Hotel staffers move out from behind the desk

This is part three in a series on front desk services. Visit here for part two: "The appeal of the human interaction vs. mobile check-in."

Hotels want to stay one step ahead of guest wants, sometimes offering services guests didn’t know they needed before they were made available to them. To that end, hotel lobbies have evolved to become social, communal spaces, and within this transformation, the front desk is changing, too.

Cornelia Samara, GM of the Andaz 5th Avenue in New York, said that her hotel doesn’t necessarily have a front desk. Instead, she refers to it as a “barrier-free environment,” where front-office staff adopt the roles of doorman, bellman, concierge and front-office agent all rolled into one—and travel with the guest from the entrance of the property to his or her room. The check-in is handled on a tablet, and staff sit with guests in the lounge-like lobby to go over their reservation. 

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“In general, more and more hotels are going toward the direction where the front desk is a residential social space, and is getting away from the long block of front desks,” Samara said.

Debbie Williams, senior training manager, special programs, for Wyndham Hotel Group, said check-in kiosks or pods can work well in certain hotels because they still emphasize human interaction. To Williams, the desk is just a location where the front-desk agent resides; it doesn’t affect the experience in the same way the front-desk agent does.

One recent innovation in the lobby is taking place behind the desk. Face Snapper, a training service for front-desk staff, is offering a training tool to hotels whereby recordings are taken of guest reactions as they interact with front-desk staff. Later, the interactions are analyzed by customer-service professionals and reviewed for managers to see, assisting with the training process.

“We work closely with managers who use the system, and some hotels want more notifications than others,” said J.P. Gagne, founder of Face Snapper. “Through the program, staff learn to watch for expressions the managers are interested in, and can improve the guest experience in the long term.”

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