New ZealandOp-Ed

Op-Ed: The one question your front-desk staff should never ask a guest: ‘Checking in?’

Doug Kennedy explains how visual cues, proper training can help staff avoid the obvious question

Being in the profession of presenting onsite hospitality and sales training for hotels and resorts, my job requires a lot of very short hotel stays.

For example, just last year I presented 71 days of onsite hotel training, most of which were one-day engagements, so I had about 60 hotel check-in experiences. Having done this for 33 years now, that’s about 1,980 times I’ve been a business traveler standing alone on the “guest” side of a front desk.

While much has changed over the years, the words spoken by front desk staff when I enter the lobby are mostly the same: “Checking in?”

Keep in mind that I am entering the lobby through the main entrance, typically around 6 pm, and usually wheeling a small carry-on bag, with a garment bag in my other hand.

Sometimes “Checking in?” is expressed in a welcoming tone by a smiling face, but other times it is simply uttered with an indifferent look, accompanied by a raised eyebrow and nod.

Having started my career at the bell stand and later at the front desk, I strive to be a friendly guest emitting a positive vibe. Yet I often have to restrain the part of my personality which enjoys cynical humor and tempts me to reply, “No, I’m NOT checking in. I just stopped by here at 6 pm carrying my luggage. I heard you had some amazing lobby artwork and wanted to have a look around!”

On the occasions when I’m not greeted with “Checking in?” I am most often greeted by “Hi. Do you have a reservation?” Whether expressed by a kind voice and pleasant smile or with indifference, it’s a good thing I’m not overly sensitive nor easily offended, because these words could be taken as “Do YOU have a reservation HERE?” The subtle, unspoken message is “because you don’t look like you belong here.”

When I raise this as a topic during my front-office hospitality training workshops, the participants’ reactions make it clear that most of those who use greetings like this harbor no ill will nor bad intentions. It’s just that they do not know any better. Heck, I remember when I worked the desk, I used these expressions, too, because that’s what those who trained me used.

Some readers may be thinking, “Well, we have more guests using automated check-in, so this is not an important issue.” Wrong!

The automated systems in place at many of the top brands, such as what I have used at Marriott hotels, still require the guest to stop by in person to show ID and get a key. Even at brands such as Hilton, where I have experienced smartphone check-in with keyless entry, many guests still pass by the front desk on arrival to ask questions about amenities and services, and are therefore still being greeted with “Checking in?”

What can hotel leaders do about this? Here are some better alternatives:

  • “Welcome to (hotel name.) May I have your last name please?” Use this one if the guest enters the lobby from the main entrance, luggage in hand. If they do not have a reservation, they will tell you so, but these days with guests being able to book from mobile apps, few guests truly “walk-in” anymore, and those who do will self-identify as such.
  • “Good evening! How may I assist you?” Use this if the guest is approaching from the inside corridors or elevator bank areas. When I’m in this situation, too often I get greeted with a raised eyebrow and “Yes?”
  • “Welcome to (hotel name.) Let me assist you with your luggage.” For full-service hotels that still have bell staff doing the first welcome, in addition to being trained not to say “Checking in?” they should also be trained to not ask “Did you need help with that bag?” Plus, most hotel leaders know that it’s always better for a guest to be roomed by a bell person, who can point out amenities, and especially these days, who can explain any in-room tech features that could be confusing.
  • “Checking out? How was your stay, good?” It goes without saying that the front desk and bell staff should also never use “Checking out?” It’s also worthy of a reminder to properly solicit feedback at the end of a guest’s stay by saying, “How was your experience here as our guest?” or “Did you have an excellent stay with us?” If a guest senses that you truly care, they will truly share their experiences.

As previously published on hospitalitynet.

Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations, and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. His articles have been published worldwide and he is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? – Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.” .

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Peter Hook
Peter Hook
1 year ago

Love it, because it is so true. From the Basil Fawlty degree of the bleeding obvious. The same analysis could be done for restaurant staff who ask after one mouthful, “is everything OK?”. I always feel like saying “Give me 5 minutes and if it comes out the other end, I’ll be in a better position to answer that question.” Engagement is important but shouldn’t be facile. As for “automatic” check in, I think that despite all the hype, it really isn’t happening. It was far more automatic back in the 1990s when you checked into a Formule 1!

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