By Doug Kennedy

As part of the prework I do before conducting on-site training workshops for front desk teams, I always look at the existing, in-house training standards and content. Nearly all programs cover the concepts of showing empathy, and especially at Forbes rated hotels, to establish authentic, emotional connections.

Yet when I look at how colleagues are trained on how to deliver on these standards, I find that most managers are simply going over scripted welcome messages and reviewing interpersonal communications techniques at their meetings.

It seems to me that most front office leaders underestimate just how challenging it is, even on a “normal” day behind a front desk, to truly show empathy for a shift that runs 8 or more hours, often with minimal breaks.

It’s time for more of our industry leaders to acknowledge that many of our loyal staff are suffering from what I call “Compassion Fatigue,” which is when one feels emotionally drained to the point where the only self-survival method is detachment. The end result for the colleague is burnout, and for the guest, it’s the depersonalization of experiences.

Compassion fatigue is especially prevalent for front desk staff working at:

  • Larger size hotels where there is constantly a queue of guests waiting to check-in.
  • Hotels that are chronically understaffed, thus requiring overtime and double-back shifts.
  • Hotels where guests are experiencing disruptions due to renovations or construction.
  • Properties in that have fallen behind in their routine capital improvements to the point where guests experience ongoing issues that cannot be resolved. (Tired décor, outdated furnishings).

So the question then becomes, what can today’s leaders do about it? Here are some training and development tips:

  • If you want your staff to show compassion for guests, then show compassion for your staff.
  • Monitor their meal and beverage breaks. Sometimes it gets so busy that colleagues forget to eat or drink water and need to be reminded.
  • Let them vent. If we want front desk staff to learn to listen with empathy when guests complain, recognize that sometimes your staff will also need to vent about particularly difficult guests. This does not mean we want to encourage “guest bashing.” Rather, just letting them vent on occasion provides a sense of validation.
  • Exhibit gratitude for their efforts. Yes, receiving overtime pay is nice, but giving up your day off or working late unexpectedly impacts one’s personal life. A sincere, personalized “thank you” goes a long way, especially when it comes from a department head, sales director or GM.
  • Stay dialed-in to your colleagues. Most front office managers rate high on the Emotional Intelligence scale. Use the same skills you developed to be able to “read the guest” to be able to “read the staff.” Just as we ask them to be in tune with our guests’ emotional status, be in tune with them. Notice when they are not smiling as much as usual or if you have a general sense of their frustration. Be supportive of their emotional needs.
  • Provide training that helps staff understand what’s happening on the other side of the front desk or telephone call. Often those who work in hotels cannot personally relate to the realities playing out behind the guest room doors, so discuss the guest experiences that are specific to your marketing demographics.
  • Finally, train your front desk staff to use their “power of release” over negative guests. As I often say in my workshops, if you have 100 rooms in the hotel, and 1.5 guests per room, that’s 150 people. Can we REALLY expect that they will all be nice, kind understanding human beings? Be assured, there will be at least 5% that are extremely difficult. Remind colleagues that no one can make you upset, angry or frustrated unless you give them the power to do so.