In the auditorium at Peapack-Gladstone Bank’s Bedminster headquarters, approximately 40 employees listen as an instructor describes a term he learned from a client in Mexico. The Spanish word sentipensante appears on the projector screen. Translated to English, this term means empathy and intelligence.
“When you put heart into it,” the instructor said to the group, “that takes it to a whole other level.”
The “it” he’s referring to is hospitality excellence.
As the founder and president of Kennedy Training Network, a Florida-based leading provider of hotel hospitality and sales training services, this skill is Doug Kennedy’s specialty. His clients include many 5-star hotels, such as Waldorf Astoria Los Cabos Pedregal and the Hazelton Hotel Toronto.
As part of Peapack-Gladstone Bank’s focus on offering white-glove service, all approximately 530 employees — from the executive team to the tellers — participated in an educational and inspirational workshop led by Kennedy, who shares a name with, but is no relation to Peapack-Gladstone CEO Doug Kennedy.
“We’ve always had a great reputation for providing excellent service,” Peapack-Gladstone’s Kennedy said. “I always thought that, while we did a great job, there was some path for us to do it better. (That) doesn’t mean work harder, more hours, answer the question in 30 seconds versus 45 seconds. It had to have some other meaning, and so we looked at the hospitality industry.”
After attending hospitality sessions through Ritz-Carlton and Walt Disney World, PGB’s Kennedy still wanted to dig deeper. While researching, Doug Kennedy of Kennedy Training Network came up in a Google search. That Kennedy had an advice book, “So You REALLY Like Working With People?: Five Principles For Hospitality Excellence.”
PGB’s Kennedy immediately downloaded it to his Kindle and read it.
A few weeks later, the two Doug Kennedys met for more than four hours in the PGB boardroom to discuss how hotel hospitality principles could be applied to the banking industry.
“We’re more alike than different,” KTN’s Kennedy said. “(Peapack-Gladstone Bank’s) product is a mortgage, a CD, just like a hotel room is a product. A Hilton is like a Marriott, which is like a Hyatt. The points of differentiation are the client experiences and the guest experiences.
“It’s always the people that make the difference, not the product.”
In 2012, PGB’s Kennedy took the helm of the largest New Jersey-headquartered trust company, with 16 branches in the state. He estimates that about 85-90% of current PGB employees were hired within his 10 years with the company.
“What I’m most proud of is the quality of the people we have, (and) the attitude that they bring each day toward serving the client, serving each other,” he said.
As a private bank, PGB hopes to differentiate itself in the market through what Kennedy has dubbed “homology” — investing in technology, “but do it with a real human wrapper around it,” he said.
For example, it plans to have customized teams and enable clients to text or call anyone on that team for assistance.
“(It’s) technology supporting that human touch,” he said. “A large institution could never deliver that personalized piece.”
Following many months of isolation due to the pandemic, the craving for great hospitality is stronger, points out KTN’s Kennedy.
“Like Peapack-Gladstone Bank, many hotel companies are realizing that you cannot out-tech the competition,” he said. “Now, more than ever, people want human contact.”
Back in PGB’s auditorium, KTN’s Kennedy asked the group: “What do you do to go above and beyond?”
“I try to remember one thing that someone told me,” an employee said. “Like if they have an anniversary coming up or a vacation.”
Another staff member chimed in: “I give the receptionist a client’s name so they know they’re coming and can be greeted.”
“We call all clients on their birthdays,” someone else shared.
Another trainee explains how her colleague learned to speak a little Spanish to better serve clients.
“It’s the effort that she’s putting in,” she said.
Kennedy then summed it up this way: “Hospitality starts with you, and how you treat other people.”
These training sessions are the cherry on the sundae of PGB’s commitment to white-glove service. The company already has rolled out an enterprisewide governance model, including:
- White-Glove Wednesday is a weekly 30-minute meeting for every team to talk about the company’s hospitality standards;
- The White Glove Innovation Lab is a section of the company portal where employees can share suggestions for improvements;
- Doug Bucks affords each employee $500 to right a wrong in the moment with a client;
- The high-five program is a peer-to-peer recognition project to applaud employees for going above and beyond;
- The employee portal stories platform encourages staff to upload photos and videos of hospitality in action.
Pairing these initiatives with the KTN training is meant to provide employees with that “aha moment.”
“This is really training them how to come to work and actually up their game and really treat people in a very personal way and do it with a smile on their face and feel how blessed they are in their own lives and just taking it one step further,” PGB’s Kennedy said.
Employees seem receptive to the sessions.
“This (training) doesn’t happen anywhere else. It’s very different. It’s very helpful,” Michael Buczynski, managing director, commercial banking associate, said. “A lot of it is the little things that you almost forget: dressing right, eye contact, smiling, being happy, listening.”
A key takeaway from the KTN workshops is the importance of exuding positivity.
“(The training) really supports what we do,” Manal Abeskaron, vice president, community private banker, said. “We’re there for the client. We love people. And when you’re happy from inside, you’re able to reflect that for your clients.”
Abeskaron is alluding to a client interaction tactic that KTN’s Kennedy calls “flipping their vibe.”
“Have you ever had the devil walk in and the angel walk out?” he jokes during the presentation. “Who loses when we bring the not-very-nice people home? We ourselves are suffering. Don’t give anyone else the remote control to your emotions.”
KTN’s Kennedy closes his presentation by sharing a guiding principle he learned from his mother, Barbara Kennedy, who owned his family’s business, Kennedy Craft Shop in Lexington, Kentucky.
She used to say, “The success of Kennedy Crafts has little to do with crafts and everything to do with our customers.”
That ideology is in alignment with the next step in PGB’s client experience improvement plan.
“Phase Two really gets down to us being able to anticipate your needs before you’ve actually even identified them,” PGB’s Kennedy said.
For example, the bank knows a client bought a car three years ago. On average, people sell their cars in 3.3 years. The bank will reach out to say, please keep us in mind as you look to finance your next vehicle.
“It’s really now also harnessing data, leveraging it and then proactively bringing solutions to clients,” PGB’s Kennedy said.
How will PGB measure the success of its increased hospitality efforts? It will continuously survey clients and monitor their net promoter score, but true success will mean more inbound referrals.
“The real measure will be, how many clients will refer us?” PGB’s Kennedy said. “Not so much to reward us for the great service that we provide, but it’s really because they know that, by introducing their friend or neighbor or colleague to the bank, that that person will actually benefit by having done business with us.
“In the end, that’s going to tell us that we’ve started in the right path relative to this whole hospitality experience.”
The sessions end, but the training — and the mission — never does, Kennedy said.
“I don’t think there’s a destination here,” he said. “It’s a dynamic process. When you come to our company, this commitment to white-glove service, and always trying to find and hunt for improvement to delight our clients is something that happens every single day, and it never has an end to it. It’s not a program. It ends up being a culture.”
Reach Peapack-Gladstone Bank at: pgbank.com or call 908-234-0700 or 800-742-7595.
Reach Kennedy Training Network at: kennedytrainingnetwork.com or call 954-533-9130.