Technology certainly helps. From the earliest days of videotape through floppy disk, CD, and even intranet delivery, technology-assisted training has helped countless employees learn and master the details of their jobs. Like its predecessors, DVD is a compelling delivery solution because it goes far beyond the standard academic approach. Instead of positioning a single trainer at the front of a classroom to talk for hours on end, today's employers have access to solutions that challenge employees by making them part of the process. What's more, DVD offers visual and audio quality, as well as storage capacities, far superior to competing technologies available today.
Few professions are more hands-on than those found throughout the lodging industry. At all levels of a hotel operation, associates are trained to maintain the highest standards of customer service. Because operating a hotel is a 24/7 business with many competing demands, many associates are cross-trained to work in multiple departments in multiple positions over the course of their careers. Of course, some qualities of an outstanding hotel associate are inherent; a friendly disposition, an innate desire to help others, and a sense of teamwork and empowerment must come naturally. Most everything else can be learned, however, and hotel companies have answered that need by developing training programs to teach employees how to do their jobs and do them well.
One company that has recognized the value of DVD as a training tool is Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based Baymont Inns & Suites. Last fall, the limited-service hotel chain unveiled a DVD training program used in all 180-plus company-owned and franchised properties nationwide, as well as at seven properties operating under Baymont's sister chain, Woodfield Suites. Designed to assure consistency in product and service across both brands, the program provides to every property in the chains' portfolios three DVD training modules and associated informational binders, a free DVD player and 20-inch television, and a portable cart to house all of the program's materials.
In addition to newly created content, the DVDs feature concepts originally developed for Baymont's video training program. "We started out with about 12 videotapes that the company had in its archives and were in a situation where we could either update the videos or try something new," explains Linda Korbel, director of training for Baymont Inn & Suites. "We were planning to make adjustments to the content anyway, so the big decision was VHS or DVD. Jim Abrahamson, our president/CEO, made the decision to go to DVD in an effort to build excitement for the program," she continues, noting that the volume of content the company wished to present, physical space considerations at each hotel, and limited computer access for hotel associates made VHS and online training problematic alternatives.
"DVD affords associates the opportunity to learn at their own pace and convenience. The computers we do have at each property are in the manager's office," so associates wouldn't have easy access to the Internet when they needed it, adds Jane Hoida, Baymont's vice president of human resources. Because the entire program is packaged to be portable, "employees have the ability to take the unit into the hotel's breakfast area, a guestroom, or even a conference room when they have some free time" to participate in the training. The program also is tailored for both single-viewer and group settings, allowing associates to direct how, when, where, and even with whom they are trained.
The program currently consists of eleven supplemental training binders and three DVD-Video discs, with more discs planned. Disc A contains program and skills information useful to all hotel associates; Disc B provides dramatizations tailored to breakfast attendants and room attendants, as well as training exercises concerning safety and quality guestroom maintenance; and Disc C presents elements from both discs in Spanish. All of the training exercises are task-driven. Associates participate over a 90-day period and then take an exam, with those who pass earning professional certification.
Once Baymont had settled on DVD as its delivery mechanism, Korbel and Hoida gathered a team of Baymont executives in the corporate office to assist in content development. "It was relentless," says Hoida, who reports that the entire development process took approximately six weeks. "Going into it, we knew we had to make some corrections to our current training materials, and we decided to take the plunge and do everything at one time, as opposed to piecemeal. We did it as a team effort."
Each of the newly created training scenarios is actor- and actress-driven, using current associates at Baymont's six Milwaukee-area properties. "We used actual employees as the talent and made them advisors on the set," says George Liberatore, president of Midland Video Productions. (The Milwaukee-based production company first partnered with the Marcus Corporation, Baymont's parent company, in 2000 to produce the series of training videos that inspired and informed the DVD version.) "If something was written a certain way" that was inconsistent with how they perform a task, Liberatore says, "they would say so and we would update the scripts accordingly."
Once Hoida and Korbel's team had developed all of the content, the scripts were sent to the Baymont Leadership Advisory Solutions Team for final approval. Along the way, Midland's 10-person team of video production, graphic artist, and freelance staff assisted in the development process because "we had never done anything like this before," Hoida explains.
After Midland completed filming, the project team edited and output the footage using Avid's Make DVD option. Upon completion of the digital masters, the discs were authored and replicated by Allied Vaughn, a multi-service media company serving the corporate communications, special interest, and education markets via offices in Milwaukee and 17 other U.S. cities. (The first run included 1,500 discs.)
When the time came for Baymont to purchase the DVD players that would make delivery of the training program possible, "quality was of utmost importance," says Hoida.
"We looked at three manufacturers and knew that Panasonic's televisions and DVD players would mesh and be visually appealing," Korbel continues. "We wanted ease of use—a configuration that could be connected within 30 seconds by anyone." Baymont ultimately selected Panasonic's DVD-R32 for its look and functionality, buying nearly 200 players at local electronics stores for roughly $102 a pop.
Among other things, the DVD-R32 features high-speed forward- and reverse-scanning, a 192kHz/24-bit digital-to-analog converter, and Panasonic's Advanced Virtual Surround Sound, which simulates the effect of surround sound using little more than the standard speakers in the user's television or stereo system. The player also is designed to read most digital media, including DVD-Video, Video CD, audio CD-R and CD-RW, and MP3 files burned to CD-R or CD-RW. It will not read DVD-Audio discs, however. Nine months after the initial rollout, Korbel and Hoida agree that the program is a success. "The perception is there that this is a big deal," says Korbel. Adds Hoida, "Our associates have been thrilled with the training. When we launched the materials late last year, we went to each property individually to show the associates how the DVDs work. We spent two to three weeks doing that so that everyone knew about and received the program simultaneously. Some of our associates have even said that this is the best training they've ever had."
"The other key thing here is that Baymont has now built this network of DVD players in all of its hotels," adds Midland director Joe Liberatore. "If the CEO wants to make a speech to each associate, we can easily record it, burn it to DVD, and send it to each hotel. The price of duplication of DVDs is coming down to the point where it's pretty much comparable to VHS.
"The future of DVD as a training tool is really taking off," he continues. "For a company like Baymont, it's simply more cost-effective. People are more interested in watching a six-minute video exercise than listening to someone talk all day about how to do something. And it's far easier to manage three DVDs than 14 VHS tapes."
Perhaps the best endorsement comes from Baymont's president/CEO, who green-lighted the transition to DVD in the first place. "Hotel guests want comfort and cleanliness in a hotel room, but they also demand excellence in service," Abrahamson explains. "That is why branding is so important. Customers seek reliable and excellent service from their favorite brands. The brands that offer that consistency will exceed guest expectations and develop greater guest loyalty."
And isn't that what hospitality is all about?
(Allied Vaughn www.alliedvaughn.com. Baymont Inns & Suites www.baymontinns.com. Midland Video Productions www.midlandvideo.com. Panasonic Consumer Electronics www.panasonic.com.)