The Philippines-born head of Snowplanet is used to people asking what a guy from the tropics is doing working in a snow business.
But Rojie Aguilar, who joined the company as financial controller 10 years ago, points out that the only other indoor snow facility in the southern hemisphere is in equally tropical Brazil.
And, while the business is technical (all that snow to keep groomed, all those instructors who love skiing and snow-boarding), in fact the company is really focused on enjoyable customer experiences. That's something he knows plenty about - earning the company the Customer Service and Supreme Award for the Northern Region in this year's Westpac Auckland Business Awards.
"Back in 2008, we had around 95,000 customers a year. Today, it's 150,000," he says. "We have expanded the business, it's not just casual walk-in customers. Now high end ski school and performance and competition are nearly a third of the customers, while at the other end it's fun family tubing, parties and VIP experiences.
"We're expanding to an alpine village with wow-factor, so people can experience the place too, not just the activity."
The Westpac Auckland Business Awards are delivered annually by Auckland Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) across the Auckland region.
The company had been a finalist for strategy in 2012 but the following year recognised they needed to do more work in operations and processes in the rapidly growing business. They started measuring customer experience, using the really tough Net Promotor Score and detailed customer feedback.
"It's important that we measure, as repeat business is our business," says Aguilar. "It gets shared weekly to the executive committee, at team meetings and is part of our twice-yearly staff updates."
But it's not all data-driven. With head of HR, training and health and safety Vicky Britton, Aguilar and team have used entering the awards as a chance to involve all parts of the organisation. While the focus has been on recruitment and training of the 150 staff, it has been used by the whole company to review themselves.
"The questions are very insightful, self-reflecting," says Aguilar. "We know our industry, but the judges don't. They walk through and ask some thought-provoking questions, questions that look at things differently."
As a major employer in the region, Snowplanet attracts passionate snow-boarders and skiers into what is often their first job. Finding staff who really get the company's service orientation is so important, the CEO himself is hands on for final interviews and selection.
"We're training for a lifetime of work, not just the good skiers or boarders."
At the other end of town, Jeeva Jeevanantham, of South winner Jet Park Hotel, is equally focused on customer service. The company has won marketing and customer service awards in previous years and scooped the supreme award this year.
"We won the Hospitality Association Supreme Award in 2013. We like to keep improving, so we asked: what's next? We have a policy of continuous improvement and it helps to do a bit of self-analysis, in a formal way, that reflects what the guests are experiencing. Customer service is the cornerstone of hospitality; it is very, very dear to my heart."
Indicative of that significance, Jet Park involved over two dozen of their 180 staff members in the entry (and awards night), although Jeevanantham says seeing the other category winners on the night made them even more determined to do better next year.
Some of the staff have been with the hotel since it opened in 1998, with others earning extra benefits for 15 or 10 years' service.
As part of their customer service ethic, the hotel is an active part of their local tourism community, cross-promoting other Mangere attractions such as Butterfly Creek and Villa Maria, lending guests bikes to ride the airport-precinct cycle paths or further afield to Ambury Park. They recently added a landscaped green space with gardens and games overlooking a wetland area.
Sustainability is expected from guests too, he says, with the kitchen sending all food waste to farms, recycling and using recycled products, managing water and energy and a solar farm on the premises to supply power. It doesn't stop there.
"I can talk for hours on customer service. We have a policy of continuous improvement, so hopefully we'll add a few more [awards]," says Jeeva. "To be assessed by astute business analysts give us the confidence that what we're doing is right - it's such a great marketing opportunity for a family business too.
"We look forward to our next time."