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