Hospitality begins at check-in.
By Doug Kennedy
Thursday, 21st December 2006
Despite all the technology advances in front-office systems - at most hotels the check-in process itself has de-evolved into a scripted - robotic and heartless business transaction.

If my recent experience during visits to 20+ hotels in the last 90 days is any indication, this trend is apparent at hotels representing all market segments.

For me, the welcome I receive (or don't receive) at the front desk has nothing to do with the number of stars or diamonds hanging on the plaque behind the front desk. During the trip I visited hotels in every segment from economy to luxury. Only three times was I was properly welcomed on arrival: once at a two-star hotel and once at a four-star property. Granted most of the other check-ins were handled in a polite and efficient manner. However, at the front desk of a four-star hotel in Washington, D.C., I did experience one six-minute interaction with a clerk who limited herself to the following seven words:

"Checking in?"

"Your Name?"

"Here you go."

In fact "checking in?" seems to be the overwhelmingly most common phrase used to greet arriving guests these days. (Although there seems to be a new trend for desk clerks to simply use the gesture of a raised eyebrow and a nod to find out your name.)

How silly the question "Checking in?" must seem to an arriving guest, as he or she stands in the lobby, luggage in tow and credit card in hand. I'm sure more than one guest has been tempted, as I have, to reply sarcastically "No, I'm not  checking in, I just stopped by the front desk lobby with my luggage to check out your artwork. I'm actually a connoisseur of hotel lobby artwork and I heard you had some great pieces in your collection here."

You can't blame the staff for this. The reality is that most front-desk associates receive little if any exposure to the concept of hospitality. Most training is centered on working the front-desk computer, reservations system and telephone switchboard.

Considering the overall state of "manners" (or lack thereof) in today's real-world society, managers cannot assume new hires possess the social and interpersonal communications skills they need to relate to guests who are likely from a different socio-economic background, age group and geographic region.

If you are ready to help your front desk staff remaster the lost art of properly welcoming guests upon arrival at the front desk, here are some training tips for your next staff meeting:

1. Welcome EVERY guest upon arrival:

Make sure no one starts any transactions before first using a sincere, proper welcome such as "Good afternoon, welcome to Any brand Hotel. How are you today sir?"

2. Avoid asking obvious questions:

In other words, if I am at the desk at 7 a.m. holding my garment bag and room key, I am most likely checking out; if it's 7 p.m. and I have my coat on, I'm probably checking in.

3. Instead, offer assistance:

Rather than quizzing guests as to whether they are coming or going, why not simply say something like "How may I assist you today?" Or use an assumptive question such as "are you checking out this morning?" if you are simply not sure.

4. Bring out the best in guests, vs. reacting to their demeanor:

Be the first to express authentic and genuine hospitality by facial expressions, body language and non-threatening, short personal questions such as "What do you think of this weather today?"

Make these efforts even with guests who look tired and cranky—they probably are! You might even get a smile and kind remark back before they are done, and you are certain to meet more friendly people during your shift at the desk.

5. If my reservation is missing and you have rooms:

Tell me the latter first before you break the bad news to me gently. At least I'll know I have a place to stay.

6. If I mention having had challenges en route:

And if you can spare 90-120 seconds, I would so appreciate your therapy by letting me tell you just how bad it was. A little empathy and understanding is just that much better.

7. If my credit card declines for any reason:

Ask me for another form of payment before blurting out loudly "Your credit card was denied." Or put the burden on the bank by saying "I was unable to get approval."

8. Ask me if I need information before offering too much of it:

For example, if I am a card-carrying member of your hotel frequency program, or a known repeat guest, chances are I am more familiar with that breakfast buffet than you are. So before you tell me everything that's on it and what time it starts, why not first ask if I am familiar with the buffet or if I have any questions about the hotel?

9. Properly end the transaction:

Personalize your wrap-up remarks according to the human interaction that we just had. Welcome me one more time.

At full service hotels, offer a bell staff escort by name: "Mr. Kennedy, may we have Chris escort you to your room?"

Please do not ask if I need help with my small garment bag and laptop case; do I look like a 98-pound weakling?

For hotels without a bell staff, point me in the direction of the elevators and make sure I am walking in the right direction.

Training your staff on tips and tactics such as these, your staff can master the (nearly) lost art of extending the generous and authentic gift of hospitality at check-in.

Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. Visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail him at: doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com

First appeared at Hotel & Motel Management www.hotelmotel.com

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