Richland College trains new employees for Bush Center, Perot Museum
Richland College Corporate Services’ track record of providing exceptional training for area businesses has resulted in the opportunity to work with some of Dallas’ most prestigious institutions.
Training offered by Richland College came highly recommended to leaders of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science, so they contacted Konley Kelley, assistant dean of corporate services, in fall 2012. Richland College provided training for the museum’s new employees.
Richland College’s successful relationship with the Perot Museum, which opened in December 2012, opened the door a few months later to work with another high-profile client – the George W. Bush Presidential Center which opened in May 2013.
“The Perot Museum referred us to the George W. Bush Presidential Center,” Mr. Kelley said. “Our partnership with the Bush Center has been phenomenal. It is a an excellent story about quality training, local collaboration and making a difference with great customer service.”
Angie Whitney, an energetic, savvy corporate trainer for Richland College, has been teaching the customer service classes for the Perot Museum and the Bush Center. She said Richland College was in the running with other top, national, professional development organizations including the Disney Institute.
“Working with the Perot Museum and the Bush Center is a big deal,” Ms. Whitney said. “These are marquee clients. They bring a ‘celebrity’ factor. We have had and will continue to have business from doing this training.”
Every employee and volunteer at the Bush Center, which houses the Bush Presidential Library, Museum and Bush Institute, will complete Ms. Whitney’s customized, introductory-level customer service program.
“That’s nearly 450 participants at the Bush Center,” Mr. Kelley said. “Ultimately, I anticipate Angie will have led classes for nearly 1,000 employees and volunteers at the two institutions.”
At the Bush Center, Ms. Whitney’s “Customer Service 100 – First Impressions” class teaches participants how to communicate with the center’s guests and create a welcoming atmosphere.
In a recent training class, Ms. Whitney educated participants about the various ways Bush Center patrons will experience the museum (through sight, sound and touch) and how to effectively use communications styles – verbal (actual words used), vocal (tone of voice) and non-verbal (body language).
In her training, Ms. Whitney stresses the importance of remaining culturally neutral as visitors to the museum come from many backgrounds and beliefs.
“We’re here to meet their needs at the museum,” she said. “That means communicating well, but it also means knowing when to step back and let them just experience it for themselves.”
One area of the museum that is better experienced with less guidance is the September 11 exhibit. This section includes a multimedia display of images, the iconic bullhorn Mr. Bush used when addressing the crowd at Ground Zero and a twisted piece of steel from one of the World Trade Center buildings.
“Unless visitors engage you, you should avoid interaction in the 9/11 area,” she said. “It’s very emotional for some people. It brings back memories and I’ve seen people fighting back tears. So hang back, but be ready if people want to talk to you.”
Part of Ms. Whitney’s training addresses how employees should to respond to controversial statements or provocative questions from patrons. All presidents have critics and that doesn’t change once they leave office, Ms. Whitney told the class.
The highest priority for Bush Center employees and volunteers is to be professional, courteous and neutral. She taught the class not to engage in political conversations. Neutrality is important even when patrons have positive comments.
“The biggest compliment you can receive is for people not to know your political views,” Ms. Whitney encouraged. “It’s not your job to agree, argue or apologize. You can simply say that the Bush Center is a federal, non-partisan facility, and we don’t discuss politics.”
Class participants ran through some scenarios to practice remaining neutral, and many members of the class found that aspect of the training helpful.
“We really learned how to handle sticky situations. We have to be professional at all times,” said Sandra Clark, a Bush Center employee. “Angie had lots of visuals and she’s outgoing and friendly. She was very thorough.”
Walking through the museum lobby after the class, a bubbly docent reached out with a bright smile to shake hands with Ms. Whitney.
“Your class was great!” said Cindy Belisle, Bush Center volunteer. “It made me think. I have to anticipate what the people coming here are thinking. We learned so much. Thank you!”
It’s no wonder that Ms. Whitney has been nominated for a 2013 Excellence in Teaching award, one of Richland College’s highest honors. Recipients of the awards, given in full-time, adjunct, continuing education and associate faculty categories, will be announced in August at Richland College’s Fall Convocation.