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Task Orientation Kills Service.
By Hugo R. Mechelse
Sunday, 18th May 2014
 
It would be hard to find somebody who does not agree with this statement, then why is it that so many people ignore this and 'just do their job'?

But even in my own country, Holland, unfortunately not well known for it’s hospitality, there are shifting grounds. I think traditionally hospitality is slow in developing new ways of doing business. But the market is pushing strong to take the next step.

What ‘box’ do you use?

Service has many faces, and just because of this you can not put it into one box to explain it. Then why in a hotel we have all those departments handling ‘service’. That does not make sense to me. Did you ever ask yourself what it is you actually do when giving service to a guest, or in general to somebody? If you think about this, how many skills and how much knowledge do you in fact need, use? And in which ‘box’, would you put this.

We teach our staff to be service oriented. Not to send the guest to A, B or C without escorting him, or not to continuously send him to a colleague to pick up the question.

From experience in many different 5-star hotels, all over the world I have some sincere doubts about the practical implementation of these procedures. Many general mangers tell me just that: the instruction is there, but unfortunately in the execution it sometimes hampers. This might be partially due to a lack of motivation, a general challenge within the hospitality industry.

Not impressed

I also think this has to do with the old fashioned ‘task orientation’ one is so much attached to. It gives comfort in that you know what is expected from you. You are front office, so that is what you do: checking-in and checking-out.

Once a guest came up to the front desk in the morning explaining that his shower did not give hot water. The answer of the front desk staff I overheard on this issue was; “OK”. Obviously in this 5 star hotel they took these problems for granted. Well, his ‘task’ is checking-in and checking-out, so why should he bother technical trivialities like hot or cold water.

A ‘hilarious’ answer I got some time ago in a well recommended restaurant with an excellent kitchen. I complemented the chef/owner on this. I also told him that unfortunately I was less happy about the time I had to wait for all the courses. Two courses in three hours is too much for me. It did not impress him: 40 guests in 3 hours was not bad!

Fake security

This task orientation, whatever department or position is involved comes from the old structure most hotels are still in. The boxes that give fake self-confidence to the staff.

As department A your responsibility is to make this thrive, to excel. If you have to fight the budget of another department, so be it: yours comes first. And worse so, if you do not spend your budget, it might be cut next year!

The hotel becomes a battle field of departments and one forgets that it is not about you, or the department, but about somebody visiting you. Somebody who takes the trouble to especially come to your hotel instead of your competitor next door.

I’m inclined to say that in most hotels we still work with structures and ideas dating back to the 20th century. This emphasises task orientation.

A good example I came across some time ago when I learned that a newly to be opened hotel was already hiring when they could not even state what the service was going to be they were going to offer. You can only do this when you expect staff to fall back on their skills, and as such their CV, and adapt themselves to a situation ‘to come’. You build on the old department structure, with fake security, and hope that you can still blow away the 21st century traveller with services embedded in an old fashioned structure. Personally I have my doubts about this.

Or what do you think about another example I came across. Somebody was rejected, as from his CV they ‘assumed’ he was applying for a certain position which was not available for him. In fact, he only had asked for an introduction meeting to see whether with his extensive experience he could be of an added value to the subject hotel. 

Braking down the walls

After an extensive discussion with Johan Du Plessis, the Director of Operations of the Andaz hotel Amsterdam, I’m happy to know that some people and hotels have made the next step already as they realise that walls don’t help the guest. Staff must take a selfless effort to make it happen for the guest in whatever position you are. This is not rocket science.

And not surprisingly, once you walk into a hotel like Andaz, you immediately feel that it is different. This is what you are looking for. This total guest focus is not what everybody has, so it might be a challenge to find the right staff. But if you are serious in delivering what the 21st century guest is looking for, is expecting you have to change your policy and break down the walls.

Many hotels opt for cross training to at least have their staff experience other aspects of the hotel and to get to know colleagues better. In fact all staff from all departments should be involved in these programs to make a good start. This however will not ‘change’ a person’s mindset in respect to his service to the guest. At best it will open his mind to get a better understanding.

Some time ago I write about the act that we should pay more attention to personalising service in 2014. But how to do this? I would say, by starting to break down the old barriers and to open your mind. Start with what you want to offer, your culture, as I mentioned in my previous article. That is what people come for, so everybody, staff and guest alike should fit in this environment.

 Hugo R. Mechelse is managing director of International Butlers. IB offers training and consultancy services. Training covers personalised service courses for high-end hospitality staff, private households, cruise ships, and private yachts. Consultancy, among others, covers mystery visits and establishing signature Butler Service Departments. His book ‘The Art of Butling’ will be published shortly. You can contact him by e-mail: hugo@internationalbutlers.com , www.internationalbutlers.com
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