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Pro-Active Hospitality Requires Knowing Your Product.
By Doug Kennedy
Friday, 9th July 2010
 
One common theme of most hotel industry hospitality training programs is an emphasis on encouraging frontline associates to be pro-active in anticipating needs in advance and in voluntarily mentioning additional, relevant details. 

Yet in order to deliver pro-active hospitality, frontline associates must first possess a strong working knowledge of their "product." 

This first requires them to first be able to answer the question: "What is our product?"  Unfortunately too many associates these days think they are in the "room rental" business.  While it is true that guests are actually paying us for "time" spent in our "space," what they are really buying is their own unique travel experience; an experience impacted by the destination, location, area points of interest, attractions, and of course hotel features and amenities besides the room.  

As an example, just imagine how your significant other would react if you came home one evening and said, "Hey honey, I have a big surprise for you!  I'm taking you away for our anniversary weekend my Dear!  I booked us a 350 square foot room with an iron, ironing board, hair dryer, coffee maker and flat screen TV." 

Instead, guests are living out their own unique and diverse human travel experiences every day on the other side of the front desk, and most of these experiences occur outside of their guest room. 

When front line guest contact staff know their product well, they are better-able to provide guests with the information and "local insider's tips" that are so very valuable to an out of town visitor. 

Here are some examples from my own personal travel experiences:
  • During my recent stay at the Oxford Hotel in Bend, OR, Todd my most excellent bellman knew his product well enough to know (and voluntarily mention) that the airport concession stands were under renovation so there were no restaurants open, and instead offered me a snack box lunch to go.
  • While driving to a conference at the Comfort Inn, Mt. Pleasant, MI my GPS took me to a completely different address in the middle of farmland.   Fortunately when I pulled over to call the hotel, Danielle, my most excellent front desk superstar, knew her local regional directions well enough to a) figure out where I was based on landmarks I mentioned and b) provide directions to bring me in.
  • When arriving late at night with a female colleague from KTN, who had just discovered she had packed two different black dress shoes (both left feet!), we pulled up to the security gate at Disney's Coronado Springs resort to ask where she could shop for a new pair.  Not only did the security officer have directions to a local outlet mall, but she also knew for a fact that the mall opened at 9am the next day – in time for our meeting - saving us a trip late that night to a 24 hour Walmart. 
  • While at the MGM Grand recently for business I found myself with a rare opportunity of a couple of hours of down-time.  When I simply asked my gift shop attendant about the pool hours, she not only answered my question but also informed me there were lockers, changing rooms, and towels there too so I didn't have to walk through the hotel in my bathing suit. 
  • While in town to conduct training for Brett-Robinson Vacation Rentals in Gulf Shores, AL, I noticed that just down the street from my Phoenix IX Resort was the world-famous Florabama Bar, make legendary by Jimmy Buffet among others.  When I simply asked for directions at the front desk, not  only did they recommend that I walk up the beach vs. the busy road, but they also gave me a heads-up that  Florabama  only takes cash,  and that their ATM's were likely to be out of cash since the day prior had been the last day of their famous "Mullett Tosss" event.  So I used the ATM at the resort and was glad I did when I arrived to find she was correct.
It is obvious that management at these hotels understands the importance of training their staff to become experts at providing local area tips and recommendations.  Unfortunately most hotels these days seem to put little if any effort into training their staff to know the product.  Perhaps they assume that "the locals" should already possess this information. 

Yet experience shows that just because someone is a local resident that does not mean they automatically become an expert. 

Instead, managers should work continuously to train their team by:
  • Cover upcoming local events and activities at pre-shift meetings.
  • Provide an local and hotel events calendar on a written white board in back offices, or even better make it available on your hotel's intranet.
  • Conduct FAM tours of local area attractions and entertainment complexes.  
  • Solicit guest speakers from local businesses that provide services of interest to your guests.
  • Ask Chefs from local, popular restaurants to hold food tastings.  Hotels with restaurants should do the same with their in-house chef. 
  • Create "product knowledge trivia contests" to test participants' working knowledge of their product.
  • When guests have unique, first-time questions or requests, document the question and the answers or solutions found by noting them in front desk log-book or daily report for others to learn from.
  • For larger hotels and resorts, ask representatives from various departments, such as F&B, activities director, sales directors, to speak to the frontline staff at departmental meetings to explain any new or upcoming programs, services and events.
By conducting training in the subject area of knowing your product, you'll be providing your frontline staff with the tools they need so that they can not only answer questions, but also be able to pro-actively volunteer additional, relevant details that can make the guest's stay that much more enjoyable.

Founded in 2006, Kennedy Training Network (KTN) is the lodging industry's best source for training programs and services in the topic areas of reservations sales, hospitality and guest service, and front desk revenue optimization. Services including customized, on-site training workshops, private, individual hotel team webinars, and reservations/front desk mystery shopping assessment and coaching reports.

Additionally, KTN is also a resource for conference keynote and break-out sessions for management companies, brands, and associations.

For more information, visit www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com for details or e-mail
doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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