Guest Service: Setting the Bar to be Better Every Day

By Nancy Obstler General Manager, Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte Concord Golf Resort & Spa | April 07, 2019

In my role as a hotel general manager and when serving in hospitality sales and marketing, I have had the opportunity to interview hundreds of job candidates for a range of positions. Throughout my 28 years in the hospitality industry, I have found that just as the dialogue during the job interview is very important, so is the body language of the potential new hire.

Hiring Right

As you are considering a candidate, ask yourself: will this individual be a good fit for interacting with hotel guests? Do they make a nice first impression? Do they naturally smile? Are they polite and hospitable? Do they easily make eye contact? Are they enthusiastic to be here? Will they work well with staff?

A hotel's reputation can be maintained, improved or tarnished through associates' interactions with guests. The candidate interview process should be respected and sufficient time given to the discussion with the person being considered, as you, and others that may be conducting interviews, evaluate if the individual will be a good fit.

Although new hire orientation and regular training can help to provide for learning industry best practices, my experience has been that the individual must have the desire to do the job well. A bad hire can potentially result in lost business. Hiring right can help to open the door to countless possibilities for both the individual and the hotel.

Setting the Bar

Without a set destination in mind, even a well-run ship will sail aimlessly. A hotel should have clear goals for quality guest service and a defined course of action on how to achieve those goals. Helping associates to understand their specific role in delivering on set guest service goals can help to create a workplace environment of clarity, confidence and success.

As managers, take the time to review guest service measurement scores with staff. This provides the opportunity to discuss areas in which the hotel is doing well and those in need of special attention. Consider supplementing this review with group discussions on setting the bar to be better, along with how to make this happen. The invitation for an open discussion allows for associates to share their own personal experiences, to feel that they are part of the solution, and to hear what their peers have to say, in addition to that of management.

As hotel leadership, we must also manage our expectations. This includes respecting associates' individual strengths they bring to the workplace and also their individual pace of personal progression. We can help rising hospitality professionals reach their unique potential and realize the benefits as a collective team, as we persevere to be better today than we were yesterday.

Communicating With a Purpose

With hotel operations' having so many moving parts, keeping hotel associates informed is paramount. I have found regular communications through multiple methods to be effective.

For example, our hotel departments host daily 10-minute "team huddles" to provide for a smooth transition when a new shift begins. These brief gatherings keep departments informed and serve as a simple forum to address any concerns for the day. In addition, a two-page "daily huddle" is available to all associates as a brief snapshot of the day's events, new hires' welcome, recognition, guest service scores, and weather forecast, among other items. Also, we host regularly scheduled in-person "rallies" that energize staff, emphasize areas in need of improvement, or recognize a job well done.

Listening and observing is fundamental to our hotel's success, not only with creating the best guest experience possible but also with our associates' work experience satisfaction. I have an "open-door" policy to help maintain quality communications flow and to set an example for other department heads to follow. Through my approachable management style, I can stay in the know and address concerns early, before they potentially escalate into larger problems.

We also have a formal company-wide employee engagement survey initiative, where associates can confidentially share feedback about their work experience. Based on this feedback, we create action plans that influence the continuous improvement of quality service at the hotel.

Serving Together

Being a good community partner is at the core of our operations. As a property team, we assist in addressing the hunger and shelter needs of the area. To help stimulate cross-departmental collaboration, we encourage our associates to volunteer together.

I have noticed that goal-focused volunteer service enhances relationships throughout the property. With various associates across teams collaborating on service projects, they tend to come together seamlessly on-site when a guest solution may require cooperation. The bond they build working on a common community project transfers to productive workplace functionality. The lines of communication seem to be expanded, making associates more apt to reach out to another department to make a request or to check on the status of an item, rather than saying "not my problem."

Training to Empower

More than 50 percent of our hotel's business is group related, leveraging the hotel's 42,000 square feet of event space. Many of these valued clients have been with us since the opening of the 308-suite hotel in 2007, of which I was a part.

Although I make a point of personally connecting with event organizers on the first day of booked functions, I understand the great value of empowering associates to be able to swiftly take action to address a guest's request or concern. An effective prompt response can potentially make a difference between a good and bad review and even securing repeat business.

As a hotel, and across Atrium Hospitality's national property portfolio, we train associates to be proficient in 10 universal standards, as they help guests to feel like our hotel is their home away from home. We call these standards the "Atrium Way." Saying and meaning "my pleasure" is one of these 10 universal standards to support guests in feeling welcome.

We have instituted formal training company-wide that reinforces these 10 universal standards through an engaging and memorable program. Associates across the country were a part of creating the themed training initiative, which has helped with successful adoption.

We know a hotel manager cannot be everywhere on property at one time, so training associates to be empowered problem-solvers is a valuable approach. It is also important to provide associates with the fundamental tools to confidently deliver on "my pleasure." As a part of setting the bar for associates, they need to genuinely believe that the company supports them in their decisions. This helps to nurture associates' self-assurance, particularly in challenging guest situations.

Through regular training, associates can learn to make thoughtful and timely decisions in a range of guest matters. Practicing potential scenarios is an efficient method to help associates to become familiar with "what if" guest interactions. By repeatedly reviewing scenarios, associates will be much better equipped to handle a guest's request or concern, including when a guest may be upset.

This preparation is especially important at the front desk, as this area of the hotel typically is a hub of activity for guest interactions and special requests. Having an empowered front desk staff that can approve, or offer up, appropriate special amenities can deliver on a great guest experience. This empowerment opportunity also allows the hotel manager to focus on other operational needs that may require attention. In addition, associates are building problem-solving skills, as they progress on their hospitality journey.

I find great satisfaction in mentoring staff. I refer to this initiative as "my hospitality flowers," as I enjoy watching hospitality professionals grow in their careers. They can then go on to help others, thus continuing the positive impact cycle to create a talented, productive hospitality industry.

Recognizing and Rewarding

While hospitality is not an easy profession, part of our job is to make it appear to be effortless to our guests, thus "my pleasure."

Complementing setting the bar for guest service is recognizing our associates for a job well done. Even small gestures like adding points to an employee incentive program or hosting a pizza party in the breakroom can help team members to know that their efforts are being noticed and appreciated.

An associate recognition program we have successfully implemented to increase client satisfaction involves participation by our clients. A recognition ceremony is conducted by the hotel general manager, at which time the client selects and awards gold keys to two hotel associates they feel delivered the highest level of service throughout the duration of their event. A cash incentive is awarded to the two associates, and they are recognized internally.

As managers, it is important to help associates chart a personal growth plan and realize where they stand at all times on their hospitality journey. We can help cultivate each associate's potential, which may include transferring to another department, when opportunities become available for progression.

We can help harness the potential that comes with an actionable mentality to exceed guests' expectations. We can cultivate "a culture of yes" through our own actions and lead by example. We can set the bar and help our teams to be a little better today than we were yesterday.

Ms. Obstler Nancy Obstler serves as a hotel general manager for Alpharetta, Georgia-based Atrium Hospitality, which is ranked one of the nation's largest hotel owners and operators. Since 2015, she has been in her current role as general manager of the Embassy Suites by Hilton Charlotte Concord Golf Resort & Spa in Concord, North Carolina. The 2018 TripAdvisor® Certificate of Excellence designated property is particularly special to Ms. Obstler, as she was part of the 2006 pre-opening and 2007 opening teams. She served as director of sales for many years at the 308-suite property, during which time the hotel received several performance-based honors. Under Ms. Obstler's direction, the hotel has been recognized with the Embassy Suites by Hilton Brand's Make a Difference Award more than once and with the Brand's Sales Team of the Year Award on multiple occasions. The area Chamber of Commerce has acknowledged the property with several awards for community service. Nancy Obstler can be contacted at 704-455-8200 or nancy.obstler@atriumhospitality.com Please visit http://www.atriumhospitality.com for more information. Extended Biography

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