An awful lot has been written in recent years about how today’s customers are more demanding, increasingly unreasonable, and generally to harder deal with.
On one level I’m tempted to agree with them, since it seems obvious that the over-connected, over-scheduled, multi-tasking lives most of us lead today can cause us to at times have shorter fuses on our anger. But honestly, I don’t ever recall a time when providing guest service was easy. Whether working as a bellhop for Marriott or managing the front desk and reservations at independent hotels in the 1980’s, I can’t recall an era when we didn’t have some difficult guests on a daily basis.
The front desk staff in particular can be receptors for negative guest behavior, as so much could potentially have happened to the guest en route. Nerves can sometimes be frayed to their very last strands by the time the guest arrives at the front desk at the end of their long day of sometimes stressful travel.
Over the years I’ve learned that most guests don’t usually set out to complain, harass, or upset service providers, although I have to admit the lesson took some time for me to learn.
I remember well how I would stand there in the lobby of my Marriot while wearing my freshly pressed Bellman’s uniform, looking around at our beautiful atrium lobby with flowing water and indoor gardens; looking at the stone walls built from by hand from locally quarried rocks, wondering to myself, “How can some guests be so cranky upon arrival when they are lucky enough to stay in a place like this tonight?” At that time in my life the chance to check-in at any resort as nice as this would have been a major treat, regardless of the occasion.
Years later, when the tables were turned and I became a frequent business traveler, I have stood literally hundreds of times on the other side of the front desk at check-in, occasionally being one of those cranky guests myself, I have a whole new level of understanding for the multitude of diverse guest experiences playing out on the other side of the guest room doors.
One activity I’ve done with my hospitality training workshops is to walk them through “a day in the life of a guest” scenarios that happen to those on the other side of the front desk. We brainstorm our way through a discussion of all of the guest travel stories waiting to be told.
First of all, on the day of travel most people’s alarm clocks go off extra early in the morning, especially in these days of heightened security and advance check-in requirements, not to mention over-crowded airport parking. So your alarm clock is going off at around 3 a.m. to make that 7 a.m. wheels-up flight time.
On a good day you actually do find a parking spot, whisk through security with only a 30 minute wait, and find that your flight is actually on time. But once seated on the plane, you’re sure to encounter at least a few challenges. Forget that the airplane seats and the space between (pitch) actually are shrinking, let’s think about the passengers. Have you ever been seated next to the excessive talker? “Hello, my name is Barbara Blabs. What do you do? Oh, that’s good. Now let me tell you about me for the rest of this flight….” Or Randy Overshoulder? He’s the guy who can’t see wasting 75 cents for his own paper when he can read yours; besides, he’s a quick reader and usually finishes before his seatmates change the page so he rarely has to ask them to wait.
Let’s say it’s still a good day, and when your checked luggage actually arrives on the same flight you are on! All you have to do now is pick-up the rental car. So you saunter on over to Brand Excellence Rental Car counter, your wife en tow on your arm, eager to pick-up the sporty little convertible reserved for the romance getaway weekend. Being a “platinum” premier level renter club your confidence is high as you say. “Hello, I’m here to pick-up the Ford Mustang convertible I’d reserved last month.” Upon which you heard the rental agent exclaim: “Good news! Since the car you’d requested wasn’t available, we’ve upgraded you to the minivan!”
What about the guests who prefer to drive on their vacations? They have it easier because they don’t have to deal with those airports, right? I can only speak from my own experiences. Our parents gave us many gifts growing-up as one of four kids in the Kennedy household, but perhaps one of the greatest gift we all share to this day is a love of travel, which we now call the Kennedy wanderlust. We were always going somewhere, although it was usually to a state park campground or National Park. In those days we were traveling in our 1969 Dodge Monaco wood-paneled station wagon, usually fighting over who got to sit in the third row seat because it faced backwards and we could make faces out the back window.
Granted, the vehicle of choice has changed to a minivan or SUV over the years, but what mom and dad hear from the backseat is basically the same: “Are we there yet?” Or “I have to go to the bathroom.” Or “Dad, he’s looking at me again.” Or “Mom, she won’t let me use her iPod Touch at all.”
To top it off, the night before they went on vacation, mom probably worked on e-mails until 10 p.m. and then after that finished the laundry and packing, and dad was busy getting the oil changed and the tires rotated while making those last minute calls for work.
What was once at the start of the journey a “Come on kids, we’re off to our vacation today!” attitude has turned into “If I hear that one more time I’m going to have to stop this car…”
And so we have two choices in the hospitality industry. We can continue to react to each guest’s individual attitudes and behaviors; to treat them just like they are treating us; to feed their negativity right back to them with indifference. We can stand safely on our side of the front desk or reception counter, passing out judgment on everyone we encounter: “She was rude. He was a jerk.” In other words, we can perpetuate the culture of negativity.
Or, we can make the choice right here and right now to make it our job to turn things around. To bring out the best side of even the most negative guests we encounter.
And when we do so, it not only brings out the best in them but also the best in ourselves, as we spend our day interacting with more happy and satisfied guests than ever before. The positive energy flows both ways across the front desk, but it starts from behind the desk not in front.
Make it your team’s job to turn things around for guests at the end of their long journeys or stressful and tiring travel experiences. Not only will it make for a brighter day for the guests, but your staff will end up meeting many more cheerful and smiling guests throughout their day. The little things that hospitality professionals do every day mean so much to those on the other side. Here are but a few examples:
- Always greet and welcome guests before engaging in the transaction. This means to say “Hello, welcome! How are you today?” vs. “Checkin’ in?” or “Last name?”
- Take a moment to ask “So where are you visiting us from?” or “How have your travels gone today?” Even short exchanges such as these provide a chance for guests to share their travel stories and for front desk associates to show empathy.
- Provide information pro-actively. Things as simple as providing local insider’s travel tips about restaurants, activities and shopping can go a long way in offering a positive first impression.
- Remember that the telephone is your storefront window to the outside world. Make sure the basics always happen from a welcoming opening greeting, to using proper hold procedures if necessary, to offering additional assistance and ending the call politely including the company name both to reinforce the brand and possibly to avoid confusion.
- Greet all guests you encounter with a smile, eye contact, and a friendly hello, when you pass them in the lobby or in the community.