Ms. Gioia

Human Resources, Recruitment & Training

"Welcome to our Hotel" Front Desk Tactics that Engage Guests and Employees and Reduce Complaints

By Joyce Gioia, CEO, Employer of Choice, Inc

The Front Desk is your front line for guest services. Most hotels do a very good job training their front desk people to be cordial. They understand the opportunity... and the liability. At one time or another, we have all experienced walking into a hotel and receiving a luke-warm reception from the person behind the counter. When that happens, in my brain, I hear the words, "Oh boy, I'm in for a mediocre guest experience here―at best". In addition, not surprisingly, that less-than-optimum experience usually happens.

It is understood that the best Front Desk people should be warm and welcoming, yet often at smaller properties managers overlook the important step of training their people to be that way. After a long day of travel, dealing with the many increased hassles of air travel, no one wants to be met by a sullen expression and the words, "How can I help you", spoken in a tone that communicates the person wants to be anywhere, but there with you.

No Second Chances

"You never have a second chance to make a first impression." These words are especially true for hotel and restaurant properties. Besides the design of your façade and the décor of your lobby, it is the demeanor of your Front Desk personnel that set up the entire guest experience. When handled well, guests feel welcomed and happy about checking in. When handled poorly, they feel unhappy and neglected.

Some properties have their people make follow-up phone calls to confirm that the guests are happy with the accommodations. These calls just reinforce the level of caring exhibited by the property. Some guests find these phone calls annoying so the solution is to let the guests know that you will be calling. That way, if the calls are not welcome, your people will not have spent the time and effort to make them, nor will you have incurred the ire of your guests.

At the Hilton Hotel Sydney, Australia, there is a full-length mirror next to the employee door. Having a mirror next to the door is not so surprising, however surrounding the mirror are pictures of their team members in full uniform, looking sharp. This station is a brilliant way to spotlight some of your own associates and take a step to insure that they will all look up to your brand standard. It also contributes to your front desk associates making that excellent first impression. Moreover, when people know they look good, they feel better about themselves and are better able to be warm and gracious to guests.

Handle Problem Situations Right Away

Once upon a time, hospitality consultant David Jarrett was Front Desk Manager at the property that is now the Walt Disney Company's Shades of Green Golf Resort. The property had just installed a new telephone system, during the time that a major client had a conference there. Everything had gone very smoothly, until the last early morning, when the new system failed. For two hours, guests were unable to reach the front desk or any other extension to arrange for help with their luggage. "Any time you have a new technology, you need to plan for eventualities", said Jarrett. "Having an effective recovery plan is vital to good guest services; it's part of making sure you're taking care of guests' needs", he added. Extremely reliable equipment and services support your delivering the high levels of service that guests expect.

Go Down to the Front

Jarrett also urges Front Desk Managers to be there when people are checking in. It is what Trout and Ries (Marketing Warfare, McGraw-Hill, 2005) call "going down to the front" and it is the best way to see for yourself what is really happening at your Front Desk. When you are there in-person, you have an opportunity to personally experience the problems that your staff encounters, as well as observe any missed opportunities for enhanced guest services.

Furthermore, from Jarrett's point of view, "Superior service starts with the manager being right there to take care of [guest] needs". Thus, when problem situations arise, as they inevitably do, the front desk manager is there to handle the situation. It gives guests a higher sense of satisfaction to know that someone in authority is handling their issue.

Perceived Authority Works

And speaking of authority, the cruise ship lines have discovered an interesting quirk of human nature. "When front desk people wear uniforms, it reduces guest complaints and increases levels of satisfaction", said James Deering, hotel manager of Holland America Cruise Lines. He also noted that when a cruise line forgets this fact, it inevitably pays the price in complaints and passenger satisfaction scores. In reaction, the cruise line will go back to having their customer care people at the front desk wear uniforms.

When you think about it logically, any uniformed person enjoys a higher level of credibility and commands more respect than those in street clothes. Most hotel brands embrace the idea of their front desk people wearing uniforms; however, some downscale brands have allowed their people to wear street clothes or a simple combination like black pants and a white shirt. We suggest that you try this tactic and have them wear uniforms. Our guess is that you will never go back to street clothes again.

Make Work Fun

One of the characteristics of Employer of Choice® awardees is that their people have a good time at work. Some managers encourage this fun at work by holding events that engage both employees and guests. Some time ago, I visited The Hampton Inn in Winchester, Virginia. At that time, they were conducting a contest to determine which department could do the best job of decorating a door for the holiday. The team members got very creative and had a great time creating their beautiful designs; then both guests and employees voted. The winners earned a pizza party. This kind of healthy competition builds camaraderie and supports employees in having fun at work.

Another popular idea comes from the chain of restaurants called Bonefish Grill. This division of OSI, Inc. engages its servers, bartenders, and other employees by holding many types of daily contests, including testing them on information about wine and other beverages. Creating quizzes with important information you need your people to know, which allow people to win prizes, is a fun way to reinforce knowledge.

It All Starts with Adequate Training

Though hotel executives may be tempted to put their new reception hires on the desk right away, it is much more sensible to give the newbies in-depth training. Without sufficient training, they feel lost and stressed. While it is helpful to give them a trainer to look over their shoulders, there should be adequate training before that activity as well. On-the-job training without preparation will only annoy guests and cause trainees undue pressure.

Marriott provides its Front Desk trainees Compass Training, in-depth computer training for two weeks with another Front Desk associate. After that, the new employees cross-train for two to three days in each area by job-shadowing, including the bell-stand, "At Your Service", and concierge. After that, new employees are paired with an experienced Front Desk associate for their final, in-depth job-shadowing session at the Front Desk; thereafter, the experienced person shadows the new person. Before "graduating" to independent status, new employees must complete an "Overview Training Sheet", testing their front office hotel knowledge. Once they have passed this "test" they may work on their own.

Voice training is also recommended for Front Desk employees. The voice conveys a lot―confidence, competence, enthusiasm, and knowledge. When employees are well-trained with the knowledge and skills they need, they are more able to "put a smile in their voice", as The Disney Company teaches all its people to do.

At Marriott Hotels, they have a saying, "Take care of your associates and they will take care of the guests". It's very good advice, whether you are talking about Front Desk, Housekeeping, Engineering, or any other team members. Invest in your people and they will take very good care of your guests.

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...

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