Make hospitality a priority
By Doug Kennedy
Friday, 21st September 2007
Inarguably, it is true that hotels in all markets these days have access to far greater resources for hospitality training -

Whether from their hotel brand or management company, the AH&LA Education Institute, or from a number of hotel industry-specific training resource companies.

Yet far too many of the front desk clerks that I face an average eight times per month are more focused on their computer processes and electronic key systems than they are at extending the genuine and authentic warmth and generosity that define hospitality at its core.

As an example, as my frequent readers know, one of my pet peeves is standing alone in a hotel lobby, luggage in hand, and having the desk clerk ask, "May I help the next guest?" Alternatively, "hostmasters" I encounter always welcome me as I approach them; they always speak first. Instead of staring blankly and asking "Checkin' in?" like so many desk clerks do, hostmasters I meet notice I have an overcoat on, and after welcoming me, ask, "May I have your last name please?"

After check-in at most hotels, I completely lose my identity and thereafter become my room number, as in, "Room 305 wants more coffee packets," or "Room 701 needs more towels." Yet hostmasters I meet politely assure me my requests will be met right away and then thank me for creating extra work for them! "Okay Mr. Kennedy, we'll send those towels right up to you and thank you for calling housekeeping," they say.

It doesn't stop there. When something doesn't work in my room, which is at least one of 10 stays at even the best hotels, I often have a maintenance worker knocking at my door, staring blankly when I open and asking with indifference, "Drain clogged?" to which I nod and say, "Yep, drain clogged," which is often the extent of our conversation. Yet hostmasters I've met in this same scenario say, "Good afternoon Mr. Kennedy, may I enter the room to take care of the work order for you?"

Perhaps these situations occur because we as an industry have actually been educating our staff on what to do and why to do it, versus training them to change their behaviors and performances. When we educate them, we cover lists of techniques, strategies and approaches. Yet when properly structured, training can link up what's said in the workshop to what happens daily in the workplace.

Most experienced managers have been exposed to some version of a four-step training process, which is to tell them what to do, show them what to do, have them do it, and then provide feedback on how they did. Although many hotels use these training techniques for systems and processes, only the best use these same principles to reinforce the communications essentials for hospitality excellence.

So here's a game plan for using training to transform your staff into hostmasters by not only telling them and then showing them what to do, but also by watching them do it and then providing individualized feedback.

The first step in transforming your staff into hostmasters is to establish a succinct list of communications essentials that will become your hotel's "core values of hospitality." But rather than just handing your staff a list of "standards," it's far more effective for the manager-leader to conduct a brainstorming session with the frontline team to flush out their own list as a starting point. Chances are they will come up with some of the same ideas the manager-leader would have put on their list anyway, but with significantly more "buy-in," having been involved in the process. Below are examples of "Core Values of Hospitality" that our industry's best "hostmasters" use.

  • Welcome guests before initiating transactions.
  • Anticipate guest needs before they become requests; offer assistance before it is requested.
  • Telephone hospitality techniques/standards for answering, placing calls on hold, and transferring when necessary.
  • Greeting guests first when encountering them in the lobby, corridors, and elsewhere on property; speaking first.
  • Welcoming complaints; listening with empathy, apologizing, resolving, and providing follow-up.
Once you have brainstormed with your frontline team and created a list of "core values of hospitality," this can become the focus of not only a monthly departmental training reinforcement meeting, but also the basis for conducting one-on-one coaching daily in the workplace.

Of course, a key component of any development program is to measure the results of the behaviors and performances that were the focus of the training. Of course guest surveys/comment cards are the most traditional tool; however, the best hotels also regularly measure hospitality in other ways on a continuous basis. One such example is for the managers, supervisors, and senior frontline staff to regularly conduct "hospitality audits" for each associate several times a month by watching them in action interacting with guests and completing a score sheet.

Another way to measure hospitality is to use a camcorder or digital camera to videotape the staff as they demonstrate hospitality excellence during role plays and skill rehearsal exercises, or for those who interact over the telephone, by recording phone calls and playing them back for training/coaching purposes. Of course there are numerous other ways to measure hospitality, such as involving guests in a "catch me at my best" program where they identify any staff members who were especially helpful, as well as via feedback from on-premise mystery shopping inspection companies.

By refocusing your staff's attention on these communications essentials for hospitality excellence, and by measuring the results of training on an ongoing basis, you, too, can transform your guest contact staff into "hostmasters."

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 seminars, and on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. His articles have also appeared worldwide in more than 17 prominent international publications. Visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail him at: doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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