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:

SEPTEMBER: Hotel Group Meetings: Demand is Trending Up

Mike May

Millennials, Zika, Brexit, elections, the economy, mega-mergers…every quarter brings a newsflash du jour. Hotel professionals need a genie to tell them what to ignore and what requires their action. This article summarizes the most relevant trends affecting group meetings – along with tips from corporate meeting planners on what hotels can do to help their group customers succeed, and help you improve a hotel’s group meeting business. Read about the importance of authentic local experiences, unique venues, event apps, and negotiations with buyers. READ MORE

Paul Van Deventer

In the U.S. alone, the meeting and event industry drives $280 billion in annual economic impact. To add perspective, that’s more than air transportation, the motion picture industry or spectator sports. Additionally, the industry generates a massive amount of taxes, with $88 billion generated at the state, federal and local level last year; taxes that help our communities pay for services, build schools, fix roads and maintain parks. The Meetings Mean Business (MMB) Coalition—an industry advocacy group of which MPI is a part—has been conducting video interviews with top executives at major companies to find out just how important meetings and events are to their bottom line. READ MORE

Brian Bullock

Last year, millennials surpassed Generation X to become the largest generation in the U.S. workforce. They also may be history’s most fickle generation. Two-thirds of millennials plan to leave their current organizations by 2020, according to a recent survey by Deloitte. Additionally, 44 percent said they would leave their current employers within the next two years if given the choice. So it’s not surprising that businesses are adjusting everything – from office space to company culture to the way business is conducted – to cater to millennial wants and needs. Companies have recognized that attracting and retaining top talent from this burgeoning generation is no joke. READ MORE

Michael Dominguez

As the meetings market has fully recovered from the 2008 recession, this industry expansion has given all the players in the meetings market some unique circumstances that have not been collectively experienced before at any one given time. If this was a social media relationship, we would have to list it as “it’s complicated”! First the good! We are experiencing record demand in North America that has set records now for 3 consecutive years. What is most encouraging is that there is not a particular scale of hotel that is leading this growth, but rather all segments are showing record strength. READ MORE

Coming Up In The October Online Hotel Business Review


Feature Focus
Revenue Management: Measuring All Hotel Revenue Streams
Revenue Management is a dynamic and ever-evolving profession and its role is becoming increasingly influential within hotel operations. In some ways, the revenue manager's office is now the functional hub in a hotel. Primarily this is due to the fact that everything a revenue manager does affect every other department. Originally revenue managers based their forecasting and pricing strategies on a Revenue per Available Room (RevPAR) model and some traditional hotels still do. But other more innovative companies have recently adopted a Gross Operating Profit per Available Room (GOPPAR) model which measures performance across all hotel revenue streams. This metric considers revenue from all the profit centers in a hotel - restaurants, bars, spas, conference/groups, golf courses, gaming, etc. - in order to determine the real gross operating profit per room. By fully understanding and appreciating the profit margins in all these areas, as well as knowing the demand for each one during peak or slow periods, the revenue manager can forecast and price rooms more accurately, effectively and profitably. In addition, this information can be shared with general managers, sales managers, controllers, and owners so that they are all aware of and involved in forecasting and pricing strategies. One consequence of a revenue manager's increasing value in hotel operations is a current shortage of talent in this field. Some hotels are being forced to co-source or out-source this specialized function and in the meantime, some university administrators are looking more closely at developing a revenue management curriculum as a strategy for helping the hospitality industry close this gap. The October issue of the Hotel Business Review will address these significant developments and document how some leading hotels are executing their revenue management strategies.