I love to ski. From my first school ski trip aged 11 years of age, to family ski holidays to Colorado, and much later on regular ski trips to the Alps with my Dad. One thing that has remained over the years is the memorable experiences that have kept me returning, time and time again to the mountains.

In November 2004, I decided to take a break from the rat race, living and working in London. I packed up my bags and headed to the mountains to embark on an adventure of a lifetime. To live and train as a qualified ski instructor in the Canadian resort of Whistler Blackcomb.

It was during my intensive training programme in Whistler, I met Kevin Schmoll, a Canadian born Ski Pro whose job was to coach me successfully through Levels 1 and 2 of the CSIA (Canadian Ski Instructors Association) instructor exams.

It’s been over 10 years since we last met, and in this special podcast edition of the HelpHandles Insight Series, I reconnect with Kevin to talk about skiing and the importance of developing the customer experience, and to learn more about some of the interesting new projects he is working on.

I hope you enjoy our chat.

Key moments on this podcast

0:46 Dean tells a story of how he met Kevin Schmoll…

2:40 Experience

Kevin shares his experience to date, from humble beginnings skiing at 4 years of age on the local ski hills outside Toronto, gaining his CSIA Level 4 certification to train and coach instructors, to getting his dream job as the Director of Grouse Mountain Ski Resort, and coming full circle back to teaching and coaching instructors on the front line for Yes! Ski Improvement in the resort of Whistler.

6:42 The basics

Kevin explains the fundamentals of the Canadian approach to customer experience, shares his interest in a book called ‘Unboss’, and his philosophy on purpose…

“…great service and great experiences delivered by companies revolve around having a good purpose statement…”
The company of the future will be an unlimited movement

UNBOSS is a book about work and leadership, unlike anything you’ve seen before. UNBOSS questions everything you thought…
8:45 New innovations

Kevin explains how focus has moved towards providing the best experiences for families and kids in resort and how investment in new facilities, working with ski schools, restaurants, apres-ski and new developments in kids specific teaching modules in the Canadian Ski Instructors Alliance (CSIA) curriculum has improved the entire experience for families in resort and strengthened the ski business.

10:30 Planning the journey

“What story do you want your customers to tell about you?”
Kevin states, in his answer to how important is it to plan the journey for the customer in preparation for the ski season.

Kevin goes on to describe the great lengths private instructors go to in researching and planning lessons for their guests before they arrive in resort to ensure guests receive the best experience possible.

12:26 Recruitment

Kevin talks about the importance of finding people who are we-orientated.

“People who want to work towards the mission and purpose that drives the organisation. These people will work towards maintaining the direction of the company, and will create forward movement and success for the company…”
14:05 The people business

“If we can find the outgoing, social orientated people, people who care about others we have a really good chance to provide a really great service…”
15:00 Teaching and training

Kevin shares his belief on teaching.

“…expertise creates confidence, when you are training your staff you are trying to create expertise in a number of different areas. Building expertise develops a column of knowledge that grows deeper over time…
When the column deepens they can be exposed to tougher situations, and you know that they will be able to deliver a great service no matter what the conditions or people they have in front of them…”
16:30 Teaching is an art

“If you put your personality into it, as long as you know your material, and understand where the customer would like to go, then its quite likely you will get there…”
16:50 How to train for customer service

Regarding how to train people in customer service, Kevin explains how on instructor training programs, the coaches/instructors model the behaviour that they believe delivers a positive experience for the customer.

…empathy, kindness, social grace, combined with expertise and confidence, when you show and talk about these attributes you can start to create great people…
19:10 The vacation business

The context of a ski vacation is to relax and experience something new. If we can promote this idea, i.e. use it as the “ purpose of our work”, then we can imagine every resort employee acting to deliver good outcomes.
19.45 How to envision the customer experience

Kevin describes how creating great experiences is like the composition of a bike wheel.

Beginning with the purpose at the hub. So lets say we start with creating great memories over and over again — the Whistler Blackcomb mantra. The spokes on the wheel are all those things that connect us to the customer; great dining, great piste grooming, great restaurants, good facilities for your children, a village that is user friendly, retail stores with the right equipment, that all connect to the outside, the rim of the wheel, where the customers are…
So, if you can use this idea for your planning phase, its easy to draw the lines from the hub to the customer and back, its like a two way street, when all the spokes are in place you have a great system to deliver a great experience for the customer…
23:58 How do you collect and analyse feedback from customers during the ski season?

Kevin explains how remarkably some things haven’t changed…

Whistler use NPS, and do a lot of work to analyse feedback and to make the experience a lot better. On the (Yes!) improvement programme we have regular customer surveys every week and we ask people how things were and what we can do better on an ongoing basis.
Work with your customers

Kevin explains how owners and management of sporting goods stores in resort work in the store everyday on the front line with customers.

On the hill we have the senior management team of Whistler/Blackcomb helping people get on chair lifts, talking to people while they are out in resort and experiencing the skiing conditions…
18:02 New projects

Kevin shares how he is working on a personal international project to bring instructor training to China.

With the Olympics coming to Bejing in 2022, the Government is working on a huge project to make skiing more accessible. The goal is to bring basic ideas for ski instruction to resorts in China, and to share expertise…

30:20 Conclusion and thanks