By Doug Kennedy

When a guest enters your lobby, chances are they are about to have their first human interaction with your hotel’s individual “brand.” In the past, most guests called to book by voice and then called back multiple times prior to arrival with questions about driving directions, transportation, area restaurants, hours of operations and the like. These days most guests book online and then Google search for answers to these and other pre-arrival questions.

Therefore, while I have always believed that the front desk staff played a critical role, now more than ever they truly are the first impression makers, for better or for worse. Chances are that hard evidence for this is available online every day in your guest surveys and/or your online guest reviews. For example, if you take a moment to read through your hotels 10 most recent “5 star” and also your 10 most recent “1 star” reviews, chances are the department most frequently mentioned is front desk.

Being in the hotel training business takes me to an average of 6 hotels per month, and since my personal passion is travel, that adds at least a dozen more front desk registration experiences each year. Based on my experiences, it is most often the fundamentals of hospitality excellence that are sorely lacking.

All too often when I walk up to the front desk with my luggage in hand, a jacket over my arm and a smile on my face, I am greeted with a raised eyebrow and nod and the question: “Checkin’ in?” When they hand me the room key, I notice that many forget to point me in the direction of the elevator. However, they always seem to remember to give me their “Welcome speech” about what time breakfast is served, where the fitness room is, and that I can make copies and even send a fax from the business center. (The only problem is I get this same speech even if I arrive at midnight, mention a very early flight out and ask for a 4am wake-up call. By the way, I have not sent a fax in at least 8 years!)

Later, when I call the front desk to decline housekeeping service or request more coffee packets, an anonymous desk clerk picks up the phone with “Front Desk.” I have mostly given up asking about local area dining options or insider’s tips, as the most common answer is “I’m not sure, I would suggest Googling it.” When my key de-activates and I go back down to get it fixed I rarely hear any empathy nor apology and instead am simply handed a new one then lectured not to put it near my mobile phone, which is something I know well enough to avoid. Finally, at the end of my stay when I stop by to get that “zero balance” receipt I face two final questions. “Checking out?” and then “How was everything, good?”

That being said, I also have experienced so many authentic, genuine and warm welcomes at registration and when I do it literally makes my stay. Over the years I even written about some of these hospitality superstars in my monthly articles in this publication.

So, what makes the difference? Some front desk colleagues truly understand that hospitality starts in the human heart.

At KTN we have just launched a new front desk staff certification program that allows colleagues to become Certified in the Heart of Hospitality. The logo is a heart held up by the five fingers of a hand, with each finger representing one of these Five Pillars of Hospitality Excellence which I hope you will share with your front desk team at your next pre-shift meeting or stand-up training.

Properly Welcome Guests.

  • Understand that with all of the stress of travel these days, chances are we are seeing the worst side of even the nicest personalities. Yet when we make it our job to bring out the best in others, it brings out the best in ourselves and we have a lot more fun! Be sure to properly welcome them upon arrival with a phrase such as “Good afternoon, welcome to the brand X hotel. How may I assist you today?” Deliver this with eye contact and a genuine smile, it is contagious. Tailor your “welcome script” to the guest story playing out in front of you.

Telephone Hospitality Excellence.

  • Convey hospitality and enthusiasm in your tone of voice by “stepping into character” like an actor on a stage. Speak slowly and articulate, which means to pause between words and not run them all together as if one syllable. Always provide your name when you answer to show confidence. For answering questions or assisting, ask for and use the caller’s name. Supervise transferred calls and introduce both parties. End calls by offering additional assistance, thanking the caller and restating the hotel name.

Know Your Product; Voluntarily Mention Key Details.

  • Be in the “guest experience business” and not the “room rental business.” Be prepared to thoroughly answer frequently asked questions. Voluntarily offer “local insider’s tips” such as where the locals eat, actual “rush hour” travel times and “off the beaten path” attractions.

Welcome and Resolve Guest Complaints.

  • Understand that no matter where a problem occurs in the hotel, chances are it will be reported to the front desk. Since the worst complaint is the one that is never mentioned, we should welcome them! (Otherwise the un-reported complaint will surely end up posted online.) First, let guests vent their frustration and validate their emotional distress. Next, show empathy and apologize. Finally, after resolving the issue follow-up to ensure their satisfaction.

Fond Farewell at Departure.

  • While reception is a first impression, the front desk departure conversation is a chance for a lasting “last” impression. Solicit feedback with sincerity. Encourage online reviews when feedback is positive. For regular guests, offer return reservations to secure more direct bookings. Offer assistance with transportation or driving shortcuts during rush hour. Conclude the conversation with eye contact, a smile and a fond farewell.

If you take time to train your front desk team on these “5 Pillars Of Hospitality Excellence,” not only will they create more positive memories for your guests but they will have a lot more fun in doing so.