At Your Service

 By Patrick Mott

In the pocket of every employee at The Resort at Pelican Hill® is a small, creamcolored three-fold card. From the bussers to the managing director, Resort employees keep the card on them at all times—not for reference, because they know each statement to the letter, but as a combination badge of community and constant reminder.

The philosophy of service, and the everyday actions, that this card represents and delineates earned The Resort at Pelican Hill its first Forbes Five-Star rating in 2013, say Resort executives. It contains, among other things, the Resort’s mission statement, its 10 “keys to service perfection,” and what might be called the rules of friendly engagement between employees and guests.

“This is our job description for every employee,” says Resort Managing Director Giuseppe Lama, brandishing his copy of the card, “Every employee across the Resort operates by this singular mission.”

The mission statement reads: “We are passionately committed to creating inspirational and unprecedented experiences guided by our shared values and the continual pursuit of perfection.”

Pretty heady stuff for the day-to-day reality of the hospitality industry. But, according to Forbes officials and inspectors, such emphasis on courtesy, individual thoughtfulness and openhanded grace—above and beyond precision and punctiliousness—is what earns the guide’s Five-Star rating its highest honor. There are no less than 500 individual standards on Forbes’ inspectors’ lists that have to be met before a Five-Star rating can be considered. (Two of the more telling ratings criteria: “Overall service is flawless from initial reservation call to departure service,” and, “Staff is extremely well-spoken, polite and clear, avoids slang and phrase fragments.”) And in 2013, only 58 U.S. hotels made the grade.

The key to elevating the Resort past the list of well-known and respected contenders and into the rarified air of iconic destinations can be expressed in two words, says Lama: emotional connection. This has nothing to do with talk show-style touchy-feeliness and everything to do with close observation and empathy.

“When you talk about luxury,” he says, “that’s what customers want on their terms. Not on my terms. I’m here to identify what you like and how you like it. If I understand you, that is the delivery of luxury. The only way to do that is for our employees to engage with our customers and find out how they want to be treated. I tell employees to look at the person’s eyes. Look at the color of their eyes. Understand their body language, their tone of voice. Are they looking around? Are they in a hurry? And then deposit all that in your emotional bank account. That’s the emotional connection.”

The hiring process for all Resort employees is stringent and detailed, but mere expertise won’t land the job. “The bigger picture,” says Resort Director of Food and Beverage, Khalid Mirza, “is the friendliness, the emotional engagement with the guests. If you’re friendly, you’re born with that gift, and it comes through in your job interviews. If not, there’s no training in the world that can put that in. The biggest compliment we get is, ‘Where did you find these people?’”

The employees’ guidelines—the 10 “keys to service perfection” that mandate behavior from the use of professional verbiage on the job to representing the Resort even when off the job—are simple, brief and, taken together, offer a potent recipe for individual entrepreneurial spirit. Lama has even created, and filled, a new staff position, Director of Guest Experiences, whose job is, he says, to help Resort staff make a strong “emotional connection with our guests, to make sure that every single experience we deliver is exactly what the guests want, on their terms.”

Lama acknowledges that the Resort staff is pleased with the Forbes award, but he is quick to add that “our pursuit of perfection doesn’t stop at that. Forbes standards are among the most rigorous in the world, but we go on creating our own above-and-beyond benchmarks, based on the possibility of perfection. This is our passion. And when guests can say, ‘You have read my heart,’ that is luxury at its finest.”