By Doug Kennedy
The front desk colleagues at your hotel are creating first impressions that set the tone for the entire guest’s stay every shift, every day. Whereas in the past, first impressions were made by a voice reservations agent or during a phone call to inquire about directions or hotel amenities, most guests find these needs met online. Therefore, the first human contact with your hotel is likely to be with the front desk colleague.
Tech companies have for many years been trying to automate the guest arrival experience. First, front desk kiosks were placed in lobbies of some hotel brands, yet guests walked right by them even if there was a long line at reception. Next, smart phone check-in was to be the answer. Yet despite all the hype, utilization has been extremely low. A few hotels have gone as far as to completely replace the front desk itself as well as the staff. Yet when you read their reviews you see this is not going so well. Here is an actual quote from a TripAdvisor review posted by a guest at one of these hotels located in South Beach Miami, Florida:
The only disappointment was that there appeared to be no reception staff… The only person available to hear our story of how we spent our honeymoon in that hotel and how special it had been for us was the bartender, who, to be honest, was not in the least interested. Somehow, I had imagined that the staff would have been interested in a honeymoon couple not only still together after 36 years, but would wish to celebrate it with us. Sad reflections on what had been a fabulous honeymoon.
Hotels looking at eliminating the front desk reception experience are on the path to becoming a commodity. Think about it… when all hotel rooms look pretty much the same from one brand to the next, when they have basically the same amenities and features, when the rooms are priced accordingly due to sophisticated revenue management and competitive analysis, when the majority of rooms are distributed on an OTA which has its own loyalty point system, when guests go straight to their room and order room service and extra towels from a TV, thus never talking to a human, then the hotel room is reduced to being a commodity because there are no longer any significant points of differentiation.
Instead, what we as an industry should be doing is training our front desk colleagues to be “Memory Makers.” Now the truth is that they already act in this role every day, as evidenced by the comments made in online guest reviews. Whether you read the “one star” poor reviews or the “five star” excellent ones, you will see that what guests talk about the most at these ends of the spectrum of opinions is how they were treated by the person standing behind the front desk. The only question is what type of memories are they making? Sweet dreams or nightmares!
Increasingly as the steps in the registration process are automated, we are essentially freeing-up time for the front desk colleagues to truly engage in authentic, genuine conversations and properly welcome guests upon arrival. Rather than looking to technology as means of reducing staff and cutting labor costs, hotel operations should instead be training them for a new role as memory makers! Here are some training tips:
- Relentlessly review the “hospitality essentials” for a proper welcome, which in theory everyone already knows but in reality at most hotels are not being used consistently. (Properly worded greeting, eye contact, smile, gestures, body language, personalized welcome statement.)
- Conduct “guest empathy training” to help colleagues understand all of the many travel challenges and frustrations which guests might encounter on the way to the hotel.
- Conduct “know your guest” training to review they types of “guest stories” playing out every day on the other side of the front desk. Are you near a hospital where families of patients – or patients themselves – are staying? Near a military base where families come to visit pre- deployment? Located in a resort area where families are spending their hard-earned savings for their annual family vacation? Near major ports of entry for International visitors? What are these and other actual guests experiencing?
- In order to recognize guests on arrival, during “line-ups” and “pre-shift meetings,” read the names of guests on arrival (for heavy arrival days at least read the VIP list), review the names of groups / functions being held at the hotel.
- Train the staff on how to welcome complaints as opportunities to showcase above and beyond service when we recover.