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story.lead_photo.caption Mendy Sharp, executive director of business development at Texarkana College, teaches attendees about hospitality Thursday in the Hilton Garden Inn meeting room in Texarkana, Texas. Sharp spoke about how to identify customers and their needs when working and the communication skills necessary in the field.

Shaping visitor perceptions of Texarkana was a part of the training local hospitality staffers — think hotels — received at the first class of its kind held by Texarkana College.

Mendy Sharp, executive director of business development, and Madeline Russel, business development specialist, put together the curriculum and led the training.

Meeting at the Texarkana Convention Center, Hilton Garden Inn, the students engaged with a day of presentations, exercises and later a tour of cultural and tourism highlights in the Twin Cities, all intended to make them more aware of what the city has to offer and the fact that they in turn help shape the perceptions of Texarkana with their guests.

"We are working with the front-line employees who interact with the customers," said Russel at the Thursday session. "Guests perceptions are colored by their interactions with hotel staffs, restaurant employees, and so forth. The big takeaway from this was to ensure they are aware of this influence they have."

Using clips of video from various examples, such as the "Soup Nazi" from Seinfeld, intended to engage and entertain as well as educate, the instructors illustrated the concept of making a perception with your guests. The training focused on a list of principles:

— Speak well of your organization.

— Respond quickly and cheerfully to customers.

— Reprioritize work when customer needs arise.

— Look for opportunities to improve customer service.

— Respond appropriately to customer feedback.

— Cheerfully and professionally greet all customers.

"This is just the beginning," Sharp said. "We started with a dozen or so students this first session from a range of hotels in the city, and we are grateful to those who found the time to send them."

TC officials said they plan to hold more of these sessions and will continue to survey local businesses and see what they want out of this training.

The first training session was shaped by managers in the hospitality industry who specified needs of their field, but more is possible.

"We hope the community comes to us with other industry and business skill needs," Russel said. "We can develop curricula to address them. For example, restaurants are another area we are focusing on. Many restaurants are having to send staff out of town or online for needed certifications. We want to enable such training to be able to take place locally."

Mary Johnson, guest service and front office manager with Hampton Inn in Texarkana, Arkansas, was one of the students.

"I thought it was going to be boring and just over things I already knew, things I had done hundreds of times," she said. "But I got to interact with other hotel managers and brands and guest service people. I had a chance to exchange ideas, which has been beneficial. The presentation of the material was awesome."

Johnson agrees that hospitality workers may have been complacent in the past about the job and the impressions left on visitors, but she sees that times are changing.

"More people are coming to our town or passing through," she said. "We need to up our game. I hope more people will participate as more of these sessions are held. We are the face that those visiting our city see."

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