How can 130 acres of resort “nestle” anywhere, especially in the heart of a thriving metropolis known as “The Valley of the Sun”?
Yet, through the combination of landscaping and architecture, this slice of desert heaven does seem to discreetly nestle against Camelback Mountain, its sandstone terraces barely discernible. Even in the heart of Arizona’s Sonoran desert, the well manicured landscaping is lush and mature, accented with a scenic cactus garden boasting 350 varieties of blooming succulents that attract colorful desert hummingbirds. Architecture is at once impressive and unobtrusive.
The Phoenician Resort, a lavish stretch of desert chic, is home to 18 PGA-approved holes scattered across lush green fairways. The Resort boasts 580 elegant rooms, suites, and casitas; a lighted 11-court tennis complex; seven swimming pools; plus a Centre for Well Being that soothes and challenges body and soul. Restaurants cater to tastes ranging from Mediterranean Country to Southwestern Casual to traditional English tea. A skilled and attentive hotel staff provide impeccable guest service (Rice, 1994).
The Phoenician also offers superb meeting facilities with 60,000 square feet of meeting space, a 22,000 square-foot grand ballroom, 21 conference rooms, and two boardrooms. A Business Center, an individualized Butler Program, as well as in-house Audio-Visual and Destination Services Departments cater to a group’s and attendee’s every need.
From the beginning, the Phoenician was envisioned as a resort that would combine the luxury of Europe’s top hostelries with the colors, textures, and ambiance of the Southwest. Since its opening in October, 1988, The Phoenician has attracted vacationers, business clientele, and notoriety from around the world. A lobby graced with imported Italian marble, Persian rugs, crystal chandeliers, soft carpets, deep couches, gold leaf detailing, and mile-high flower arrangements flown in from Europe and Hawaii (Davis, 1993) suggests more than an ordinary luxury hotel. Each of the Phoenician’s luxurious guest room accommodations have a view, including the Resort’s two 3,200-square-foot presidential suites that come complete with baby grand piano, gourmet kitchen, formal dining room, casual living room with fireplace, and 24-hour butler service.
With Charles Keating’s monogram erased from the middle of the stunning lobby’s star burst-pattern marble floor, and in the hands of new owners Sheraton ITT, The Phoenician is an ode to success, not wretched excess (Reinman, 1994). What continues to make The Phoenician successful is its ability to carry out its simply stated goal: provide guests with unparalleled luxury service. Certainly, well refined organizational communication skills are necessary in order to accomplish this goal successfully. This portion of the observation plan focuses on the effectiveness of communication between the Resort and the customer in understanding the customer’s needs and expectations for a group function, as well as the effectiveness of communication between the Resort management and employees in successfully meeting the customer’s needs and expectations for a group function. Additionally, the observation plan looks at the forms of feedback received from customers after an event, which w!
ould assist the Resort in providing continued superior service in future events.
Focusing on the written, verbal, and non-verbal communication within the Convention Services and Banquet Operations Departments, I attended a pre-conference meeting with the guest/group representatives of the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureau (IACVB) and The Phoenician management. Each department affected by the scheduled event was represented, including both the Resort and General Manager. In a spacious, well pointed meeting room set up with water service, refreshments, writing tablets and pencils, hotel participants convened prior to the arrival of the guest/group representatives. Resort staff members resembled cast performers in a long running Broadway play, made up to appear larger than life in the production they were about to take part. Fashionably dressed in conservative business attire, well groomed, and with bright, attentive gazes, each participant arrived well versed with the Group’s Resume, as well as the Time and Event Schedule for a!
total of 182 individual events, each of which had been distributed to the departments prior to the pre-conference meeting.
At the formal start of the meeting, Mr. Steve Therriault, Convention Services Manager, introduced Ms. Wendy Shapiro as the guest/group representative for the IACVB, and he introduced the local representative from the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau. Ms. Shapiro profiled the IACVB as a global organization, representing more than 415 member bureaus in 28 countries. She related that the organization was founded in 1914 to promote sound professional practices in the solicitation and servicing of meetings, conventions, and tourism, and Ms. Shapiro characterized this year’s annual convention at The Phoenician as both an educational and social gathering of IACVB members.
After the introduction, each attending Resort staff member individually welcomed Ms. Shapiro and introduced himself/herself, and each member identified his/her area of responsibility. Following formal introductions, attentive Resort staff members began an interactive discussion with Ms. Shapiro to clarify and resolve any outstanding issues relative to their department prior to the conference’s commencement. Due in part to her several years’ past experience in convention planning, Ms. Shapiro was able to masterfully convey the group’s expectations to The Phoenician Resort staff members and relayed intricate details from previous conferences that gave an insight into what The Phoenician Resort staff members’ specific areas may experience during the event.
Prior to the close of the pre-conference meeting, Mr. Chance Carpenter, The Phoenician Audio/Visual Manager, presented four two-way radios as a value-added communication tool for Ms. Shapiro to use during the conference. In addition to enabling key members of the IACVB group to communicate with each other on a private channel, IACVB members were informed that they would also be able to communicate with the Convention Services, Audio/Visual, and Butler Services Departments. Finally, several Resort staff members confidently assured Ms. Shapiro of the eminent success of the IACVB’s conference, and the pre-conference meeting was concluded.
Throughout the pre-conference meeting, Resort staff members consciously conveyed to Ms. Shapiro The Phoenician’s goal of providing unparalleled luxury service, through their verbal and non-verbal communication, as well as in the preparation of written communication.
Pre-Event Banquet Briefing
Continuing to focus on the written, verbal, and non-verbal communication within the Convention Services and Banquet Operations Departments, I attended a pre-event banquet briefing with The Phoenician management and Resort employees who would be preparing for one of the evening events during the IACVB conference. Short and direct, the purpose of the briefing was to communicate to the banquet staff the specific details of the event, just prior to the set up of the event. With the Time and Event Schedule in hand, each employee was given final instructions in the areas of banquet area set up, guest seating arrangements, audio/visual requirements, and bell captain duties.
The Banquet Set Up Manager, Jay Kriske, directed the pre-event banquet briefing. While Mr. Kriske formally outlined the details for the Wednesday evening gala reception dinner, banquet set up workers utilized active listening skills to confirm and clarify issues relative to their portion of the set up. At the conclusion of the short briefing, banquet set up workers sprang into action to complete their required tasks. In teams, crew members worked on the various set up arrangements, their parts also well rehearsed in this production.
With the proper written communication tools, the Time and Event Schedule, the banquet set up manager was well prepared with the details of the evening’s event. Through his direct manner of verbally communicating to his banquet set up workers, the customer’s needs and expectations were successfully relayed for implementation.
The Phoenician has no formal mechanism for customers to evaluate the Resort upon the conclusion of their conference. While guests are certainly free to initiate feedback to the Resort, The Phoenician does not invite the customer to complete a survey, an evaluation form, or questionnaire of any type. Thus, there is no communication received on the results of the conference from the customer’s perspective, nor is there any formal discussion generated from Resort management to staff members concerning their performance during the event. This critical last step in the process of providing quality customer service simply does not exist at The Phoenician Resort.
With no formal mechanism for customers to evaluate the Resort upon the conclusion of their conference, The Phoenician can only rely on their own perceptions of the relative success of the event. Without this critical information provided by the customer, it would be extremely difficult for the Resort to effectively resolve specific problems the customer may have encountered during their stay at the Resort which may not have been observed by the Resort staff. Certainly, it would be in The Phoenician’s best interest to incorporate this missing link into the full circle of providing guests with unparalleled luxury service.
Customer Service Transaction Model
Numerous models have been introduced on the service industry to help the Resort identify, in a logical and complete fashion, those variables or factors which are most important in the process of providing quality customer service. Individually, no one model may be a sufficient framework for providing quality service in every service exchange situation. However, the Customer Service Transaction Model, developed by Barrington and Olsen (1987), is an excellent model designed to take a more microperspective approach to analyzing specific problems associated with the encounter between the Resort and the customer. The service transaction is partitioned into a three-step process, beginning with anticipation of the experience of the service and culminating in residue.
Prior to the actual service experience, customers develop an anticipated expectation of the service they will purchase. The customer’s expectation is affected by a variety of factors which make up the customer’s reference bank. Included in this reference bank are the customer’s perceptions of the value of the service, past experience with the service (utility), motives for purchasing the service (occasion), the customer’s present emotional state, the amount of risk they are willing to assume, and the anticipated financial cost of the service.
The customer’s feelings about the actual service experience, the second phase of the process, are formulated by the anticipation the customer carries into the encounter, and its congruity or fit with the actual experience. This encounter is made up of four components: service product components; service product characteristics; service product dynamics; and the repertoire produced by the Resort’s employees.
Service product components are the physical items that surround the customer while at the Resort, such as: lighting, decor, and cleanliness; the sensory perceptions caused by these physical items as well as the interactions with service providers; and the psychological experience produced by these components. Service product dynamics reflect the volatile nature of providing service. Although it may be difficult for the customer to consciously ascertain these dynamics as a separate component of the service they are experiencing, they are manifested in otherwise good service being provided in a poor manner, primarily because of the inability of management to anticipate or provide contingency plans for them. The fourth component of the service experience is the service repertoire, the framework in which the Resort employees interface with the customer. The model assumes the provision of a quality service experience, and consequently, imparts consistency to the interface sta!
rting with the initial contact and proceeding through to culmination of the service interaction.
Upon completion of the service experience, the final stage of the transaction is complete as the customer evaluates the total service package in relation to initial anticipation. Residue includes the use of this evaluation to formulate the customer’s actions and future plans with regard to the service provided by the Resort (Murrmann and Suttle, 1993).
The Customer Service Transaction Model is a very useful tool for identifying the essential components of The Phoenician Resort’s service process. The Phoenician can use this model as a guide for directing organizational resources toward appropriate components, such as the implementation of a customer feedback program designed to promote upward communication from the customer to the Resort management, as well as downward communication from the Resort management to the Resort’s employees. The model also provides a framework for identifying weaknesses in resource development or allocation, such as the lack of empowerment of Resort employees, that can more efficiently affect positive residue.
Barrington, Melvin N., and Michael D. Olsen. 1987. International Journal of Hospitality Management, 6 (3) pp. 131-138.
Davis, Sally Ogle. 1993. Los Angeles Magazine, (11) pp. 58-59.
Murrmann, Suzanne K., and Cheri Becker Suttle. 1993. VNR’s Encyclopedia of Hospitality and Tourism , pp. 398-406.
Reinman, T. R. 1994. Golf Magazine, (9) pp. 70-73.
Rice, Trudy Thompson. 1994. Saturday Evening Post, (5/6), pp. 80-82.