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A Gameplan for Dealing with Front Desk Clerks More Focused
on Their Computer than Welcoming Guests
Transform Your Guest Contact Staff Into “Hostmasters”

By Doug Kennedy, September 2007

Inarguably, it is indeed true that hotels of all markets these days have access to far great resources for hospitality training, whether from their hotel brand or management company, the AH&LA – EI, both of which have always been great resources, and from a number of hotel industry-specific training resource companies. 

Yet far too many of the front desk clerks that I stand facing an average 8 times per month are still more focused on their computer processes and electronic key systems than they are at welcoming guests with authentic warmth and generosity that define hospitality at its core.   Let’s give credit though, there’s still plenty of great hotel managers at all levels who understand that hospitality is more than a communications technique, and who instead train and coach their guest contact staff everyday to become  Hostmasters.  What is a Hostmaster? We all know one when we encounter one… 

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 look up and staring straight at you say:  “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 saying “Checkin’ in?” like so many desk clerks do, Hostmasters I meet notice I have an overcoat on and after welcoming me say “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 the 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.” 

It doesn’t stop there.  When something doesn’t work in my room, which is at least 1 of 10 stays at even the best hotels, I often have a maintenance worker knocking at my door, staring blankly when I open and saying 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 meet in this same scenario say: “Good afternoon Mr. Kennedy, may I enter the room to take care of the work order for you?” 

Perhaps it is that 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 us 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 doing 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 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 asked for. 
  • 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 following-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 conduct 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.  Once 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 video tape 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 re-focusing 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 break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. Ee-mail Doug at:

Doug Kennedy, President
Kennedy Training Network
Direct:  (954) 981-7689

Also See: Besides Training:  Maximizing Hotel Reservations Sales Success / Doug Kennedy / August  2007
Overcoming - “Now Is Just Not A Good Time For Training…” / Doug Kennedy / July 2007
Walking The Thin Line Between Hospitality Excellence and Mediocrity / Doug Kennedy / June 2007
The True Story Of Two Difficult Guests / Doug Kennedy / May 2007
Mentoring To The Max; Frontline Supervisors Often Caught in the Middle / Doug Kennedy / April 2007
First Step In Maximizing Reservations Sales: Believe It’s Possible / Doug Kennedy / March 2007
Training Is Key To Turning “Desk Clerks” Into Front Desk Salespersons / March 2007
Mastering The Lost Art of Check-In / Doug Kennedy / February 2007
Speaking of Hotel Rooms: When You Turn The Lights Off They All Look The Same / Doug Kennedy / December 2006
Train Your Front Desk To Overcome Challenges of Fielding Reservations Calls At The Front Desk / Doug Kennedy / October 2006
The Hotels Reservations Sales Process; Today’s Callers Want a Personalized and Customized Experience / Doug Kennedy / October 2006
It’s Time To Give Hotel Guests What They REALLY Need and Want Daily! Key Basics Some Hotels Still Fall Short On / Doug Kennedy / September 2006
Have You Listened To What Your Hotel Sales and Reservations Agents Are Saying To Real Customers? / Doug Kennedy / August 2006
Next Step In Revenue Optimization: Train Your Front Desk and Reservations Staff To “Maintain The Rate Fences” / Doug Kennedy / July 2006
Beyond “Outrageous,” and “Legendary” Customer Service Training: Creating “Ordinary Excellence, Daily!” / Doug Kennedy / June 2006
The Politics of Revenue Management / Doug Kennedy / June 2006
Hotel Sales “Steps” and “Processes” Are Out; Today’s Inquiry Caller’s Want A Personalized Sales Experience / Doug Kennedy / June 2006



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