IT HAS been six years since Amara Sanctuary Resort Sentosa opened and its bosses knew it was about time they smartened up service and improved productivity.

The resort plunged in about a year ago and reaped immediate benefits from a programme that it embarked on with funding help from the Government's Customer-Centric Initiative (CCI).

Work flow has improved, as has its communication with customers and, even more importantly, the programme has helped to sharpen its branding, said the resort's general manager, Ms Cyndi Ng.

'The productivity initiatives were guest-centric but it's also to do with the building of our brand as we go overseas. An Amara hotel will open next year in Bangkok and it's a common service promise as we go overseas,' she noted.

Mainboard-listed Amara Holdings owns the Amara Singapore, a hotel in Tanjong Pagar, and the Sentosa resort, which opened in 2007. It plans to open Amara Bangkok next year.

Its campaign to raise its game at Amara Sanctuary started last year when the 140-room resort engaged consultancy Training Strategist to help it set down its service blueprint, train staff and implement productivity initiatives.

The primary aim of the CCI project was to bed down what it calls the manpower planning and scheduling system, which was devised by a software company.

This computer system auto- generates rosters to meet anticipated demand and smooths out the way people are deployed at the hotel, aiming to meet the ebb and flow of customer needs.

'So, if we have a high booking rate for the resort, the system will prompt us to get more help as we need to ensure we have a certain number of people to serve our guests,' said resort spokesman Jonathan Chan. 'Otherwise, we will have a lot of complaints.'

The system also helps to ensure that staff take their break, by sending out alerts telling employees that they should take some time out after a certain number of work hours, explains Ms Ng.

The scheduling system requires far less staff time than the old manual rostering demands.

Amara Sanctuary also installed a computer system to help it handle requests or complaints from guests, whether about an extra towel or a leak in the room.

'In the past, you receive a call and you jot it down in a book. We were not able to track how long it takes to attend to a guest,' said Ms Ng.

'Now, the guest calls the operator and the request goes into the cellphone of the respective department coordinator. He will acknowledge it via his phone. If he doesn't, the request will be passed on to his supervisor.'

And if the supervisor does not acknowledge it, the request may even escalate to Ms Ng.

'Complaints are very common in the service industry,' she added.

'It's how you better handle them. With this system, if the ground-level staff do not handle the requests, the supervisor will. So there's a certain level of checks and balances.'

Having such a system also means faster response time as the staff do not have to write down the request, room number and the time it was made.

With everything captured in the system, the resort can easily pick out the common guest requests. '(Such information) helps us improve our hardware to serve the customers better,' said Ms Ng.

It also enables it to better plan budgets. If there is wear and tear in a room, for instance, the resort can budget for what needs to be done in its next refurbishment exercise.

Over the past year, the resort has been running different training sessions every week for its 150 employees.

These include effective communication, handling difficult situations and how to upsell, and are conducted by staff members who have been trained by the external consultant.

The CCI has also changed the way Amara Sanctuary handles feedback. It used to be done on an ad hoc basis, when a rank and file staff may be sent to fix a problem.

The resort now holds a monthly meeting with heads of departments and one management staff from Amara Holdings to look at guest feedback forms and see how they can improve service.

This way, it is easier for them to work towards a common Amara branding, said Ms Ng, adding that when the resort first started, it adopted and adapted from the main hotel.

But the resort can now stand on its own.

The CCI 'forces us to review and update an SOP (standard operating procedure) of what the resort requires.

'In future, when we want to branch out, we would have a set of SOP to follow if its an urban resort. And if its a city hotel, we would follow another set of SOP.'