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How Susan C. Kelley shows employees that they matter at Shell Vacations LLC Featured

8:01pm EDT August 1, 2011
How Susan C. Kelley shows employees that they matter at Shell Vacations LLC

Susan C. Kelley doesn’t want her employees to provide great customer service because she told them to do it. She wants them to do it because they feel and believe that it’s the right thing to do.

“In my view, it’s creating a culture where employees want to treat the customer that way,” says Kelley, president of Shell Vacations Hospitality and Shell Vacations Club. Both are part of Shell Vacations LLC, which has more than 1,700 employees.

“The only way you’re going to create that culture is face time with your employees and creating an environment where your company is human,” Kelley says. “There’s no one single thing that a company or a CEO does to create that culture. It happens over time. It happens because management spends time with the employee.”

And it happens when you stand by your word and become someone who your employees can trust.

“If you say you’re going to give a performance review every year, then you have to do it,” Kelley says. “If you say you’re going to create incentive programs for you, you have to do it.”

And if you say you’re going to survey your employees on a regular basis and gather their feedback on how the business is being run, you have to do that too.

“If a hot button issue for an employee, which it always is, is to feel empowered and appreciated, we can create training programs and incentives that are going to help that employee feel empowered and appreciated,” Kelley says. “I’m a huge believer, and it’s been proven in our organization, that that employee turns right around and that’s exactly how they treat the customer.”

Here’s how Kelley uses surveying to stay tuned in with her employees and to help them provide better service to customers.

Set the stage

Shell Vacations was a much different company when Kelley arrived in 1994. For one thing, there wasn’t really a system in place as to how customers were to be treated. It varied depending on which employee was providing the service or at which resort it was being provided.

Kelley wanted to change that. So she launched an effort to gather feedback from both employees and customers as to what they expected from the company.

“If you can gather the priorities of your employees and your customers, then it becomes a function of culling through that information and saying, ‘OK, what kind of training do we need to provide to our employees to reinforce what’s important to that employee, but mesh it with what the hot button is for the customer?’”

Surveys obviously can be an effective way to gather this kind of information. But before you take that step, you need to go talk to your people face to face.

“It doesn’t help any company or any CEO to just send out the survey and say, ‘Here, take the survey.’ Then it has zero credibility,” Kelley says. “Particularly if you’re trying to create a culture where this becomes a way of life on a long-term basis and not just the one time. In order to do that, you have to go out and talk to your employees and tell them what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.”

In some cases, the face-to-face conversations may be enough to gather the feedback that you need.

“If I was a CEO of a company that had 100 or fewer employees, frankly, I too perhaps would question how critical [a survey] was, knowing I could spend time with 100 people in my organization in any given month, quarter or half year,” Kelley says. “But when you have hundreds of employees or over 1,000 in our case, the ability to find out what they are thinking and feeling is absolutely essential to the success of your organization.”

In Kelley’s case, a survey was needed as she was trying to build something that would have a lasting impact on the company. So she explained to people exactly how the survey process would work before it was to be carried out.

“We tell employees, ‘OK, you’re going to take the survey on Oct. 2’ or whatever the date may be,” Kelley says. “We will have the results by Nov. 5 and by no later than Nov. 10, we’ll be scheduling departmental meetings to go through the results of the survey.”

You also need to work with your direct reports to make sure they are clear about the schedule and to make sure that they understand how critical it is that everything happen according to the plan.

“My direct reports provide me with a very detailed timeline of exactly the schedule for the survey,” Kelley says. “When is it being rolled out? When are we expecting the results? Here’s what we’re going to do when we get the results. Here’s the action plan of how we’re going to follow up on those results. So we actually train management on what the proper process is for following up on the action plan.”

It’s these details and your commitment to them that can make a difference in how seriously your employees take your survey process.

“One of the biggest mistakes that companies make is making promises and then either not following through or being very late in following through on those promises,” Kelley says. “I always tell the management team that reports directly to me, it’s like spanking a puppy for having an accident on the carpet. If you don’t catch it right away, it no longer has any meaning.”

Trust the experts

Your best bet for conducting an effective survey of either your employees or your customers is to find a third-party company that does it for a living.

“We look for a company that has done surveys in our industry,” Kelley says. “We look for a company who is willing to sit down with us and understand our company’s culture, our company’s mission and service statement and our service goals. A company that every time we do a survey, and we’ve been doing our surveys now for almost 12 years, it’s willing to go through the results of those surveys with us before they get rolled out to the employees.”

The best thing is to find a company that you can stick with on a long-term basis as it’ll be able to track changes and trends that you are going to want to know about as more surveys are conducted.

“They can look at trends and compare information from the prior survey and provide us with analytics from having so much experience,” Kelley says. “They may say to us, ‘Sue, all of a sudden your results in ‘I feel appreciated’ have jumped 10 points across your company. Have you done something different in your organization in the last six months that would have caused the results of that question to jump by 10 points? It’s hugely beneficial for us because we can take a look at how what we’ve done has had a positive or negative impact on the survey. They are our partners.”

So with that long-term view in mind, provide a sense of what you’re looking to accomplish with your surveying. A good survey company will work with you, although they may not always agree with you.

That’s when you need to keep in mind, this is what they do for a living.

“They initially provide us with stock questions,” Kelley says. “We sat with them and said, ‘Fifty percent of these questions work for us, and 50 percent we’d like to tweak.’ They said, ‘Your tweaks don’t work.’ There are scientific reasons why and that’s why they write surveys and we don’t. But they said, ‘We understand where you’re trying to go with your tweaks, so let’s alter the question and see if it works for you.’ So they provide us with the stock questions, but for that 50 percent we wanted to tweak, they helped us customize them for our particular organization.”

If a company is not willing to work with you, it’s probably not going to provide the benefit you’re looking for. So you want to find someone you feel comfortable with and someone who you feel is after the same goal that you are.

“They are our partners,” Kelley says.

Make it matter

Surveys of customers are very similar to employee surveys in that you’re typically after the same goal: to get good feedback that you can use to make your organization better. The difference is that customers come and go all the time and it can take some effort to reach them depending on what your business does.

Shell Vacations uses electronic surveys with customers that include drop-down menus that ask for more feedback if someone had a negative experience in a particular area. But perhaps more importantly, the cover letter on the survey is signed by Kelley.

Customers are also reminded when they check in and when they check out that the surveys are of great value to the company.

The idea of surveying is one that should be valuable to any business, whether that company in the hospitality business, the manufacturing sector or any other type of industry.

“Every business in this day and age is competitive if for no other reason than with the Internet,” Kelley says. “You can buy anything and everything by going to Google and typing one word and finding 1,000 different organizations that provide the same product. In our world, as fast as it’s moving, understanding your customers’ needs and your employees is translatable to any type of business or organization.”

You need to show yourself to be someone who is tuned in to what’s happening in your business and responsive to the needs of both your employees and your customers. You need to show people that you care.

“In the bigger picture, this is not just relating to surveying,” Kelley says. “It’s very important for management, if there is a glitch, if there is a concern, if a particular division of the company or particular area of the company begins to slip or has a trend that’s going in the wrong direction, you can’t get mad about it. You have to look at it objectively and create an action plan to try to fix it. You have to be patient. Take a deep breath and count to 10. Don’t immediately assume that somebody is doing something wrong.”

How to reach: Shell Vacations LLC, (847) 564-4600 or www.shellvacationsclub.com

The Kelley File

Born: Chicago

Kelley on her big career break: “In between graduating from high school and going to college, I needed to have a job. I had a scholarship to go to college but there were ancillary expenses. So I needed to have a job. I went to downtown Chicago looking for a job and walked into the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue having absolutely no clue what people did that worked in hotels.

“I was very fortunate that I was hired for the summer. I worked there the entire summer between high school and college and I absolutely loved it.”

But the college thing didn’t really work out.

“I went to college in the fall and absolutely hated it. There was not a moment in time that I was in college the first semester that I didn’t wish I was back at the hotel working.”

So after being offered a full-time job with the hotel, back she went.

“For me, it was like somebody handed me a check for a million dollars. … I never went back to college, and I have worked in the hospitality industry ever since.”

What is the best advice anyone ever gave you?

This was from Jerry Sikes, front office manager at the Congress Hotel. He had tremendous patience in this young girl who had stars in her eyes, but also willingly, openly and without a moment of hesitation taught me everything that he knew. He said, ‘Just try to figure it out and if you make a mistake, pick yourself back up and figure out another way to get it done until you get it right.’