Ms. Gioia

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

“Help Me Please?" Making Your Switchboard Work for You

By Joyce Gioia, CEO, Employer of Choice, Inc

Your switchboard people are very important associates. It’s not that all team members are not important, it’s just that your telephone answerers are your first impression―to guests, to prospective guests, and the world. Their tone of voice, volume, and general demeanor set the tone for future interactions with your other employees in your hotel and even indirectly influence your occupancy rates. More times than I can count, I have given up waiting for the switchboard to respond to my calls to hotels to arrange reservations.

Hire the right person for this important job

Too many hoteliers mistakenly believe that they can hire anybody to answer their phones; after all, most of us have experience picking up a phone receiver when the phone rings and saying, “Hello.” Unfortunately, for all concerned, this easy-going attitude results in many mis-hires and a lot of employee turnover. The switchboard is a very high stress position. Perhaps even more stressful than a position on the Front Desk, because workers on your reception desk often have more time to speak with guests to handle their check-in, check-out, or issues. Others waiting in line can see what is going on; on the telephone, the guest is just impatiently waiting on hold, listening to your recorded messages over and over and over. So be sure to hire someone who can handle the stress.

However, even behavioral interviewing (asking people to tell you how they handled particular situations in their previous positions) doesn’t get to the personality construct. You must use some kind of assessment to find out what really makes the person tick. Our favorite is a product called PeopleClues (peopleclues.com) that gives you feedback on the “Big Five” psychometric parameters, extroversion, neuroticism, openness to new experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

With an investment of only 40 minutes on the part of the applicant, PeopleClues will generate a series of behavioral interviewing questions, specific to that individual, as well as reports on cognitive ability, integrity, engagement, and onboarding. It also provides a percentage of “fit” for the job. Besides all of this valuable information about the candidate, the best part for the employer is that s/he may generate an unlimited reports on the person for the same low-dollar investment.

The switchboard is often one of the most difficult departments to keep at full capacity. If you calculate the cost of replacing one of these valuable employees, you will soon understand why we are so enthusiastic about careful hiring.

Training your people well pays off

When you train your people very well, they are able to respond automatically. Giving the correct answers becomes second nature. Once formal training is complete, they will still need some time to ramp up for your highest stress times, so make that knowledge a part of your scheduling process, when your new switchboard operator is first available for work. If you are in a city where multiple languages are spoken, make sure that your new person is thoroughly trained in all of the languages that s/he might be expected to know when a guest calls.

Walt Disney had the well-deserved reputation for being a relentless perfectionist. Following his principle, “Always exceed customers’ expectations,” years ago, the Walt Disney Company established the program “Put a Smile in your Voice”. To this day, part of the initial training for any job with the company that involves being on the telephone, it is considered especially important for people who are interacting with their guests.

“That’s what makes Disney, Disney,” said Dave Jarrett, hospitality consultant and former Disney Executive. Jarrett, who spent a couple of years of his career as Front Office Manager for a major hotel brand believes strongly in training. “If you’re not taking the time and effort to train, you’re not going to get the performance. We at Disney spent a lot of time and money to train our people before they were asked to take these positions.” And that’s how we raised the bar in guest services for the world,” he added. Anyone who has experienced a Disney property will agree that a high level of guest service is part of their culture.

Help your people handle the high stress

You can help your people deal with the pressures associated with these demanding positions in many ways. First, recognize that people’s tolerance for this level of stress is not infinite. Reset the burnout clock, at least every 3 months. Take people off the switchboard and give them another job to do for a week or more. Perhaps you have a special project of some sort? Or maybe have the operator substitute for another team member on vacation? However you work it, just make sure you give each of your switchboard people a break from the high stress job they have been handling for you. Resetting the burnout clock will support employee retention in a way that few other tactics can.

Another strategy that will work to reduce your people’s stress is to cross-train others from different departments to fill in during your busiest times. The other department’s team members will appreciate the break from their routines and your people on your phones will definitely appreciate the additional help. This strategy is another win-win for sure.

Advice from another industry

The woman who juggles the telephones at my doctor’s office is amazing. No one in the office would dispute that Yvonne has the most difficult job in this multiple physician practice. She can literally be on four lines simultaneously, remember what each person wanted, and give it to them, as she finishes with one call and adds others in succession. I had to ask her for her secrets to share with you. Yvonne shared that when she can, which is not often, she takes a deep breath and exhales slowly. Just focusing on her breathing allows her to relax, in-between the high activity times that take up most of her day. She also keeps a positive (and professional) attitude by reacting physically with her eyes and her hands (never with her voice) to the amusing and sometimes annoying questions patients ask. Watching her, I’m sure you would agree, Yvonne has the patience of a saint.

Take care of your people and they will take care of your guests

Once you have hired the right people and trained them well, you won’t want to risk losing them. So be sure to support them in coping with the stress and reset their burnout clocks regularly. Teach them how to reduce their own stress and you will have happy voices on your switchboard that will stay.

As one who spent a good deal of my own early career in telemarketing, I can tell you that when you smile while you’re talking on the phone, you feel better and your positive attitude is communicated to others. That positive attitude resulted in more sales and better relationships. Put a smile in your voice and everybody wins.

Joyce Gioia is a workforce futurist concentrating on relationship aspects of the future. This arena includes workforce and workplace trends, as well as consumer, education, and business-to-business trends. Ms. Gioia is also CEO of Employer of Choice, Inc, a distinction earned only by companies whose leadership, culture, and best practices attract, optimize, and hold top talent. Employers of Choice® enjoy "a higher level of performance, greater workforce stability, and the level of continuity that assures preservation of the knowledge base, customer loyalty, employee satisfaction, and stronger profits". Ms. Gioia can be contacted at 336-210-3548 or joyce@hermangroup.com Extended Bio...

HotelExecutive.com retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.com.

Receive our daily newsletter with the latest breaking news and hotel management best practices.
Hotel Business Review on Facebook
RESOURCE CENTER - SEARCH ARCHIVES
General Search:

APRIL: Cultivating Guest Satisfaction and Retention

Simon Hudson

According to the Oxford Dictionary an apostle is a “vigorous and pioneering advocate or supporter of a particular policy, idea, or cause”. For hotels, creating apostles should be a priority. They are the most loyal customers and they are so satisfied that they want to convert others to share their experiences. But how do hotels create apostles? This article looks at how some hotels around the world are delivering not only superior products and services, but through customization and personalization are creating guests who would not dream of staying anywhere else. READ MORE

Edward Reagoso

In the hustle and bustle of being accountable for so many facets of the hotel business, a hotel general manager needs to do one thing to truly secure his or her future in our industry, that being “insuring your team members truly care about your guests stay.” Sounds simple enough, right? This is not rocket science and I mean no disrespect to anyone struggling with operations or sales issues that can often seem surmountable. We all have these problems at one time or another. There are resolutions to every issue we have. The resolution to any problem is really just a matter of applying a specific strategy that will minimize the issue or frankly, make it go away completely. How many times have you walked into a situation with a guest that was surprised and upset that a tiny issue was never dealt with by a front desk agent, housekeeper, waiter, maintenance person, or even a manager that worked for you? I have too, the important thing is that we learn from this and move forward. One must insure everyone on our team grasps the importance of caring and the application of certain techniques can solidify a culture. Getting everyone on your team to care about your guests really is the key. READ MORE

Rick Garlick Ph.D.

A primary objective of hotel operators is to keep their properties full of ‘heads in beds’ to capacity. While this goal is understandable, there is a risk hotels may market themselves indiscriminately and draw guests that are not a good match to their particular value proposition. While this meets a short term goal of wasting as little inventory as possible, there is a longer term risk that these guests may provide negative feedback about their stays, even though the hotel was being true to its own identity and branding. Indeed, the guest experience cannot be fairly evaluated apart from the expectations and preferences a person brings to the hotel from the time he or she books a room. Using a comparative restaurant example, a top steakhouse could never deliver a satisfying experience to a committed vegetarian, even if it provided the best cut of meat and the most attentive service. You have to like steak to positively evaluate the experience. READ MORE

Aaron  Housman

Things will go wrong. It’s inevitable in life and in business. And the sooner one gets to that conclusion the sooner he can get on with what comes next: preparing for the inevitable. In the hotel business that means following up with guests when the experience is substandard for any number of reasons, from guest service to property maintenance to the type of sheets on the bed. But there is a difference between just preparing for the inevitable and being well-prepared. Following up effectively with upset guests doesn’t happen accidentally. It is planned, trained tracked and executed every day. It is a way of life for best-in-class operations. READ MORE

Coming Up In The May Online Hotel Business Review


Feature Focus
Hotel Sustainable Development: Integrating Practices for the Environment and the Bottom Line
The term “sustainable development” was first coined in 1987. In a report entitled, “Our Common Future,” the Brundtland Commission defined sustainable development as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This definition immediately caught on. In the business world, it is sometimes referred to as a triple bottom line – capturing the concept that investments are profitable, good for people and protective of the environment. Within the hotel industry, companies have taken an active role in committing themselves to addressing climate change and sustainability. Hotel operations have realized that environmentally sound practices not only help the environment, but can lead to cost reductions, business expansion, and profit growth as consumers increasingly seek environmentally sustainable products and services. In a recent survey by Deloitte, it was noted that 95% of respondents believe that the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives. Additionally, 38% of respondents said they made efforts to identify “green” hotels before traveling, and 40% said they would be willing to pay a premium for the privilege. These results suggest that consumers want and expect sustainability in their travel plans. In response to these trends, many hotel companies and on-line travel agencies have even begun offering their consumers an opportunity to purchase carbon offsets to reduce the environmental impact of their trips. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document how some leading hotels are integrating sustainability practices into their hotels and how their operations, consumers and the environment are profiting from them.