Hotel Human Resources’ Five Greatest Challenges - and what to do about them

By Joyce Gioia CEO, Employer of Choice International, Inc. | March 25, 2012

Recently, we had the unfortunate experience of staying at a limited service property in North Carolina. The service levels were deplorable―broken commitments, an ice bucket left full of water for three days; one day housekeeping even skipped cleaning the room. On top of all of that, no one who knew what they were doing had ever inspected the rooms. Otherwise, they would have seen that towels had been hung backwards.

When I talked with the general manager, he mentioned low occupancy, high turnover, and his reduced staff. All this turmoil resulted in his having to work maintenance for two days. If there were ever an opportunity for a hotel version of Gordon Ramsey, this property would be an ideal prospect!

Clearly, that property was caught in an “unstoppable downward spiral”: low occupancy leads to reductions in staff, which translates to lower service levels, which results in still lower percentages of occupancy, and the beat goes on.

I made some clear suggestions to this GM, though I would be very surprised if any were ever implemented. The suggestions I made to him are in the first four Challenge/Solutions detailed in this article for you.

Challenge #1: Hiring Right

Though with the current state of unemployment, frontline workers should be easier to a recruit, it is vital that you make sure of a few key elements. First, you need to make sure that they are a good “fit” for the job itself. Their temperament must be well suited for the particular position. If the job is not a good fit to the person, the person will be unhappy and leave. For instance, we want a housekeeper who will be a good team player, someone who is somewhat people-oriented, and someone who will stick to the task until it is completed.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.