Keeping communications open at the front desk

Ask Debbie Williams and she will tell you that above all else, guests want to feel respected. Williams should know; she is the senior training manager, special programs, for Wyndham Hotel Group, and after training front-desk staff for 37 years, she understands guests’ needs: a clean room, a comfortable bed and a welcoming feel the moment they walk through the front door.

Making a guest feel welcome starts with the training process. Williams suggests front-desk staff build a script that will then be their focus every day. According to Williams, travelers revisit the front desk multiple times per visit to learn about the hotel and surrounding area, and they will be more apt to engage with the property if they trust those behind the desk.

“It’s most important to have that open communication to the front desk,” Williams said. “This leads to a dialogue, and gives guests the comfort to come back if there is a problem with their stay.”

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The conversational approach to front-desk interactions is prominent in Kimpton properties, where Tessa Peterson, a brand operations manager for the chain, said guests look for a less formal experience. “Front-desk interaction presents an opportunity for guests to get a more local vibe,” Peterson said. “They want their check-in tailored to them, and a conversation is the best way to gauge guest tastes.”

While the hiring process is instrumental in finding front-desk agents who are drawn to these kinds of interactions, Peterson said these skills are also formed in training, where staff engage in role playing to practice multitasking conversations while navigating the check-in process via computer. Staff are then able to make recommendations to local restaurants and sights based on their own preferences and what they learn from the guest.

A strong front-desk agent can also be an effective method for a hotel to upsell the guest to a more premium room option. According to Klaus Kohlmayr, chief commercial officer for front-desk upselling specialist TSA Solutions, an analysis of 11,000 online comments across online travel agent sites for reviews of Shangri-La properties showed that guests expected an upsell and were often swayed by the natural discussions they had at the front desk.

“Every guest is different,” Kohlmayr said. “Two guests will have different conversations and walk away with different products, but a script won’t help in this case. It will just list facts; it needs personality.” 

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