When it comes to creating positive first impressions, the job of front desk associate is arguably the most important of any hotel staffer. For guests booking online or via third parties, the front desk literally is their first impression. Even for those who have spoken with the reservations team by phone prior to arrival, their front desk arrival experience will set the tone for their entire stay.
Guests who have a positive experience at check-in are certain to be more understanding later, if/when they have objections or complaints later during their stay. In other words if they have a good experience at the front desk, they will be much more forgiving later when a room service tray is delivered late, when the air conditioning breaks, or when a housekeeping request is overlooked.
Contrarily, guests who have a negative first impression can become hyper-critical; they will spend the rest of their stay almost looking for things to add to their “list,” which they will give to their attorney first thing on Monday!
When I was ascending the ranks of hotel management years ago we were always told that an unhappy guest tells 9-10 other people. Now in the era of consumer generated media and social networking, the potential reach of “word of mouth advertising” is much greater. The potential negative (or positive) impact of a guest review at TripAdvisor, or even a posting at someone’s Facebook or Myspace page, is almost unimaginable compared to days of old when we only had to worry about someone telling their friends and neighbors.
Unfortunately, just as it always has, most training that takes place these days at the front desk is still of the “on-the-job” variety with little or no direct involvement from upper and mid-level management. Instead, the budding new front desk superstars spend their first day shadowing whichever veteran staff member happens to be working that day; someone who likely has no training skills and few if any training resources.
Do you remember the game of “Telephone” or “Whisper down the lane” we all played as kids whereby the first person would be told a story and then would have to pass it on to the next player, who would pass it to the next, etc? Do you remember how much the story changes after having been passed to just three or four people? Using this analogy, it is easy to imagine how important procedures, standards, and processes don’t get properly communicated to the new staff and thus eventually erode over time.
It is also easy to imagine why the turnover is so high for the front desk staff position in particular. Especially when you think about how frustrating this situation can be for a newly hired, career minded associates most of whom want to do their very best, having survived the extensive pre-employment screening processes most hotels have in place and thus having proven they “really do love working with people!”
Hotel managers in today’s era need to recognize how important it is to properly indoctrinate new staff, especially those at the front desk, and to have a formalized process in place for both new-hire and ongoing training.
Here are some suggestions for new-hire training at the front desk:
- Understand that the structure of an associate’s first day on the job creates a positive first impression on them, just as we are asking them to do for our guests.
- The first task should not be to learn the switchboard nor the front desk computer, which inadvertently sends the message “we are here to work this computer; sometimes guests have requests that interrupt us.”
- Instead, the first few hours on the job should be talking about the concepts like pro-active (vs. re-active) guest service and/or delivering genuine, authentic service (vs. scripted, robotic) and how this level of service benefits all parties, including hotel profitability. It is preferable that this discussion be with an experienced, senior level executive such as a GM, AGM, or DOSM.
- Create a new-hire orientation schedule and checklist. Having a formalized plan outlined will ensure the new associate has exposure to all of the resources they need to succeed. Asking them to sign-off when the checklist is completed increases their accountability.
Here are suggestions for ongoing training of existing front desk staff:
- Most hotel hospitality training focuses exclusively on communications techniques, such as eye contact, body language, and telephone skills. This type of training is certainly important and should be part of the big picture. To maximize the transfer of this type of training to the workplace, ask associates to portray both good and bad examples as you video tape them and then replay the results for the group. Portraying bad examples shows that there is in fact a wrong way to do it and also makes training fun; portraying the correct way allows each associate to show that they can do exactly what they have learned to do in the training.
- Besides communications techniques, another key component is training which creates empathy for and an understanding of the experiences guests are living-out every day on the other side of the front desk and the other end of the phone line. Brainstorm with your group all of the many reasons guests stay in your hotel; remind them it’s not always to attend a wedding and that it could be a funeral. It’s not always a fun business meeting but could be to announce a company layoff or plant closure.
- Discuss with your group what a guest must go through when traveling to the hotel by car or by plane, and all of the challenges they could potentially encounter en route which can bring out the worst side of even the nicest guests. Explore how a proper welcome at the front desk can be a turning point in a guest’s day.
- Create a very short list of “core values” that are absolutely delivered with zero defect. An example might be: “Guests will always be properly welcomed upon arrival” or “Telephones will always be answered with a proper greeting by an associate who ‘owns’ the call from there.” Discuss how consistency in these areas can impact repeat business, word-of-mouth advertising, consumer-generated media, and social networking postings. Hold associates accountable through constant reinforcement in workplace.
- Visit popular websites for consumer generated media, such as TripAdvisor. Have your team read the postings there and to discuss how the guest services techniques from the training content could have impacted the posting.
Above all, make sure your management team knows that we can’t and won’t ever “find” the time to conduct front desk hospitality training; instead we must make training a priority and somehow carve out the time - even a few budget dollars for training resources. Even my fifth grader could do the math and calculate that the potential revenue impact of even just one positive guest review or social media entry will easy cover the investment in training.