Author: Jen Neilands, Front Desk Manager, Conferences and Accommodations, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus
UBCO Conferences and Accommodation aspires to be an outstanding service provider to all visitors by embodying the spirit and warmth of the Okanagan.
Everything comes back to our vision statement.
We demand a lot of our staff: we have a combined housing and conference front desk, so we serve both sets of clients. Our summer staff may spend 20 minutes on the phone with an anxious parent about to send their oldest child to university, and then check a youth soccer team into their accommodation. The student staff fulfill our expectations with grace and enthusiasm.
Our training program is designed to give our seasonal staff the skills and knowledge to embody the spirit and warmth of the Okanagan in all of our interactions. We spend four days preparing our staff for conference, housing, maintenance, and other situations that they may run into during the season. We begin on Friday morning by setting the tone for the week: we discuss our vision statement, what it means to us, and how we exemplify it. We spend the remainder of the morning working on customer service training. We’ve deliberately placed customer service training at the beginning, as providing excellent customer service is key to our goals.
We have lunch and meet everyone that works in the department. The seasonal staff are a key part of the team – they make everyone’s job easier. The department staff appreciate the opportunity to get to know the people they’ll be seeing at the front desk all summer. We work off our lunch with a tour of the residences and the campus. Though our staff are students, they may not be familiar with all the residence buildings and rooms, and the locations of campus amenities like the ATMs and payphones. They learn to see the campus from of a guest’s perspective.
After the first day, we spend the weekend getting down to brass tacks: we train on our reservation system, our room descriptions and rates, cash handling, and other office procedures. Training on the weekend when the office is closed allows everyone to spend a significant amount of time training at the front desk without guests arriving and telephones ringing. When the staff start their first shift, they are already comfortable with how the phones work, where to find things in the office, etc. They can jump in and focus on customer service immediately.
On Monday, we spend time learning how to talk with parents and students about student housing. We talk about our rooms differently depending whether we are interacting with a conference guest or a student/parent, and we expect our staff to adapt their message to the audience. We also meet campus partners in security, maintenance, and fire safety. A representative from Tourism Kelowna comes and presents on the many activities to do in and around the city while guests are visiting.
Our final activity is a campus and residence scavenger hunt, with clues taken from important sections of training. The winners of the scavenger hunt get to sign our trophy, and have bragging rights for the year.
Every year after training, we ask the summer staff and our presenters to evaluate the program, and use their suggestions to make the program stronger. Just when I think it’s as good as it can get, a new staff member comes up with a terrific idea that brings the program to the next level. I can’t wait to see what they come up with this year!
Jen Neilands, Front Desk Manager, Conferences and Accommodations, University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus