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

By Joyce Gioia CEO, Employer of Choice International, Inc. | July 31, 2011

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.

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The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.