Service secrets from the world’s most luxurious hotel

burj-from-beachWhat makes a hotel 7-star? How do the hire and train staff to ensure service literally fit for kings? Dubai’s world-famous Burj Al Arab hotel holds the answers.

Our guide, the gracious and delightful Jonathan Evans, Manager of Learning and Development, took participants from my 4-day “Customer Complaint Management” course on a private tour of the grand hotel. He explained what we wanted to know — how do you hire, train and manage over 1000 employees, including 140 butlers, to deliver best-in-class service to such discerning guests.

To set the scene, imagine sighting the Burj Al Arab (meaning “Tower of the Arabs”) in the distance as we approach. It looms off shore 1053 feet high. The shape is representative of the sail on an Arab dhow (boat) which has plied the Arabian Gulf for hundreds (thousands?) of years.

As we get nearer, we see the wall facing shore is white fabric. At night, lights illuminate it with an ever-changing display of solid colors, turning to the next color every 3 seconds. After passing security, we cross the curved bridge to the man-made island on which the Burj Al Arab sits. We pull into the reception circle, passing the Rolls Royces the hotel uses to shuttle guests to and from the airport, as well as to other venues owned by the parent company, Jumeirah.

groupphotoWe are greeted by beautiful men and women offering us dates on a silver tray, cool towels to freshen up, and Arabian coffee. Before us stands a 3-story fountain of dancing water sprays illuminated by different colored lights. We look up at the 590-foot atrium — the Statue of Liberty could fit inside. But we notice something is missing — a Reception Desk. Guests are greeted at the front door by their own personal butler who escorts them directly their room to check in.

burjalarab1There are luxurious couches nearby on which guest are resting. A 30-foot red curved couch invites us to rest while we wait for our escort.

Jonathan greets us and explains that the basis for their exemplary service is their philosophy. All colleagues operate with the companies guiding principles — they call them the 3 Hallmarks:

  • Smile/greet the guest first. A guest should never have to connect first.
  • Never say “no” as the first response to a guest. Sometimes you must tell a guest you can’t accommodate their request, but that should never be your first response.
  • Treat colleagues with respect. It starts from even the term they use — “colleague” not staff, employees or associates. In watching them interact with each other during our tour, they showed courtesy and respect to each other, similar to how they treated the guests.

al_mahara_burj_al_arab1Jonathan weaves his tale of impeccable service standards as he shows us through the hotel. We pause in the bar after touring the underwater restaurant, Al Mahara, and ask, “How do you hire world-class employees?” Jonathan explains, “We hire for attitude — the rest can be trained.” Of course, there are certain jobs that require first-rate attitude coupled with high-skill levels. We asked how they determine attitude in the interview and he said interviewees are given scenarios and asked how they would respond. They also role play some situations. And the applicants are asked how they’ve handled situations in past.

Burj Al Arab living roomWe are taken to one of the two-story suites to get a sense of the guest’s experience. The rooms are lavishly appointed with no detail left unattended. A desk is outfitted with everything you’d need to get a little work done — including a laptop! The living and dining rooms are spacious. The kitchen has a door to the outside so the butler can set up your room service meal or handle any party needs easily without coming through the front door. Of course, each room has a floor-to-ceiling view of the water. And the master bedroom is up a curved staircase. The bathroom is complete with full sized toiletries, including perfume/cologne, body lotions, etc., which guests are encouraged to take home.

Burj Al Arab bedroomHere we get some insight into the colleagues’ training program. Each colleague is given a week’s orientation upon hiring. Many of them then shadow an experienced employee for a month before being allowed to be on their own. They are required to have 6 hours of training per month, which can include cross training in other departments, or specialized training in their area. So if a waiter had a background in accounting and wanted to explore being transferred there, it is possible to do. Or if he wanted more specialized training in wine to possibly become a sommelier, that is possible.

burjalarab6We take the elevator to the Assawan Spa & Health Club on the 18th floor. There is a beautiful lounge, and to either side two facilities — one for women only and one for mixed genders. In each are pools, work out rooms, massage areas, jacuzzis, showers, etc. They are designed based on ancient Arabian baths. The pool butts up to the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the Gulf.

In the lounge, Jonathan explains the reward system. They have several programs, including Colleague of the Month, Colleague of the Year, and an Exceptional Colleague Award. Additionally, they have an instant reward system whereby managers can give a reward to any colleague s/he has witness going above and beyond.

al-muntahaNext he takes us to the top of the structure — the Al Muntaha restaurant, which juts out from the top of the building 650 above the Arabian Gulf. Here we discuss how employees are trained to handle complaints. Surprisingly, nothing really earth shattering here — it’s mostly about active listening.

We take the glass elevator down to the ground floor where we sit outside in the dusk discussing the Burj Al Arab’s amazing attention to detail. We learn that each guest has a detailed profile so when they return everything will be just right. This could include their restaurant preferences, room service choices, to how they like their clothing packed or unpacked by their butler. All are kept on file and reviewed before arrival so their stay will be as seamless as possible.

The outside of the structure is cleaned regularly so guests won’t see any dirt or sand piling from the ever-present breezes. They even engage a falcon for pigeon patrol, so guests won’t have to worry about any unwelcome addition to their head or clothing during their jaunts on the grounds.

Our tour ends at the front door, where Jonathan has thoughtfully provided us goodie bags with a few souvenirs of the property. We have had a glimpse into a world-class organization that few can share.

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