How to empower your front desk team

Victor Viseho By Victor Viseho
Uploaded 4 weeks ago

They say first impressions go a long way. Nowhere is this more applicable than in the case of the hotel front desk - the first point of contact for most guests. Very often it is the front-line team that creates that all-important first interaction with and impression of your brand in a guest's mind - an impression that will, invariably, stay with them long after they have checked out.

For guests, as well as other visitors and suppliers to your hotel, a positive initial interaction will be remembered - whether yours is a five-star property or an affordable urban hotel, like the one I am proud to run here in London. We GMs want our guests to be surprised and delighted by the efficiency and warmth of our service, by the knowledge of our staff, and by our commitment to making their stay special. When we fail - by not delivering, by not taking a complaint seriously or not dealing with it effectively - we let down our guests and risk damaging our businesses in the process.

So it's no surprise that we put a huge amount of energy into recruitment and training staff to ensure that our guests' first encounter with our brand is long-lasting for all the right reasons. At Point A Hotels we recognise that the way to improve the effectiveness of our front-desk teams is to make sure that they feel empowered. It's not an easy thing to achieve, but it is something that we consciously work on, every day, at Point A Hotels.

Point A Hotels is unique in its ambition to put the art of hospitality back into the affordable hotel space, and this approach starts with our front-line team, who are not receptionists or front-of-house managers, but 'hosts'. Just as we would when hosting a guest in our own home, we want guests to feel like they have come to a place where they belong. It is the role of our hosts to show guests that we care about them and that their being here is important to us.

Our hosts do all they can to make our guests feel comfortable and relaxed. Making personal connections with our guests is the most important part of our role as hosts and we encourage our teams to maximise their opportunities to interact with guests. When the lobby is busy at check out, I encourage them to ensure that, instead of standing behind our reception pods, they circulate among guests, talking to them, taking key cards and acting as a Lobby Ambassador. For new staff in particular, this serves to increase confidence, and as such is something we are constantly reinforcing through our formal training and daily briefings. It is undoubtedly the best way to get feedback from guests: if we are able to catch them in the lobby, have a chat with them, to gauge their feedback and, if there is a problem, address it and turn things around before they leave, then this is a win. Our aim is to reach out to every single guest to ask them how their stay went; if we are unable to do this before they walk out of the hotel, then that is a failure.

Confidence is also developed through knowledge, and our ongoing training offers the opportunity to acquire knowledge of all areas of the business that impact on the customer experience - which includes everything from understanding the brand and individual hotel facilities, to housekeeping and maintenance, from developing knowledge of the local area to understanding how our website and booking systems work. With knowledge and confidence, our hosts are able to communicate to guests that, regardless of what they have come here to do - whether their stay is for business or for leisure - the hosting team can assist them to get that done, quickly and efficiently.

Our guests begin their relationship with our hosts long before they have even stepped foot inside the hotel - by reading about us in online reviews. Such is the impact of the service they provide, mention of our hosts by name in online reviews is not uncommon, and it's something we actively reward. It is a valuable tool that helps future guests build a positive connection with us in advance of their stay. On occasion, a guest will ask for a particular host on arrival - often one of our multilingual staff - as they have read about them on TripAdvisor.

We use our online reviews proactively as a training tool for improvement. Each day I receive an email from the night team, who read all of the reviews  during their shifts and pick up the negative comments and then feed back any recommendations for how we should improve, or flag up things that have lead to a complaint. This analysis is done by team members, at all levels and functions, and is circulated to the entire team, including supervisors and then myself; the result is that all team members are encouraged to take responsibility for our success and to feel empowered by highlighting problems but also solutions to management. 

As GM, it is my responsibility to lead by example. I enjoy interacting with guests and it is important that the teams see me doing so; that they see me supporting this essential element of their roles. Demonstrating confidence in my staff is another important way in which I can empower them. I support their decisions and am careful not to damage their confidence by undermining them. We will review the approach they have taken together afterwards to further develop their decision-making skills.

Every member of our host team is trained to be able to run the shift without the need for a supervisor; they are empowered to take full ownership of the situation without any constraints on what they can do. If a complaint arises, before any offer of compensation is made, the host will ask the guest what we can do to turn the situation around. The result is that the host feels  empowered because they know what the guest wants, and are able to say "no problem, we'll get that sorted straight away"; meanwhile, the guest feels empowered because we have listened and resolved things swiftly in the way they asked. In many cases, when a guest raises a complaint, they are not looking for any form of compensation but simply wish to be heard and to prevent a future guest from having a problem.   

The bottom line is that empowering your hosting teams has a direct impact on the hotel's bottom line. An effective front-line team reduces guest complaints, reduces the chances of complaints escalating into negative reviews and reduces the need to offer compensation. It also helps the business grow because team members push themselves to develop when they know that they are responsible for making things happen and that they are making decisions on behalf of the business.  
 
While there's no question that a positive review on TripAdvisor can bring us more business  (Point A King's Cross St Pancras holds the Certificate of Excellence for 2018 for consistently great reviews from guests, as do the other six hotels in the Point A Hotels portfolio) - it is what we have done - and continue to do - to achieve that review that will bring us new guests.

It is my job to ensure all of our back-of-house systems are working and the hotel facilities and cleanliness are the best they can be and  to ensure our hosts can focus on our most important job, that of caring for our guests. And whether that means arranging a birthday card or special something in the room for a guest celebrating a special day, calling someone a taxi or offering a coffee and a comfy sofa to a tired traveller, that's what our teams are empowered to do. The rewards are tangible.

Point A Hotels is a portfolio of affordable city hotels in London and Glasgow, with new hotels opening in Edinburgh and London Kensington in 2019. 

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