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Posted: Thursday 28 January, 2016 at 2:40 PM

Customer Service within the Federation. An Open Dialogue with Ernest Amory (of Amory Enterprises)

By: Kimberly Erwin, OPEN Interactive, Inc.

    BASSETERRE, St. Kitts – ON A sun-spilled, breeze-delightful day, Kittitian commercial realty tycoon and business baron—Ernest Amory—and a few invited lunch guests gathered at Palms Court Gardens (PCG), the home of Mr. Amory (and one or two very lucky cottage guests in the year) for conversation spun from Mr. Amory’s vision of this island nation being one that attracts and satisfies elite visitors while supporting and investing greatly in its own best resources—Kittitians and Nevisians.  In bringing about such a successful union, Amory is vocal and attention is rapt—between necessary meal orders.

     

    SOUP!  Pumpkin soup, that is.  The appetizer of choice from the encouraging menu for the majority in the party.  Succulent surprises await…

     

    Anchored at the head of the table, the calm-spoken and thoughtful host, Amory chooses the “pumpkin” soup from the menu from a very attentive member of his waitstaff at PCG.  When the first-course is served—‘women first’ is her delegation supported fully by Amory.  “Quality service”—or rather, the lack thereof, is one of the many topics broached in our 2 1/2 hour, 3-course meal.

     

    “We have all traveled,” begins Amory by introducing his feelings with regards to ‘bad’ service and attitudes of staff on the island, sharing the need for staff to “go back ten times” before getting it right.  And what’s the recourse for both customer and owner?  Amory simply states, “We accept it.”

     

    This astute business gentleman continues adding his thoughts on service as it pertains to the government.  “We put our resources into structures attracting more flights, more hotels, more cruise ships. But we need to invest more into our people in terms of service.  My father told me one time,” he recalls, “don’t worry about making money, worry about providing the best service and the money will come.”

     

    It is this type of philosophy that both he and his brother Reggie (also managing director of Amory enterprises) affirm.  So much so, that though it has allowed for the strengthening and growth of Amory enterprises (from bakery to town mall centers and hospitality resorts), it has also led to his closing of the Palms Café (once located in Basseterre’s central district).  And his reasons for closing this well-attended and notably missed establishment? They were “due to headaches of customers complaining of the incompetent and rude service.”  The specifics were shared at the luncheon table engendering audible sighs of disbelief.

     

    “If we want to excel, we have to be different from the other islands.  I’m really tired of hearing about bad service.”

     

    The remedy for such lack of tenable service staff was also part of the agenda. No one minced words.  Varied and plausible responses were candidly proffered from those at the table.  Solutions are to come from private sector and in social awareness campaigns while being supported by the various government entities.  

     

    Of the role of government, Amory metes his beliefs directly to the Prime Minister. We are also given an understanding of his views predominantly in this area.  “[Government] needs to facilitate…Government ministers must set a standard…We should be independent [of outside financial assistance not aligned with supporting the educational, social, and entrepreneurial ventures of the Kittitian people].”  His one main criticism is that though Amory Enterprises “work[s] with government all the time,” he cedes “government is a big business” that “must be managed as a business and not a political organization.”

     

    The current political structure here in St. Kitts and Nevis is being viewed internationally.  Questions arise from outside and within the country, stemming from ‘business as usual’— with regards to age-old concerns that is quick-sand to whatever systems are in place to service its peoples—to self-empowerment preventions aimed specifically at maintaining the ‘status-quo’ and alleviating any possibilities of progress without the long arm of government attaining credit.  Of politicians, Amory says, “They do things in the interest of getting elected first.  They might hire 2000 people to do nothing to get 2000 votes. We should all be independent.” 

     

    This gathering was not simply to espouse the topic of the role assumed by government but to address it to the people—the electorate. “…No one does anything about it. They just talk about it. Nothing happens. It is sad,” asserts Amory.

     

    As a reporter—hold the government feet to fire.”  

     

    Amory is far from being self-serving in his deliberations.  Along with sharing his thoughts regarding what government or the press needs to do enlighten and better inform and include the people, he discusses more of what he and his business does and is willing to do to jumpstart the “national discussion about service.” 

     

    Sharing notice of private-public partnerships was at the forefront of the discussion.  This type of recognition may allow others to partake in similar endeavors.  Specific charitable unions and financial outlays were discussed by Amory without the will for self-promotion.  Although Amory was, in all his calm veneer, anything but demure when it came to his father’s legacy of social and community service. 

     

    “Since father was in business in 1945, starting with the bakery…we assisted for years in social development in St. Kitts,” avows Amory.  Without being able to give a definitive total dollar amount, he ascertains, “It’s over $70,000 a year that we [Amory Enterprises] give back to community, schools, organizations like Rotary Clubs,” contending that there are “letters every day asking for donations…even from the government.”

     

    Amory Enterprises fixed the sidewalk in front of the bakery by Subway—an $11,000 cost and requiring six months to receive permission [from government]. 

     

    On this day, Amory reflects upon the need for the “national discussion” to include families…or more specifically, “young people and their parents.” He goes on to emphasize, “Yes, the parents!”  It is honorable and “not a problem—to humble [one’s self],” in order to achieve stellar customer service. 

     

    I can wash the drain down—See the flour all over me?” quips Amory. The party, as well as myself, smiles at the thought of him all-covered with white flour.  “I tell my staff here,” he continues, “‘Treat everyone equally, and you won’t go wrong.’” 

     

    With the completion of the first course, and being all in agreement, our laughter ensued visualizing indeed, the fictitious possible response of service personnel were they to recognize their mistake of treating a minister of government poorly—to state that had they known of what rank the individual was they would have given better service!  Continued conversation highlighted the differing service between locals and international visitors, even mentioning how the skin color of the customer may be a factor in whether or not one receives quality service in certain establishments.

     

    Coq au vin with rice…oh-la-la, and the spare ribs?…

     

    The “conversation” was lively and non-stop when the main course arrived.  At this time, I spied the opportunity to marvel at the hill-studded background, holding homage to the magnificence of Nevis, the sister island nation from my niche at the luncheon table.  For Amory—the French-pronounced meal, and for the only other two men in the party—spare ribs, but of course.  (I had to take part of the deliciously-filling main course home—in order to save room for dessert!)

     

    We are here to serve.” 

     

    With joviality measured by good company and a great meal aside, Amory impresses upon us that the “discussion” centered on service needs to include actionable outcomes. I questioned whether he, a person who is not currently part of the Chamber of Commerce, would serve in a partnership in support of the public sector—i.e. hiring workers who obtained a certificate in Hospitality or Customer Service? “Of course,” he retorts.

     

    “A business where they can train. That’s needed.  Like, if you go to this agency, you’ll get trained service providers,” Amory maintains. That would certainly aim to satisfy his desire for the abatement of poor-service employees constantly being sent along, providing, “without a reference check, [one goes] from one job to the next making the same mistakes.”

     

    “…[O]ur people have to be ready.” 

     

    The representatives of our various media outlets present were implored by Mr. Amory to be the best in each of our.  “People tend to believe the news,” he conveys. “So we have to [have] responsible journalists.” In particular, island safety was of major concern to the business community.  Who is in charge of security and of keeping crimes, like murder, low was discussed.  His belief was that of the government, “hard questions” needed to be asked to better affect positive outcomes.

     

    “Government look[s] at what is being broadcast on the news, especially in the United States.” 

     

    Ernest Amory holds nothing back when stating there are really deep cultural problems, which aren’t necessarily rooted in government or political spheres, at work in negatively influencing behaviors. Specifically, the lack of strong family values were determined by most present to be a disadvantage in providing for positive, customer-service employment from island-born workforce stemming from the ‘un’-parenting of children that has become salient.  “I think it is like a village,” exclaims Amory, “We have to work together.  It starts in the home with the parents.  You have to say, ‘Good morning.’”  Professionally speaking, Amory imparts, “You get a tip, you have to say, ‘Thank you.’”

     

    The stories at our dining table are of support of the need of stronger parenting—a mother supporting a child by lying to police officers about his whereabouts on the night a crime had taken place was one.  Another was that of parents simply being unaware of their child’s culpability. “Even the kids who go and shoot someone,” Amory invokes, “[their] parents say, ‘Not my son.  He’s a nice boy.’  Until they are found guilty in court—then, they accept.”

     

    Amory shares with us a recollection, prefacing it by stating, “Many fathers today aren’t fathers anymore.  They just have kids and that’s it.”  Then, “On the radio—a guy calls on the radio station, and says, ‘I’d like to wish my mother a Happy Father’s Day.’  That’s amazing.  I never forgot that.”  (Neither shall we.)

     

    We, now full of a phenomenal 3-course meal (with my last course being delicious banana bread with mango ice cream), were ready to exit with a pledge—of sorts.  To elevate to the stage of awareness the need of invited media (including myself and a few local Kittitian and Nevisian journalists) to put out this piece in the context in which it was given. To “put it out in the public domain” so that “people [may] really talk about it and do something about it,” utters Amory.

     

    No thoughts or positions unveiled here by either host or guests were expected to be deleterious in nature. No one is expected to have all the answers—neither media, government, industry nor any persons. Of Amory Enterprises, he puts forth, “We’re not perfect, but we’re working on it.”  

     

    Amory is unequivocal in the necessary role of even the clients/customers.  “We can only make it better if we know what’s going on,” he offers, alluding to online review sites like TripAdvisor that, in lieu of an island ‘Better Business Bureau,’ aids his business in satisfying customer expectations.  With such knowledge “role model training” for service personnel at his establishments, like Palms Court Gardens, take place.

     

    By breaking bread together, a business/media union has planned for the next stage—bringing a basic awareness of ‘right behaviors.’ Why not a public service announcement? This is a decidedly doable initiative.  Imagine “having a car going down Frigate Bay Road with someone throwing garbage out.  And then you stop and say, ‘Keep Cities Clean,’” Amory proposes, in support of efforts to transform this island paradise in ways in which only local peoples, families, business owners, and government members could, should, and must do in the areas of service—in all realms of business.

     

    And of PCG, “The next stage is to open up for dining.” 

     

    We make it  [spare ribs] with wine and amaretto, marinate it for a day, and bake it for 5 hours…Bon appetit!” 

     

     

     

     

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