Train Your Hotel Team to "Say This, Not That!"
By Doug Kennedy.
Wednesday, 17th December 2008
Although there is no doubt that non-verbal signals such as eye contact, body language and facial expressions strongly convey meaning during human interactions, the words we choose still have an effect on conversations and communications. Therefore, it's important to help your hospitality and guest contact staff to choose their words carefully when interacting with guests, prospects and even their "internal" customers from other departments.

In my business and personal travels over the past couple of years, I've noticed that today's hotel staff uniforms are the most attractive and appealing ever, and they also have the very best of technology at their fingertips to make "the systems" work for the guests. Yet even where service providers properly welcome me with a warm smile and eye contact, often the words I hear next present a less than professional and positive first impression.

If you are looking to take your team to even higher levels of guest service excellence, here are some examples of words and phrases to better-convey the spirit of hospitality for you to review in your next training meeting.

Say this: "Welcome to (restaurant name.) Are you ready to be seated?" Not that: "Just one?"

As a business traveler, I often find myself walking up to a host or hostess stand, my newspaper or book neatly tucked away, and being greeted by "Just one?" Even when it is said in a friendly manner, it still makes me want to respond with a frown and reply: "Yes, just one. No one wants to have dinner with me tonight." Instead, avoid reminding single patrons they are dining alone and instead say something like, "Hello, are you ready to be seated?"

Say this: "Let me check on that for you." Not that: "I'll have to check on that for you."

Over the years I've heard associates from all departments saying this, often in a helpful tone and with the best of intentions. Yet it does make the guest feel like a bit of an interruption to our "more important" tasks of running our hotels. A better approach is to say "Let me check on that for you."

Say this: "May I suggest that you..." Not that: "You'll have to...."

When I hear a service provider behind any counter, be it rental car, airlines or a hotel front desk, it somehow brings out that 17-year-old rebel kid in me that never grew up. It makes me want to draw a line in the and as a customer and get into one of those "Oh yes you will... Oh no I won't" discussions. A better approach is "May I suggest that you..." which tends to make myself (and others) more willing to voluntarily comply.

Say this: "It is." Or "I'll find out and let you know..." Not that: "I think it is." Or "It should be."

When guests hear service providers make statements such "I'm pretty sure..." it leaves doubt in their mind about receiving the accurate and sometimes vital information they need. Some service providers seem to use this as an automatic disclaimer, even when they are fairly certain of what they are saying. A better approach is to say with conviction "It is," or if you don't know for sure, assure them you'll find out and let them know in a timely manner.

Say this: "Let me help you..." or "Let me find someone to assist you." Not that: "I'm only just the..."

Whenever I hear a hotel staffer say, "I'm only just..." it seems to diminish their status and again sounds like an excuse-making disclaimer. Yet at great hotels it doesn't seem to matter who I voice my request to; more often than not, they either take care of it directly or convey it themselves to the appropriate person or department.

Say this: "It was my pleasure." Or "You are most welcome." Not that: "No Problem"

Even at four and five star hotels, "no problem" seems to be the most frequent response I hear when genuinely thanking a hotel service provider. Although this has become part of the vernacular made famous in particular by Generation X-ers, for some older generations this almost says, "Normally sir, it is a problem, but for you we made an exception." Although few, if any, guests will actually be offended by this harmless remark, we do sound so much more eloquent when our staff says something like "You are most welcome."

Say this: "I'm sorry to hear you had this challenge with your room... Let's see what we can do for you." Not that: "They put you in this room?" Or "They were supposed to replace this TV last week!"

The hotel engineering, maintenance and housekeeping departments are faced with the unique challenge that the majority of their guest contact comes during circumstances where something has gone wrong during a guest's stay. It is important that they express support of other departments/divisions and avoid placing blame. As anyone who has read guest comment cards or survey forms knows well, guests are often more upset about how the hotel staff reacted than they are about the fact that something actually went wrong. A few words of empathy and a simple and sincere apology can go a long way in defusing emotionally intense guest encounters and turning things back around for the rest of their stay.

By addressing examples such as these at your next meeting or training, you'll help ensure that your hotel staff will professionally convey a message of proactive, guest-focused hospitality during each and every guest interaction.

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. doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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