Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Right Stuff

What does it take to be the best?  What separates the heroes from the bums?  Want to know what it takes to do the job? I'll tell you in one word, hospitality.  And when I talk about "the job" I'm not just talking about being an agent, but really any position in the hospitality industry. 

Without diverging into semantics too deeply, what does "Hospitality" even mean?  Forget the Webster's version of the word and listen to your emotional and mental responses.  To me the word evokes memories of hot chocolate at my uncle's house after a day of sledding.  True hospitality is the warm, secure, comforting feeling of safety you get when your needs are met by a reliable and strong individual.  Although this is more of an extreme description of the word how does that translate into guest interaction?  How can we still be revenue-driven powerhouses in the local and global markets and still give the "Mom and Pop" feel to a business traveller who stays at a hundred different properties in a year?  The best way to achieve that warm and comfortable feeling of true hospitality comes from a few  key things in this author's opinion. 

I feel the primary factor to succeeding in this area can be traced back as far as the property's Human Resource's practises and hiring processes.  Personality tests done on perspective employees can shortlist preliminary candidates while eliminating poor personality types. Carl Jung's personality test can eliminate all those nasty ISTJ's while keeping those lovely ESFP's.  I wont get into personality types too much but some are far more suited to hospitality than others.  The process of weeding out poor personality types with little to no experience in hospitality can save a property thousands in training costs, problem resolution and QA reassessments.  Now that's not to say all personality types that don't fit the bill should be weeded out;  I myself am an INTJ (meaning I am a highly critical task master) but my experience and satisfaction scores are second to none.  I am only saying that these tests should be used to filter entry level employees with little to no experience. Weeding out the bad apples from the get go will spare you the grief of dealing with complaints due to terrible front line employees. 

Let me give you an example of how heavily your front line positions affect your overall guest satisfaction.  I was speaking with a man regarding his stay at a previous property.  He had told me that his stay was terrible, when I asked why he told me that one of the dishwashers had been 'very rude' to him and thus he did not go back to the property.  Pretty extreme no?  Not really, put yourself in his position,  you are hungry, tired and been on a flight for six hours.  You have finally got to your room and checked in.  You decide to head down to the hotel's restaurant for a quick bite before you have a nice hot shower and much needed rest.  When your food comes you notice there is no silverware on your table.  You spot a bus boy a few feet away and grab his attention saying, "Sorry to bother you but my waitress has forgotten my cutlery, could you grab some for me?" To which he replies, "Sorry brah I'm off in five and I gotta go.  I'm sure she'll be back whenevs'. Just chill and eat some fries old timer." 

I'll let that sink in for a second.

Imagine the utter fury you would feel as a paying customer, now sure you can complain, maybe even see the kid get his butt handed to him in front of you. Regardless of the outcome from your complaint, at this point the damage has already been done.  When even a lowly bus boy could care less about you and your comfort what makes the people who hired him or their colleagues any different?  All in all what makes anyone else at this property different?  Are the sheets not changed from the last stay because a housekeeper had to 'peace out' early?  Will my credit card get double billed for my stay and I'll be told to 'chill, brah'? You see how it snow-balls and really sets the tone for your stay.  Everyone needs to be on board with exciting and warm personalities in order to be at the top of your game for your guest satisfaction and intent to recommend scores.

So now that we have good people and we have weeded out the rugrats who could care less, how do we train the good ones to stay good?  Exceptional training initiatives for starters, and properly trained trainers.  Terrible trainers equal terrible employees, simple as that.  Your trainers should be the cream of the crop and be offering and excited to do the job.  For our own property I am going to try and spearhead a "Trainers Training program" to ensure that those entrusted with the delicate task of training other staff members are doing the job right.  Having great trainers will increase the continuity of excellent service from your greenest employee to your top-dog veteran.

Lastly I want to talk about another important factor which is motivation.  Even the best of the best can find it hard from day in to day out to stay at the top of his or her game.  Driving employees to be at the top of their game can be the most difficult task for your managers but it is by far the most important.  Alas how do we motivate staff to be the best they can be every shift? 

Simply put one of the hugest motivating factors out there is money.  Bonuses and incentive programs will go miles with your staff.  Offer a cheap 36 inch LCD TV to the employee who has the most positive complements on your respective guest satisfaction website in a three month period and watch your satisfaction scores soar.  Offer a bonus for room sales and watch your hotel get sold out twice as much.  A small amount of money can mean huge differences in your staff productivity.  Free coffee goes a long way too; keeping your staff on a nice caffeine high is a sure way to keep productivity levels where you want them.  All of these motivators are cost-effective and yield fantastic results when implemented properly. Lastly, and sometimes most importantly, is personal and public recognition.  Although a pat on the back wont pay the bills, it still makes an employee feel like the extra effort is worth it.  Promotions are great but not always the best way to motivate employees as they can create problems in office politics and create departmental competition.  Bonuses and incentives can yield competitive results as well, but far less likely to have your staff bad-mouthing one another.

So in conclusion, the right stuff comes down to great personalities, combined with great trainers and a highly motivated staff.  Simple to say, hard to achieve.  I have a few ideas on this but let me know what you think. I'm always open to ideas.

This is Agent Sparks signing off asking you, is your staff made of the right stuff?

~Agent Sparks

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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

New Dogs and Old Tricks

Good day my fellow Agents. Although it has been a long time since my last post the game remains the same.  I find myself working for one of the newest properties of my career to date.  It is only two years old and still has that "New Hotel Smell".  Great place to be, no? Well I am learning that as with an old property that the new ones present their own unique set of challenges to all staff members including, yes you guessed it, the Agents.

Now I can hear my fellow Agents getting on their soap boxes to preach of the injustices old properties have thrust upon them in the watches of the night like flooded basements and faulty locks everywhere, but let me assure you that the new property has a few tricks up its sleeve to keep you on your toes as well.

One of the hardest things you will face in a new property is establishing policy and procedures.  The best thing about a hotel that is more than a decade old is that has gone through the growing pains and found its feet in the market.  The property will have a well established set of procedures and policies that creates consistency among staff which translates to efficiency for guest experience.  I find with this newer property the consistency among agents with regard to their approach to any complex situation becomes muddled and overly complicated.  Pair this with micro management and a lack of clear cut protocol and the result is more work than things should be.  I soldier on though, spearheading projects and training programs that are applicable to the experienced and inexperienced alike, and teach the new dog old tricks. 

The benefits of a newer property far outweigh the challenges.  We are one of the highest ranked properties on Trip Advisor in our region and we consistently score high with our QA.  I would tell you what property I work for, but I feel it would be a conflict of interest so I wont.  At the end of the day it boils down to knowing this; no matter how pretty it looks it can still harbour some ugly problems.  This is true of most things in life I think.

~Agent Sparks

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Checking In: How much do you need to know?

Agent Sparks here again and today I'd like to talk briefly about the check-in.  When I get to the hotel's front desk that I am checking into the last thing I need to hear is a long winded speech about every area of the hotel and all the great amenities it has to offer.  Training usually will dictate that we drone on and on telling every guest everything the property has to offer.  Let's stop for a minute and think about this.  Does a  business man carrying a laptop and a well used suitcase care what time the pool closes? Nine times out of ten the business client could care less about these kinds of things, instead he probably wants to know about the high-speed internet.  The mother with three screaming kids, on the other hand, will more than likely want to know the pool hours while the internet will be farther down on her priority list of need-to-know amenities.

So what does it all mean?  Well we as agents can save ourselves and our clients time by doing a little bit of guest profiling during the check in.  Simple questions such as 'What brings you to town?' and 'Are you here on vacation?' while you are processing guest information during the check in procedure can tailor your orientation speech saving both you and your guest time.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Continental Breakfast

Agent sparks here to discuss the continental Breakfast.  I remember staying at a hotel not too long ago where I paid $165.00 and change for a standard room.  When I inquired as to why the rate was so high the agent told me it was because of the new continental breakfast.  This only consisted of juice and a muffin.  I was appalled and left feeling ripped off after I paid my bill.

Upon returning to my own property I had our kitchen upgrade our breakfast from the standard juice and muffin to a full hot breakfast buffet.  Juice, eggs, toast, hash browns, sausage, pancakes, french toast, hot cereal, cold cereal and fresh fruit is the name of the game now.  After doing this I brought the rate of our rooms up by 10% to cover the additional cost.  Some guests noticed the increase but were delighted when presented with such a thorough breakfast in the morning.  With this small increase I was not only able to cover the cost of breakfast but used additional revenue generated from room sales to market our new breakfast buffet to local people in our community which in turn increased breakfast sales in our restaurant 150%!  We now have a busier breakfast than the local Denny's in our community.  We were able to open up three new positions with our breakfast staff and at this rate we will be able to renovate our restaurant in no time.

So what does it all mean?  Well the long and short of it is that you have to invest in your breakfast properly instead of using it as a means to have scandalously high rates.  Proper investment into a hot breakfast can open or worlds of revenue to your hotel.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Ammenities, get the most bang for your buck!

Hello all!  It's Agent Sparks here coming at you with a funny little story I found on the internet!  Give it a read it is most definitely good for a laugh.  I will also have a small entry after the story with my opinion on hotel amenities.  Enjoy!

Next time you think your hotel bill is too high you might want to consider this...

A husband and wife are traveling by car from Key West to Boston. After almost twenty-four hours on the road, they're too tired to continue, and they decide to stop for a rest. They stop at a nice hotel and got a room, but they only plan to sleep for four hours and then get back on the road. When they check out four hours later, the desk clerk hands them a bill for $350.

 The man explodes and demands to know why the charge is so high. He tells the clerk although it's a nice hotel; the rooms certainly aren't worth $350. When the clerk tells him $350 is the standard rate, the man insists on speaking to the Manager. The Manager appears, listens to the man, and then explains that the hotel has an Olympic-sized pool and a huge conference center that were available for the husband and wife to use. "But we didn't use them," the man complains.  "Well, they are here, and you could have," explains the Manager.

He goes on to explain they could have taken in one of the shows for which the hotel is famous "The best entertainers from New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas perform here.", the Manager says. "But we didn't go to any of those shows," complains the man again. "Well, we have them, and you could have.", the Manager replies. No matter what facility the Manager mentions, the man replies, "But we didn't use it!". The Manager is unmoved, and eventually the man gives up and agrees to pay.

He writes a check and gives it to the Manager. The Manager is surprised when he looks at the check.  "But sir," he says, "this check is only made out for $50.".  "That's correct," says the man, "I charged you $300 for sleeping with my wife.".  "But I didn't!", exclaims the Manager.Well, that's too bad," the man replies, "she was here and you could have."

Well there you have it, I got a chuckle out of it.  But on the note of hotel amenities, how often is the weary traveller being forced to pay for things they will not use?  This drives our revenues down because people do not want to stay at a property when they are paying for useless amenities.  This gives me the idea of programing key cards with "Amenity Levels".  For example, a guest states they only wish to sleep and leave.  This is calculated into a rate code which discounts his rate.  In turn the key card is programed in such a way that it will not access the pool, the games room, the breakfast area in the morning nor will it access the executive lounge, etcetera.  As rude as that may sound, some travellers are simply not interested in using these areas of the facility.  The guest is satisfied and we have sold a room. 

So what do we gain from it?  Well if the guest is occupying a room, that is one less room to sell and the property in turn gains the revenue from that sale that otherwise would have not happened because of an inflexible high rate.  More importantly, the guest gains value, this is the most critical thing in the Hospitality  industry today.  Value drives our consumer loyalty and thus a larger portion of life time revenue.  A man whom stays at your hotel for 10 room mights per year for 30 years at a reasonable discounted rate of $110.00 will have a lifetime value of $33,000.00 multiply that be the one or two hundred guests your custom amenity program will bring in and the numbers are staggering. 

If the guest receives value and we cut the frills, we gain lifetime consumers who will pay the bills and drive profits. And that alone is the name of the game.

The phone greeting: To speak or not to speak?

In these fast times an agent operating a 60+ room property by themselves is common place.  Often we face dealing with call volumes approaching 50+ calls an hour as well as attending to our numerous other duties.  Answer all calls within two rings, take messages accurately, translate a document in to Spanish and help a coworker or guest collate sixty copies of a report all at the same time.  Sound familiar?  Then you are most likely a front desk agent, in the administration business or at least have been at some point in your career. 

Am I complaining here? Not in the least. In fact I take pride in being able to handle one of the most stressful jobs the world has to offer!  But the name of the game here is working smart not hard.

So a midst all the chaos how can we make our jobs easier?  Well here is the classic example of how we are trained to do our jobs.  The phone speech goes like this "Good afternoon thank you for calling the Blog Spot Hotel. This is Agent Sparks speaking how may I help you?" say it to yourself four times in a row. Seems rather long winded doesn't it?  Now say it again another 10 times.  It is exhausting.  Now imagine saying this speech forty times an hour for eight hours a day up to six days a week fifty two weeks a year.  It is unbearable.
So how can we work smarter in this situation?  Simply cut down the speech.  There is no need to be long-winded.  Chances are the guest calling knows where they are calling.  That cuts out the property identification line.  The guest is aware that whomever answers the phone is there to serve them so let us cut that line out as well.  Finally, most people do not care about the name of whom is serving them on the other line so we can nix the introductions. If the guests wants to know whom they are speaking with you can bet your ass they will ask.  When we cut the filler crap out what is left is simple and concise, "Good afternoon guest services.".  A warm and efficient greeting that is both direct and easy to say.  I've found in my experience using both greeting templates that the person on the other end will cut you off mid way through your forced introduction with their demand or question.  Like we all don't have enough problems with data privacy in the twenty-first century without revealing our workplace and first name to the unwashed masses that call us on a regular basis.  

So what does it all boil down to? The quick and efficient greeting saves thousands of dollars in man hours every year, increases productivity and keeps our employees information private.  Again, people don't want the speech.  They want fast results. 90% of my calls do not care who they are calling and already know the location of the number they have just dialed.  Let's all save some time and cut the speech down to what it should be; an efficient greeting not a compressed life story.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

The Real Deal

That's right folks there it is.  I used to work at this bad boy.  The rooms are stunning and set in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. You can even begin to describe the opulence this place has.  Over 5 full sized kitchens 300+ rooms and a view carved into the landscape by God himself! Nothing else can compare to the experience of the Chateau Lake Louise.

That's right folks.  It has a staff-built ice palace built on the lake in the winter time.  The sheer magnitude of this thing is jaw dropping.  People get married in it to the tune of $25,000 and up depending on the level of service you want.  But amidst all the scenery and opulence something sinister lurks.

I was off to report for duty at the tender age of 21 to the Chateau lake Louise.  Hired as a prep and breakfast cook I was off to make my fortune.  But what I found instead was an absolute nightmare.  The training was minimal at best and I was awoken to the sound of an angry chef banging on my door at 6 am screaming I was late for work.  I was not due to start until 8 am.  they had changed my start time to 6am without notice.    The place was huge and easy to get lost in, no maps given to staff as how to navigate.  merely three days of "orientation" which mostly consisted of a cooperate brainwashing session.  Now before someone gets up in arms from the Fairmont corporation all these things are based on personal experience and are merely opinions.  All in all I was working upwards of 15 days in a row all 12 hour shifts and my down time was spent doing laundry and trying to catch up on sleep.  Needless to say I left within a few months.

In conclusion not the best place to work in my opinion.  The money is great but the quality of life leaves something to be desired.