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    Friday, September 29, 2023

    Career workshop gives high school students tips on customer service, interviewing

    Groton — What do you do if you're working the front desk of a hotel, and a guest arrives four hours before check-in but is furious his room isn't ready? How do you respond if you're an aquarium worker and a customer is angry the shark habitat is closed for maintenance, after having driven all the way from New Hampshire just to see that?

    What's the proper protocol, if you're the hostess at a popular waterfront restaurant, for handling a customer who is upset that the table for his reservation is not yet ready?

    These were some of the scenarios presented to Grasso Tech sophomores and juniors at a career workshop on Tuesday. Through nervous giggles, students got up two at a time to act out an exchange between an angry customer and an employee.

    Stepping in to address what went well and what didn't, Train Worldwide Executive Director Moira Deasy impressed upon them, "It's not the customer's fault, even when it is the customer's fault."

    Customer service was one of many topics addressed in the Work It! Building Your Career Confidence workshop held at Ella T. Grasso Technical High School on Tuesday. It was the second such workshop held for hospitality, culinary arts and information systems technology students at Grasso Tech, following an April 4 program for seniors.

    This is the second year that the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce has held this youth workforce development program, thanks to a grant from the Independent Order of Oddfellows.

    The program began at Grasso Tech and Stonington High School last year, and expanded this year to Fitch High School in Groton. The Chamber held the Stonington workshop on April 3 for juniors and seniors who are not bound for college, and it is holding the Fitch workshop for business students this Thursday.

    More than 150 students are participating in total. Chamber President Peggy Roberts said the program was created at the urging of some of the area's larger employers, such as Mystic Aquarium.

    Deasy, the curriculum designer and program facilitator, began Tuesday's workshop by asking students to identify the traits of a good customer service employee.

    "A happy customer tells a couple people," she said. "An unhappy customer tells absolutely everybody they know, then they tweet it, then they put it on Instagram."

    She laid out six steps for defusing an angry customer: smile and maintain eye contact, listen and repeat the problem back, empathize, be creative and resourceful, create a win-win solution, and review the remedy to gain agreement on a resolution.

    Students then acted out the hotel, aquarium and restaurant scenarios.

    "I think it's fun, and I think it's realistic, as to what actually does happen," said Alex Soto, a sophomore in the information systems technology program. "I think it's a great experience for kids to experience it before they have a job."

    Assisting Deasy with the presentation were Angela McGuirk, branch manager at Navy Federal Credit Union, and Lisa Kasprzak, director of sales and marketing for the Hilton Mystic.

    They gave students tips on making a good first impression, telling them to be careful what they post on social media, go easy on the body spray or perfume, and give a firm, 3-second handshake.

    Norwich Public Utilities Division Manager Kerri Kemp recalled that when she was working as a recruitment specialist at Foxwoods, an interviewee came in "dirty with a backwards baseball cap and reeking of pot." She said her attitude to the candidate at that point was, "Peace out."

    McGuirk, Kasprzak and Kemp were on a question-and-answer panel at the end of the workshop, along with Chris O'Connell, vice president of hotel operations at Foxwoods; Matt McCormack, founder of the tech firm QDiscovery and of Mystic Indoor Sports; and Aaron Laipply, general manager of the Engine Room restaurant.

    Junior Maria Vasquez said the presentation made her realize ways she could have been more professional in a past interview, and she felt the angry-customer exercise would be useful for her job as a party hostess at a bowling alley.

    All students participating in the workshop series receive a certificate of completion, along with an exclusive invitation to a job fair the Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce is holding at the Mystic Museum of Art on April 28.


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