Q When was Changi Cove established and what differentiates it from other hotels?
A We started in November 2012 with 20 permanent staff, now we have 80. We are a hotel and conference centre in a less urban setting. Here, we have greenery everywhere, which makes for a more calming environment.
Q Why is customer service important to the hotel industry?
A This is one industry where you cannot avoid interacting with your customers and these interactions are important because they shape guests' impressions of the hotel and whether they would come back. We try to make our guests feel as comfortable as possible.
Q How do you ensure your guests feel comfortable?
A There are three values we focus on in customer service - family, care and peace.
We encourage our staff to serve from the heart. This means, for example, if they see someone who appears to be lost, they take the initiative to go up to him or her and ask if they can help. That helps in making guests feel welcome.
We want to give our guests a home away from home where they can relax, and that applies to our room design as well.
Instead of luxurious designs, we have simple but cosy rooms. All rooms contain either a beanbag or hanging cane chair, for example, for a more relaxed feel.
Both guest and meeting rooms have writeable walls complete with writing kits so guests can doodle or even brainstorm ideas. They can also use the space to communicate with us and leave us feedback.
Q How do you train your staff?
A Different departments are trained differently. For example, for employees in the food and beverage (F&B) department, that would include things like what to do if they break a glass in front of a guest.
Under Spring Singapore's Capability Development Grant (Service Excellence), we hired a consultant to help us establish a standard operating procedure (SOP) for customer service, customised according to our values.
We also get senior staff to role-play as guests so junior employees can practise handling different scenarios and resolving conflict.
Lastly, there is on-the-job training, where junior employees are attached to senior staff to guide them along in terms of having the correct customer service attitude.
This is important because we can train our staff to follow the SOP for specific scenarios but customer service is dynamic. If the guest responds in an unexpected manner and the employee doesn't react well, the senior staff member can assist in a timely manner and correct the junior staff member after the guest has left.
Senior employees will also then be able to raise specific examples of what needs to be improved when giving junior employees feedback.
When correcting employee behaviour, it's important to properly explain the reason behind our values and SOP. We must do it enough times and set a good example such that it becomes natural for our staff to also serve from the heart.
Q Tell us about one of the toughest customers Changi Cove has had to deal with.
A We have encountered two main categories of tough customers.
The first one are those with a mismatch of expectations, where a customer comes in expecting a five-star hotel experience complete with in-room dining service, for example, and then we have to explain that we don't have that, but we do have a cafe downstairs.
Such customers will usually be annoyed, but we will still try to show them we are doing our best to make their experience pleasant. For example, we will take them around the hotel and familiarise them with the space so they will be more comfortable.
The second kind of "tough" involves customers with challenging event logistics. Once there was this guest who wanted to have his meeting in the auditorium, then wanted that same auditorium converted into a dining hall 90 minutes later.
Usually we just have our F&B staff setting up but for this we had to get more manpower, and many employees volunteered to help... In the end it worked out.
Q What are your growth plans?
A We're working on restoring this colonial heritage building on our premises, the CommandHouse, to expand our space. It will be launched in the third quarter of this year.