No-one works at a hotel front desk unprepared, right? Right! (and I hope you are agreeing with me).
Indeed, hotels pride themselves on the level of interaction they provide at the front desk. It is one of the few service components they lean on to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
The front desk serves as the hub of a hotel’s operation. This is the area from which guests register and depart, where the current occupancy status of the hotel is maintained, where inquiries are answered and requests for services are dispatched, and for many hotels in Ghana, it may be the only department that is staffed 24 hours each day.
A good orientation of front desk personnel involves drilling into them the invaluable worth of service they provide. Preparations towards taking a position at the front desk are therefore quite intensive in most hotels irrespective of size or standard. Personnel are given a variety of technical skills including operating telephone systems, handling operational software, printers, copy machines, fax machines and other equipment.
Personnel are also prepared to handle common challenges they are likely to encounter with guests.
For instance guests with reservations expect rooms to be ready when they walk in. Arriving guests tend to forget that departure guests check-out at 12 pm and some really ‘take it on’ the front desk personnel who cannot find them a clean room to check-in at 12 pm.
Room status discrepancies (that is, when the cleaning status of a room for the front office is recorded differently by the housekeeping) and reservations are also common problems which serious hotel managers have developed systems to resolve. Generally, personnel have also been readied for ‘self inflicted’ incidences like overbooking (usually created by the hotel).
Front desk personnel must have the requisite skills and qualities to maintain an efficient, well organized reception desk. They must keep track of details and procedures, keep accurate records, and maintain files that are easy to access and understand. They are also expected to keep the front desk free of clutter so their work space presents a professional appearance to guests and co-workers.
Communication is critical for front desk personnel. Strong interpersonal skills, problem solving and staying calm under pressure are a few of the soft skills expected of them.
Personnel are often trained to endure the anger of guests, ‘it’s part of the job,’ they are told.
When it comes to unexpected incidences, one wonders if management understands the challenges their front desk personnel face. Are personnel empowered to deal with the unexpected?
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
It was a time of intense danger. The streets were being patrolled by ECOMOG troops. One observation I had made in this West African country was the high walls which enclosed their hotels.
That particular day, about mid morning, there was continuous banging of the high iron gate. It was a small group of soldiers. They were allowed inside the hotel. With angry demeanor, they demanded the front desk personnel to ‘produce a guest’ whom they claimed was taking pictures of them from a balcony of the hotel.
More recently as a guest in a small hotel outside of Accra and here in Ghana, the telephone in my room rang at an odd time, about midnight. It was the manager on duty asking me to assist, knowing who I was. The issue? A team from the national security task force had arrived at the hotel insisting that a guest ‘be produced.’
What is disturbing is that usually such demands come with threats; ‘if you don’t, we…’, and they are not ready to be questioned.
Their threat was no different from the experience I encountered at the West African country I narrated above; which was that they would apply force to open guestrooms to look for their culprit.
Some well-respected guests sometimes make remarks, suggestions and gestures which may too well be labeled as sexual harassment. Persisting guests go to the extreme of offering money which may easily entice female personnel.
Managers tell the personnel, ‘Just say no’, tell him ‘you’re not interested’, tell him ‘you don’t date guests’, tell him ‘it’s against policy’; make it clear and make it simple. But it’s not that simple, is it?
True, some men quickly back down and apologize. Others are persistent and start upping the price, ‘Well what about $50. . .No. Okay 100 . . . What do you mean no. . . . Okay I will go up to 150.’
‘Mr. Persistent’ stays up at the front desk sometimes for hours.
There are no video tapes or manuals of how to deal with sexual harassment from such guests; at least none that I have ever seen or heard of.
There are managers and employers who ‘come down’ on victims (female personnel in particular) for being ‘rude’ to guests. Do these managers and employers care? Indeed, in Ghana, is this an issue?
INFORMATION HUB CHALLENGES
Although it has been many years, I still clearly recall the day I said, ‘I don’t know,’ to an inquiry made at the front desk.
It was at Continental Hotel, now Golden Tulip, Accra. After efficiently checking in two groups of airline crew, a few of the crew members came down asking questions about a film and where it was being shown. I did not know, so I said the obvious, ‘I don’t know’. The response I received made me want the ground to open up and swallow me! I did learn a lesson I was not taught in the classroom.
Thankfully today we have goggle map and various means to access information. No front office staff should have an excuse for not providing accurate information. Indeed, today’s guests have also become self-informed, but there are times when one really wants and needs some local insider’s information and that is where front desk personnel miss it.
HANDLING PHYSICALLY CHALLENGED GUESTS
For some guests, the trip from the hotel front door to the front desk is sometimes a major inconvenience, and this really rests solely on operators to alleviate.
Welcoming guests with disabilities is sometimes a huge challenge for front desk personnel particularly where front desks have not been made disability friendly. A guest may come in a wheelchair or needing some special attention. Personnel are usually not ready.
What happens if a guest faints when being checked in?
I was shocked at the panic that broke out and the mishandling of a guest who blacked-out at a hotel front desk.
I asked myself how many front office personnel have any training in first aid.
As I ponder over all of the above, a basic challenge I have found out recently is the unwillingness of personnel to be trained.