Service starts with the students

I recently had a chance to revisit Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and stay at the Statler Hotel on campus. For those who have never visited this property it is well worth the visit as is the quaint college town of Ithaca (except in winter when the steep hills can get quite icy). The building exterior is rather unassuming, but there is a lot going on “under the hood.”

I actually worked with the property in the nascent stage of my hotel career, acting as its external marketing agency some 20 years ago, so I am familiar with the guestrooms and common areas. Yes, since then, the guestrooms have been extensively renovated, though the guest bathrooms still showed hints of a 25-year-old configuration. The common areas looked new, and everything more or less functioned perfectly.

But with every hotel, amenities and physical structure provide only part of the success equation. Service is the key, and this is where the Statler shined. In every position, undergraduate students — prominently identified by their forecasted graduating years on their name badges — greet and assist you with affable vigor.

At check-in, there was a manager overseeing a freshman (class of ’17) who was training on the front desk. The valet and parking staff, slightly more mature (class of ’16), effectively picked up and delivered my car — with a smile and never operating under the assumption of a forthcoming tip. Moreover, the room’s “welcome card” was a profile of a student who was engaged in this hands-on inter-disciplinary training program. All said, this story of budding hoteliers was impressive and inspirational.

In communicating with the half-dozen individuals I came in contact with, I noticed one overarching element — a diehard commitment to the craft of service. These hospitality students knew almost instinctually that the cornerstone to the hotel business is building a relationship with the guest. There was no negativity, always a smile and no hesitation in going that extra distance to ensure the guest was well taken care of. This even included scraping the ice off my car on a freezing morning following the previous night’s dump of snow.

This positive experience gives me hope for the future of our profession. In an era where our focus tends to be more on financially managing the physical asset, it is refreshing to know Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration appreciates the asset of quality personnel. Looking to the future, I encourage general managers to take advantage of these entry-level team members. Give them the opportunity for responsibility and nurture their growth. The success of our industry relies upon our ability to differentiate our products, and there is no better way than through service and the people behind it.