cocktail party customer service

Last year I wrote a review of Paradisus Playa del Carmen La Esmeralda, an exceptional all inclusive resort in Mexico. As a family we fight against going back to the same place, however unfortunately (!) we lost the battle and went back for a 10 day vacation and returned last week.

With my personal focus on customer service and customer satisfaction, this time, I asked for an interview with the general manager of the resort to see if I could uncover some of the secrets of their amazing customer service ethos. I don’t use the word ‘amazing‘ lightly… however when you constantly marvel at the most willing and incredible staff for the entire duration of your trip, the intrigue factor kicks in.

Annette Koelemeij, General Manager has been with the resort for 6 months and her Quality Manager had been there since the resort was built – 3 years ago at the time of writing. She had not experienced a customer service ethos like the one at this resort in her 20 years in the business… They kindly sat down with me to give me some insight. I’ve summarised our conversation below.

Recruitment and training

The resort has 1,000 staff… it’s like a small town – with over 50% customer facing.

customer service ethos at La Esmeralda

“Attitude is more important than experience”

Their HR team look for attitude and aptitude is secondary. Annette believes staff can be trained on the job, but having the right attitude and “desire to serve” is much much harder to instill. It’s something that people either have or don’t have. Something I’m personally inclined to agree with. For so many, particularly in the Western world, that desire to serve is lacking. Quite often, people deem it to be beneath them, yet it can be so rewarding when done right.

The team provides induction training, followed by training for their specific position and then courses are held throughout their time with the resort. Clearly ongoing inspiration is key to their success.

Training comes in many forms – and the Executive team lead by example – the natural smiles start at the top – “we don’t do it because we have to – we do it because we love it”.


The staff engaged with us, including our children a lot. Everyone introduces themselves by their first name when you sit down for a meal – asks whether you have any questions or allergies. It’s not said in a robotic way either – it always comes across as genuine. Staff seem to be able to gauge the right amount of interaction and conversation. It’s not intrusive.

As Annette explained, it’s encouraged. So much of their feedback comes from these conversations. If you mention something to a member of the team – they have a system in place so that it’s reported back through the management chain. What you think is an off the cuff conversation is potentially contributing to change or reward. It’s such a simple thing to do if you think about it.

How much feedback goes missing in your business? Are customer conversations captured meticulously? Could you implement a system today to ensure everything (good and bad) is captured?

Measurement & improvement

Supervisors in the various restaurants were noticeable… once in a while we were asked whether everything was OK with our meal / service by one of the team leaders who was clearly keeping a constant eye on how her team were doing and how customers were feeling. Annette explained to me that supervision was a key part of their daily process.

customer service ethos with cocktails

I asked how they could continue to improve on what I already felt was unbeatable. The fact is that they will always continue to measure performance, in order to hit their goals (which they understandably didn’t reveal).

One of Annette’s more qualitative measurements was simply to “measure smiles”. I love that. By being hands on and walking the resort regularly – she can see reactions from guests. With 20 years in the business, she can feel how things are. It’s something that business owners should be practicing, whatever the industry.

In addition, their TripAdvisor guest comments and reviews are meticulously combed through. They respond to all comments and it’s noticeable there’s tastefully presented TripAdvisor QR codes around the hotel. Reviews are very much encouraged. With over 2,500 at the time of writing and 1,795 of them ‘excellent’ you can see its importance to their business.

Improvement also comes from learning outside the resort. The Paradisus brand is owned by Melia International. Annette talked to me about a task force which collates and shares best practice from around Mexico and around the world. I suspect their ethos helps a lot of other hotels to get it right.

In summary

There is no magic bullet to creating an environment for guests which leads to a TripAdvisor review page like this resort has. No doubt the Mexican natural warmth of personality and desire to serve has helped them to get where they are, however don’t be fooled. This resort has established its reputation in three very short years through having the right processes and review points in place. A customer service ethos of this quality just doesn’t happen by chance.

Thank you Annette and team for a truly wonderful experience. Again. Do yourself a favour and make a reservation ;-)