How to help staff empathise with guests

To ensure frontline staffers care about guests, make sure they understand the various situations that play out on the other side of the front desk.

With all of the online guest reviews and social media post-ings available to prospective guests these days, it seems like the walls of our accommodation lobbies are made of glass and that the service provided within is transparent for all to see.

Personally, I think this has caused the accommodation indus-try to focus more than ever on guest service excellence, which is certainly a good thing.

Yet many hotel managers I encounter are frustrated that their guest service training is not lead-ing to an improvement in guest surveys nor TripAdvisor rank-ings. Perhaps this is because too many hotel training programs are still teaching hospitality as if it were the summation of a series of communications techniques: Smile at the guest, maintain eye contact, use their name three times — and they will all leave the front desk happy. Right?

True hospitality superstars know that while delivering hospi-tality requires good communica-tions skills, it also takes more.

Guests are at the core of hospitality

The real spirit of hospitality is centered on caring about as well as caring for the guest. When colleagues care for the guest, they take care of their fun-damental needs for clean, com-fortable and safe shelter. Yet when they care about the guest, they are able to provide for their needs on a deeper, more human-istic level.

Most guests can sense when they are encountering a service provider who is simply going through the motions and using scripted messages that mask an attitude of indifference. Kind of like the waiter who comes by to clear a plate of nearly untouched food and asks, “How was your dinner, good?” prompting most of us to simply agree and say, “It was good.” Most of us leave and never return; some will take their complaint elsewhere such as to Yelp or Facebook.

When you read negative re-views and guest surveys, most guests say something like, “What went wrong was this, but what was really upsetting is that no one seemed to care about our situation.”

To ensure frontline col-leagues care about as well as for guests, make sure they can empa-thise and understand the various situations, stories and circum-stances that play out daily on the other side of the front desk, the other end of the phone call and the other side of the guestroom doors. Of course it is ideal to just hire staff who can personally relate to your guests or who oth-erwise possess the emotional intelligence to imagine what it might be like for others. Yet realistically, it is difficult to find candidates who have enough life experiences to do so on their own. Instead, make sure your guest service training program helps them gain insights into what guests are going through daily.

If they’ve not been asked to think about it, most frontline colleagues view travel as being fun, exciting or even glamourous whether it is business or leisure. To those who have not lived out of a suitcase, it might seem desir-able to have someone on hand to make up your bed, serve you a meal and to wash your dirty dishes. If your only experience of leisure travel has been going on family vacations as a youth, it is difficult to imagine the stress that your parents might be feeling to have fun while on a vacation that got off to a rocky start or that is going way over budget.

Here are some suggestions for conducting guest empathy training for your frontline col-leagues:

1. During meetings, discuss the diversity of reasons why guests might be visiting your property.

For resort markets, this might include family vacations, reun-ions and birthdays, but also me-morial services, the first trip without a grandparent or even a “bucket list” trip for someone with a bad diagnosis. Explore how badly a family might need this vacation, to have time togeth-er, in today’s over-scheduled lifestyle of the typical two-career household.

For accommodation com-plexes serving mostly a corporate clientele, talk about the pressure to produce while on the road that business travellers might have, the need to get the contract signed, the deal closed or the problem resolved.

2. Ask colleagues to think about the more sombre reasons why guests might be visiting. That it is not always for a wed-ding; it might be to attend a fu-neral. If you have medical centres nearby, it might be to receive treatments or tests or to visit family in the hospital.

3. Focus also on the good times being enjoyed and the “once in a lifetime” events, such as special milestone birthdays and events such as baby show-ers, Bar Mitzvahs and christen-ings.

4. Challenge colleagues to ask guests what’s bringing them to town during registration and then to report back to the next meeting what they found out.

5. Hold a brainstorming ses-sion regarding all of the challeng-es guests might encounter en route to the hotel/resort, such as airline travel delays, uncomforta-ble airplane seats and traffic nightmares. Then talk about how the front office team in particular has a unique opportunity to turn things around for guests once they arrive.

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