America’s Front Desk 
Fights Back!

David M. Brudney, ISHC, January 2002

The response to my article (“Front Desk Fails to Catch America’s Hospitality Spirit,” Hotel On-Line, Nov. 19, 2001) has driven me to write a follow up piece.
I wrote the article after my initial post-911 travel adventures wherein I witnessed shockingly poor hospitality and customer service levels from my experiences with hotel front desks when compared with overall hospitality and service levels found with airlines, restaurants, national parks and amusement venues.

In Defense of the Front Desk

A limited service G.M. wrote: “many front office workers are not only performing expected front desk related duties but they are often washing the linen, replenishing the breakfast bar, delivering roll-a-way beds and so on.  I am not approving of poor service by any means, I am just trying to underscore the fact that there may be a reason why it is hard to find staff who will be happy while they are stretched too thinly by owners and customers who are not willing to pay for better service.”

A Hotel staffer wrote: ”we pay our front desk clerks less than Burger King wages, train them like the temporary employees they turn out to be, then put them out on the front line with no ammunition (delegated authority) in their weapons.”

A senior hotel operations executive wrote: “times have changed!  Hospitality is no longer what it used to be.  You should be thankful to have someone pour you a cup of coffee in a restaurant today.  Checking in to a hotel is no different today than waiting in line for 30 minutes for an available bank teller.  Room clerks go through hell today and get paid only $8 an hour.  It’s very much like airport security, you get what you pay.  G.M.s and owners must focus on the real issues: commitment to training, competitive compensation, reward and empowerment for the high achievers and opportunity for growth and advancement.” 

A hotel sales trainer wrote: “The problem is that the one person behind the desk is just that, one person.  Where there used to be two staffers, business levels and/or an excuse to cut back have taken precedent over customer service.  One person is forced to handle front desk, reservations and PBX (tasks) and usually without much training or experience.  You can’t train people to be attentive, friendly and courteous.  They either have it or don’t.  A pox on our house!”

And a G.M. of a full service hotel really took me to task.  He said he was very sorry he read my article that day because he was certain that one of the people to whom he reports “will no doubt forward a copy to me with some well intentioned ‘you people ought to . . .’ remark attached.  Of course, that won’t be until next week after they have had their holiday break while my staff and I were working Thanksgiving Day and over the weekend.”

The irate G.M. added that “unlike my sales and marketing office” (ouch!) the front office is open 24 hours a day, hours have been cut back, managers have been laid off and chided me over the “list of marketing data required from each guest at check in, the yield management guidelines and all of the 10 or more tasks that must be balanced while guests are waiting in line.”

A 24-year veteran front office manager also took offense: “Your article may be true in some places, but not here!  I take pride in giving my staff respect, courtesy, care, concern and training.  We, as a team, have scored 96% or higher on our guest comment cards over the past six months.  I am very proud to be a part of the hospitality industry and hope that one day you will visit us and your next article will be more in tune to reality.”

A sales director for a limited service hotel sent me an invitation and a gift certificate to visit his hotel in Minnesota to experience real customer service! 

An H.R. Director writes the answer to my question “where is management?” was glossed over.  “The key is teaching, providing the ‘why’ and not just the ‘how’”.  He adds that “corporate’s mandate for F.O. training is perfunctory, addressed in about four of the almost 200 pages in corporate’s S.O.P. manual.”  He believes that “trainers and regional training programs are boring, repetitive and uncreative . . . training is not an inspectable item . . . (and) at the property level, training is viewed as an unnecessary, time-consuming, no return-on-investment expense.”

Most Support Opinion F.D. Fails to Capture America’s Hospitality Spirit

Hotel owner: “Thank you!  I faxed it to my front desk, and they will post it.”

Hotel asset manager: “Your article is 100% right on with my own experiences.”

An attorney specializing in hospitality: “I couldn’t agree more that our industry, in particular, needs to put the ‘hospitality’ back in the hospitality business, to make it a cornerstone, not just a buzz word.”

Hotel trade journalist: “I found your article interesting, especially since, on the one trip I’ve taken since 911, I experienced exactly the same thing!  Every service person I encountered - - airports, cabs, restaurants - - was extremely friendly and gracious.  But not at my hotel.  It was much as you described.”

Hotel consultant: “It is so true!  I had the same experience this summer.  Everything was done for the convenience of the hotel and never for the customer.  No front desk inquiries with regards to need, no concern for comfort, no attempt to really provide value - - not in the dollar sense, but rather the care sense.  Whatever happened to the promise associated with hospitality?”

Hotel regional sales manager: “We used to have our front desk agents shop the competing hotels and actually stay at hotels once to experience what it is like to check in . . . we have been cutting corners on training and incentive programs this year in lieu of new carpeting and furniture.”

Hotel manager: “The past six years in particular have changed from the ‘hospitality business’ to the ‘business of hospitality.’  Money first, everything else second.  Front desk believes that no one ‘up above’ cares.  Besides, the F.O. manager will be gone in a year or anyhow.  So, why bother?  It’s sad because there are employees out there who care.  It just seems that no one but the guest cares if the front desk cares or not.”

Hospitality executive recruiter: “It starts at the top.  Management has to be where the action is, what we called in the bubble, out shaking hands and kissing babies, not hiding in some office redoing the weekly forecasts.”

Area director of marketing: “It’s up to management - - up and down the line - - to insure that appropriate training and development and staffing levels support the front line team members, especially so in this time of economic stress.  I shared your article with our three executive committees.”

Front desk software vendor: “We have gone to great lengths to make sure data can be accessed, stored, manipulated and exported.  Yet, when a desk clerk treats a guest with neglect, it matters little that the computer indicates that it’s the guest’s fifth stay, eats dinner in the hotel or prefers down pillows.  A bad guest experience will likely be the last chance to take advantage of information.” 

So, what do you think? 

Is the lack of hospitality so many of us have experienced since 911 a new standard for hotels?  Are hotel front desks no different from Burger Kings, department stores or airport security?  Is the problem poor wages, training, too many tasks, absentee owners, management neglect, new customer demands, cost cutting or simply the economic times?  Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above?  Share your thoughts and your solutions with me.  Let the good dialogue continue!



 
David M. Brudney, ISHC is a veteran sales and marketing professional with four decades of service to the hospitality industry.  He is the principal of David Brudney & Associates of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, a hospitality marketing consulting firm in business since 1979 and a charter member of International Society of Hospitality Consultants.  Previously, Brudney held sales and marketing positions with Hyatt and Westin. 

 
Contact:
David M. Brudney, ISHC, Principal
David Brudney & Associates
Carlsbad, CA 92009
760-476-0830 Fax 760-476-0860
EMail: David@DavidBrudney.com
Web Site: www.DavidBrudney.com

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Also See Front Desk Fails To Catch America’s Hospitality Spirit / David Brudney ISHC / November 2001 
A Very Good Time For That Sales Audit / David Brudney ISHC / Sept 2001 
More Theater, Less Zombies / David Brudney ISHC / Dec 2000 
It’s The Experience, Stupid! / David Brudney ISHC / Nov 2000 


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