?” Translated into hospitality language really means “Where should I go?”, but that is not what they typically say. When asked that question, “Where would you go?”, People are asking for a personal recommendation. The neon flashing light in your mind should come on, “You’re Not Going.” Recommend for them, not you. Ask questions, know the options, and send the right person to the right place for them. It is not really about you. Why? Because you’re not going!

    What is the biggest misconception about providing good customer service?

    Holly Stiel: I believe people blame lousy service on the service providers themselves. I blame it on the managers creating an environment where poor behavior is allowed and overlooked. It feels obvious to me that the employee is not being treated with respect or given the tools to do the job in the best way possible.

    What other themes will you cover in your keynote?

    Holly Stiel: I have chosen to divide the keynote into three distinct sections:

    1. The emotions, values, and human truths.
    2. The two most important skills: listening and having to be the messenger of “no.”
    3. The importance of love and laughter.

    These things together help to create and sustain a culture of service.

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