Face-to-Face: David Topolewski

David Topolewski
David Topolewski

This week, we talk to David Topolewski, CEO of Qooco, about the rise of mobile training in the hospitality industry…

Q) Qooco is promoting mobile e-learning for hotels; what benefits does this type of training offer, as opposed to traditional classroom learning?

Qooco aims to change the way hotels assess and train their employees, by harnessing the power of mobile. We provide mobile assessment and learning tools for the hospitality and retail industries (Qooco Hospitality), including apps that assess and train service staff in English and Mandarin languages, provide vocational training and teach them how to generate more revenues through upselling.

Unlike traditional, classroom-based learning, our mobile learning solutions allow students to learn anytime, anywhere, ensuring constant growth. Gamification and progressive learning techniques ensure faster learning, while instant feedback and results that can be measured allow the student and training manager to see exactly where to improve on, this also ensures consistency in learning, with all students receiving the same tuition.

Additionally, mobile learning software is now highly developed, incorporating biometric technology, and is able to provide instant feedback and correction – ideal for training managers as this allows them to identify strong performers, and assist those who are struggling. Additionally, we incorporate the World’s only visual tone feedback for Mandarin, which makes it easier to grasp this tone-heavy language.

Importantly for hotels and retailers, mobile learning benefits the bottom line in two ways. Firstly, there is no requirement to hire teachers, block classroom space, purchase books and other teaching aids and pull service staff off of the front line and into the classroom. With mobile learning, employees need just ten minutes per day, and can learn on the train, during their lunch break or before bed.

Secondly, it is impossible to separate language from service, and by improving English and/or Mandarin language skills, employees are able to provide a better quality of service, resulting in happier, and more loyal, guests and customers, in turn leading to increased revenues thanks to repeat business.

Lastly, mobile learning is highly scalable. While classroom learning programs across multiple properties requires more than one teacher, each of whom may differ in approach and quality, mobile learning curriculums and techniques are the same no matter how many employees use the solutions. We are able to train hundreds if not thousands of employees in different hotels and retail stores across multiple countries to the same level of quality and standards. Additionally, we are able to continually update the programs to reflect changing trends and needs.

Q) How can training and e-learning solutions help hotels, especially in Asia, take advantage of the rising number of guests from emerging markets, like China?

One area that mobile learning can help with is language learning. Linguistic diversity is incredibly beneficial within any workforce, especially those in the service industries. Hotels, for example, welcome guests from around the world, who speak different languages and have different cultural needs, and so having employees who can communicate with these guests in their language will enable them to provide a better level of service.

It is no secret that the Chinese traveller will help drive global tourism for the foreseeable future, and have the biggest effect of the bottom line for hotels and retailers – especially luxury retailers. Chinese tourists are among the biggest spenders among travellers, spending almost a quarter of their income (US$3,455) on travel a year, with millennials spending even more (27%). This is expected to grow, with at least 33% of travellers forecast to spend 30% or more on travel, particularly on entertainment and dining, in 2017. While there are many reasons behind their choice of hotel, the presence of Mandarin speaking staff consistently ranks in the top 10.

So, Mandarin language is especially important when it comes to Chinese travellers. It is no surprise that the British Hospitality Association (BHA), when advising their members on how to attract more Chinese tourists (the UK falls far behind France on this front), cited employing staff with more language skills as one of the main steps they had to take . Yet, traditional ways in which hotels train their staff in Mandarin are ineffective, expensive or both.

Mobile learning presents numerous opportunities for hotels to upskill their staff, and to provide constant, continuous learning on a daily basis – vital for learning languages. The new ‘digital generation’ of young hotel employees learn better from a screen than from a book, and game-based learning has been proven to improve results. Furthermore, situational training – learning programs based on realistic hotel scenarios – further helps to improve learning outcomes, and ensure employees receive relevant, actionable training.

Q) Many hotel groups are developing their own “China-friendly” policies for guests; is Qooco working with hoteliers on these and other areas?

Qooco works with over 200 hotel groups worldwide, including The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Hyatt, Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons and JW Marriott. We work with hotels and retailers to address a variety of needs, for example, some may wish to measure the current state of their employees’ language abilities, so we provide our language assessment tool, Qooco Assess. Others may wish to train their frontline staff in upselling skills, and so we provide them with Qooco Upsell. Others wish to elevate their employees’ Mandarin language abilities to better serve their growing Chinese clientele, and so they use Qooco Voice.

Qooco’s mobile solutions form part of a hotel’s or retailer group’s overall strategy to attract and retain Chinese guests and customers, and that strategy must be led by the General Manager, with buy-in from the department heads and the employees themselves. Within this strategy, language plays a vital and major role, not simply because Mandarin skills allow an employee to communicate with their guests and customers, but language offers a window into the culture of a people. Employees don’t just learn a new set of words and phrases, rather they will also learn what Chinese guests like to eat, their history, religion and culture – this all helps to provide a deeper connection with the guest.

Q) From which countries are you seeing the strongest demand for your services?

Qooco provides mobile learning solutions worldwide, and we are seeing significant demand from Asia given the growth in Chinese travel to the region, and the immense competition among hotels, which has seen service quality become even more of a differentiator among quality hotels. In a relatively new market such as Southeast Asia, many of the properties are brand new and feature the latest facilities and technology; therefore hotels need to stand out through service, of which staff language ability plays an important role.

We are also seeing more demand from other service industries, such as retail, airlines and the cruise industry. Luxury retailers are very similar to hotels in many ways, in that they have a high brand reputation to live up to that includes not just the product (which needs to be high-quality), but also the in-store experience. Furthermore, Chinese travellers tend to purchase a large number of luxury goods, and so Mandarin language skills among staff is important.

Q) What further developments and technologies are you working on? For example, are you planning to use virtual or augmented reality to improve training?

We are working on a Virtual Reality (VR) training solution, which should be ready by the fourth quarter, 2017. VR has been used by militaries around the world for many years now, as a cost-effective way of training soldiers in leadership and teamwork under (virtual) stressful conditions. While working in a hotel is in no way comparable to a battlefield, the same principles apply, and VR can be used to replicate a busy Front Office scenario, or an irate guest, in a realistic manner. This will enable hotels to better prepare their newer staff for life ‘on the front line’, and enable training managers to identify stronger performers.

Additionally, while I cannot provide details just yet, we will soon launch a new mobile solution designed specifically for the cruise industry that will help cruise lines improve the communication skills of their crew, and cater to the growing demand for cruising among Chinese travellers.

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