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.

The Crew Workers

This is a classic video here of a fellow who is calling in sick.  I am posting it because the majority of our crew workers who stay with my hotel talk and act like this.  I honestly wish I could talk to an employer like this at times.  Now just a warning here the language is NSFW or kids.  Still an amazingly good laugh as long as you aren't in earshot of anyone who is easily offended. Anyway, I am off to deal with the great unwashed.  Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Is the Customer Always Right?

The changes and requirements of the Front Desk Agent  From Priceline to Hotwire to we are constantly bombarded with new customers and clients via these sites.  Gone are the days of the simple weary traveller looking for a place to stay for the night after a long day of driving.  We are now faced today, as Front Desk Agents, with the technological era arming our consumers with the ability to shop the global hospitality industry from their smart phones while ordering at a drive through.  While this drives revenue for our industry it can also harm it as well.  Back before the days of the information highway, guests were happy just to have a clean room with a hot shower, perhaps a muffin in the morning before a thank you and room payment.  Now we have to constantly walk on eggshells with all of our clients in hopes we are perfectly attentive, the room is ever-so-spotless, the pool is the perfect temperature for junior and the breakfast better feature organic fruit, free range eggs and gluten free bread.  We now face the daunting task of pleasing the entire world or so help us God our hippy liberal tree hugging clients will go online and crucify us for all to see.  We are no longer being held accountable for the right reasons we are being held accountable to every single hate mongering loud mouthed neck beard with an opinion and an email account. 

The complaints I have seen become almost comical when you see things like "We had to wait in line to check in" and "No valet parking" keeping in mind these people are bidding $73.00 CAD for a room.  One woman proceeded to bash our property because the weather was not "As good as she had hoped".  Another complaint ended up costing us loosing our benchmark within our district for a short period of time due to this fellow finding a receipt from Walmart on the hallway carpet in front of his room. 

Where do we as Front desk Agents Draw the line?  How can we tell if the person on the other end of the line has a legitimate complaint and is not simply using the system for a free lunch?  One simple way to tell is  if the consumer is verbally abusive and generally a horses behind, that is usually a clear indicator that s/he is just voicing a mellow dramatic unnecessary opinion usually in hopes of getting something for free to shut s/he up.  The true complaint usually comes from the polite and shy guest who is usually reluctant to complain to begin with.  These are the guests whom should be taken seriously and every measure within our power put in place to compensate them for their issue. 

So what does it all boil down to?  It is of my firm belief that complaint resolution and assessment models put in place have to be reexamined in order to implement what I would call a "Complaint Legitimacy Factor".  CLF would obviously need its own set of parameters and formulae implemented as soon as the complaint is received by an unbiased third party department within the company handling your properties complaints.  We currently work with Medallia but the principal is universal for any consumer surveying company.  Once the CLF is established on a one to ten scale we are now cutting down the amount of time and energy being put into false claims. 

Insurance agencies have been doing something similar adjusters for almost a century now. Why is it that the hotel industry is so far behind in adjusting their own complaint resolution accordingly?  How much money is being wasted annually just to shut people up?  The old adage "The customer is always right!" may have worked for Mom & Pops corner grocery stores in the fifties, but in today's world this is just a loophole for the greedy to exploit.  The consumer is no longer always right, the consumer is now and angry child that we must appease with treats, candy and praise or so help us God they will have a temper tantrum on the Internet and destroy our business.  With CLF we can simply say to the man having an aneurysm over a dog that gave him a funny look in the lobby, "I am sorry for your trouble sir, but we feel this is not an issue that needs addressing.  Goodbye.".  No free lunch.  No discounted room.  The complaint is erased from history and the consumer is left with a sense of being chastened for wasting the rest of everyone else's time.  In the case of a woman who's room was flooded due to a burst pipe, CLF goes straight to ten and her issue is placed in the top of the queue, she is compensated immediately and her issue is resolved.  CLF allows us to prioritize complaint resolution in the sense that urgent and pressing guest issues are being handled immediately and frivolous complaints are hung out to dry where they belong.  This ultimately allows agents to resolve real issues more efficiently without wasting time on temper tantrums essentially saving millions and creating a more responsible consumer market.