Guest Service

From Commercial to Compassionate

volunteer wearing an American Red Cross coat

We don’t often think of commercial enterprises as centers of compassion. Hotels can be the exception.

In one recent instance, the American Red Cross placed a family whose home had been destroyed in a fire for an open-ended stay at our Holiday Inn L.I. City – Manhattan View in Long Island City, New York (Queens borough). Unlike traditional guests who arrive at the front desk with carefully packed suitcases, this family showed up with not much more than the clothes on their backs. Needless to say, they were in a state of shock, still processing their loss, particularly their children.

Much to their credit, the front desk team and other hotel associates showed tremendous sensitivity in helping the family get settled. We train our team members to be welcoming and friendly and to feel empowered to respond to guests’ special needs or requests. But that training doesn’t always address the depth of the need in crisis situations like this.

The American Red Cross and other relief organizations are the front line of support in terms of providing clothing, toiletries, medical care, counseling and temporary housing. But the hotel team − from the front desk to guest services to housekeeping − stands ready as a second line of support, if just providing friendly guidance, a warm greeting or genuine expression of concern ─ in other words, compassion.

The Challenge of Serving Medical Guests and Their Loved Ones

woman with luggage checking in to hotel

Since the opening five months ago of the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan Central Park − our newest hotel − our sales team has been struck by the number of bookings generated by Mount Sinai West, a full-service medical center at 10th Avenue and West 58th Street, less than a block east.

Rooms have been booked by patients receiving care at the hospital, who typically check in either before or following their procedures. Many stay to recuperate past the point when they require frequent medical care. Some are the family members who accompany their loved ones.

For the front desk, housekeeping, bell desk and breakfast teams, serving these guests often requires a special level of sensitivity. Unlike typical leisure or business travelers, who almost always are upbeat and happy to be staying at a lovely new hotel, medical guests understandably are more focused on their personal situations.

Certainly, the needs of these different guests may differ, whether that means special requests at breakfast, additional towels or bath amenities, assistance hailing a taxi or simply providing a sympathetic ear.

I’m proud that our associates respond with kindness and understanding. Indeed, serving these special guests has given new resonance to our goal of providing “hands-on hospitality,” whatever that may entail.

A Good Night’s Sleep is a Core Proposition of Hospitality

soft and firm guest bedroom pillows

Quality sleep is at the core of every hotel’s pledge to consumers. Whether the hotel is full-service, midscale or economy, the idea of a good night’s sleep focuses on the quality of the mattress and other bedding, including − of course − clean, freshly laundered linen.

In recent years, however, hotel brands − always on the lookout for ways to gain a competitive advantage − have expanded on the idea of a “good night’s sleep” to include a host of other elements.

Noise, for example, can be a major disturbance. Double-glazed windows can block out street noise. So can reminding the housekeeping team to avoid disturbing guests who sleep in late and leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on their door.

Similarly, when a hotel is undergoing renovations, operators are careful to require that work crews mask their drilling and hammering until late enough in the morning midweek (and not at all on weekends) to ensure guests’ sleep isn’t disturbed.

Drapes or blinds sufficiently opaque to keep out harsh morning light are helpful. So, too, is a quiet-as-a-mouse, in-room air conditioner, meaning one whose filters are cleaned regularly.

M&R Hotel Management is a proponent of all these measures. We consider providing them to be part of our philosophy of “hands-on hospitality.” Many of our hotels are Holiday Inn or Holiday Inn Express brands, which recently introduced a “Winning with Sleep” initiative.

A well-rested guest, after all, is likely to be a satisfied guest, and a satisfied guest is most likely to be a return guest.

 

Introducing the Lobby Ambassador

woman and two men having a conversation in a waiting area

Hotels rely heavily on guest feedback to get an accurate sense on how successful a job they’re doing in providing all-important customer service. In today’s Internet-driven society, it’s easy for owners and managers to look to brands’ electronic guest satisfaction surveys, not to mention websites like TripAdvisor, Facebook and Google that solicit travelers’ comments, to get a sense of how well they’re performing.

But if the truth be known, these tools are only meaningful up to a point. Not all guests, after all, whether they had a positive stay or found fault with the hotel, will take the time to respond to a guest survey or post a comment on a site that solicits consumer content. By contrast, guest feedback that’s delivered face-to-face in the moment when guests are still on property is much more valuable.

Enter a new on-site staff position: the Lobby Ambassador. Managers have always understood the value of having an associate stationed in the lobby whose job is to circulate among guests—typically in the morning, while they’re having breakfast, in the process of checking out or simply leaving for the day. The task has now been formalized and given a name of its own.

General managers at a number of M&R Hotel Management properties have named a Lobby Ambassador in the past few months with positive results. At one hotel, the same associate fills the role; at other hotels, front desk agents take turns rotating in and out of the position.

The Lobby Ambassadors’ biggest contribution is that they get to resolve any service issues guests may have on the spot. They’re knowledgeable about the operation of the hotel and are empowered by management to turn a guest’s potentially negative experience into a positive.

Best of all, they introduce themselves to the guest and put a personal, friendly, helpful face on the hotel, which when you think about it is at the very heart of the hospitality experience.

Going the Extra Mile

woman with luggage checking in to hotel

Every hotel brand has clear and detailed service standards that operators of its hotels are obliged to implement and maintain. Whether these standards pertain to the food served in the breakfast area or on-site restaurant, the way housekeepers make up the guest room and replenish bath amenities or how the front desk make sure the shuttle buses run on time to and from the airport, guests expect that these services will be in place and consistently available each time they check into that hotel. But what about those special requests that require an employee to go above and beyond?

Hotel managers train employees to meet guest expectations when it comes to the basics, and we’re pleased when they perform at that level. Yet guest service goes beyond hotels meeting these prescribed basic standards. Guests are people and, as such, they often have special needs and requirements that can’t be anticipated or even predicted.

Consequently, we’re even prouder when we see associates going out of their way—typically on their own initiative—to honor special requests. There’s nothing in the training manual that requires them to go “above and beyond.” We see such dedication every day and learn more about such exemplary behavior when guests post appreciative comments on TripAdvisor and Google, even remembering to mention the employees by name.

There’s the breakfast room attendant who happily will honor a frazzled parent’s request to heat up a crying baby’s bottle of formula. Or the employee who will hunt up the only kind of muffin a toddler with allergies can eat. There’s the bellman, when asked how to get to a local hospital by non-English-speaking guests visiting a dying relative, not only writes out the directions, but flags down a taxi and makes sure the driver knows the shortest way to go. The timing may not be opportune, but the associate takes the time to do it anyway.

Then there’s the guest relations manager or front desk agent who takes a panicked call from a guest who checked out earlier that day and has realized from the airport that they’ve inadvertently left a difficult-to-replace item behind. It can be a pair of eyeglasses, a prescription, an earring or a child’s beloved stuffed animal.

Sure enough, the associate returns to the guest room and locates the left-behind item. But then the employee goes the extra mile, has the item wrapped and shipped overnight to the guest’s home.

Extra towels? Wake-up calls? Those requests are easy. It’s the special ones that illustrate the true spirit of hospitality our industry is all about.