One of the great joys I get from my job is the ability to walk into a room full of participants who have grown up with internet and dazzle and yes, amaze them with tales of a time when hotels did not have computers. The looks on the faces of the participants are priceless as they try to imagine how they would check someone in, process a credit card, etc. The best part is when they declared it can’t happen. But happen it did.
The pre-computer era was very labor intensive and a 400 room Marriott required about 300 people to staff it. That same 400 room Marriott now functions with less than 125 total staff members. What has changed in the last 33 years is the technology used to run a hotel. What has not changed is the desire by the customer for outstanding customer service.
In the pre-computer era, we focused on five major interactions with our guests: Check-in, Check-out, Passing By, Guest Request and Guest Complaints. We felt those were our best opportunities to connect and engage our guest.
With the advancement of technology, these areas of contact have been chipped away. The Check-out interaction was reduced with the introduction of Express Check-out. Initially we used to slide the receipt under the door and now we simply email it. We have effectively lessened our opportunities to thank the guest for his/her business.
Now, as technology moves forward, and thanks to the introduction of the electronic key, the Check-In process may be reduced by passing the Front Desk and simply going to their room since the guest will have their keys sent to the phone, thus again limiting contact with the front desk.
Now, in many instances, we have reduced our guest interaction to three basic areas: Passing By, Guest Request, and Guest Complaints. What this means to the hotel business, is that the heart of the house associates, such as housekeeping and maintenance, will play a larger role in guest service. In the past, the heart of the house responsibilities have been framed in the sense of clean the rooms, replace the lightbulb, etc. and refer any guest inquiries to the Front Desk. But now with the new technology the housekeeper and other heart of house associates will have a much greater opportunity to be the face of customer service for the hotel. We must make sure they have the tools and confidence to address the new paradigm of customer service and provide them the necessary skills and self-confidence to interact with the guest to leave a memorable impression.
Hotels also now need to look at a new/old way to interact with our guests that could have even more impact on our guest’s experience; that interaction is the reservation process. With the advancement of technology, guests can go on line or simply call a reservation center to make a reservation. But more and more guests who crave customer service or who simply want accurate and personalized information are calling the property and asking to speak to someone at the hotel.
So as we go full circle, the reservation process can emerge as the hotels first and best chance to make an impression on the guest. How the customer service agent handles that reservation can be pivotal in the decision making process of the guest to determine if they want to stay at your hotel. If the customer service agent is knowledgeable, demonstrates genuine concern and is welcoming, the guest experience can be a great one. In addition, the heart of the house team has a tremendous opportunity to wow the guest too … are your team members equipped with the tools to do so?