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Fewer interactions with guests mean hotel staff must make the most of each one

Opportunities for conversations have diminished with evolution of tech.


As technology has crept into the cycle of guest service experiences in recent years, today’s guests have far fewer conversations with hotel staff. In the past, the hotel staff had a multitude of opportunities to wow guests with memorable, above and beyond hospitality encounters. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.


First, guests would call directly to book their room, or if they were early adopters to booking online, most called directly to reconfirm as they did not yet trust the process.


Next, they would call with questions after booking but prior to arrival, such as about amenities, services and perhaps to inquire about transportation options. On the day of travel, odds were pretty good they would call for directions.


Upon arrival, they would be greeted by a member of the bell staff and checked in manually at the front desk. Once in the room, they might have many conversations by phone regarding wake-up calls, room service and questions about the local area businesses and attractions. Upon departure, they would once again engage with front-desk staff and perhaps banter with a bellperson who hailed a cab for them.


One by one, these opportunities to interact were diminished if not eliminated.


Especially at branded hotels, most guests book online and can see a confirmed room in an app, so they no longer call to reconfirm. They can easily read about pet policies, restaurant hours and if there is a fitness center. Apple or Google Maps apps have resolved the need for assistance with directions.


Wheeled luggage has mostly replaced the need for bell services. Although adoption is still lower than projected, every year more guests check in and open their door by smartphone. Uber Eats and DoorDash have caused many hotels to eliminate or outsource room service, and those that still have it push guests to order from a TV or tablet menu.


Wake-up calls went away with mobile phone alarms. Google Reviews and Yelp diminished the need to ask for dining recommendations. Email delivery of receipts all but eliminated check-out and departure conversations. As a final send-off, guests stand alone under the porte-cochere watching a “Pac-Man-like” icon eat-up a roadway as they await the arrival of their ride.


Now, the above guest experience cycle is in the ideal world, which is one being pushed by the tech companies who are eager to automate virtually every touch point, but things do not always go so smoothly.


In the real world of hotel lobbies, there are still an awful lot of guest experiences, but my point is that there are almost never as many touch points as there once were. Therefore, each and every opportunity to engage with a guest represents an increasingly rare chance to be a memory maker and to truly differentiate your hotel from all the others across the street or down the road.


Reality; Now let’s look at what really happens at hotels these days.


Sure, many guests book online, but they still sometimes call prior to arrival if they have special requests or needs. The few that still call are usually asking specific questions about room locations, views, amenities, or they have special requests.


Despite massive efforts by some brands to push guests to use smartphone check-in, when I ask front-desk associates — even those working at hotels catering to the “road warrior” corporate travel segment — the adoption is still very low. Plus by the time guests arrive at the hotel in an Uber after a long day of travel, a lot of times those cell phone batteries are dying. So check-in is one opportunity for face-to-face engagement that has yet to go away.


Once in-house, many guests still stop by for local area recommendations for dining, as by now they have learned the hard way that positive restaurant reviews are not always indicative of a great culinary experience. Although everyone has some version of a maps app, some still ask for real-world estimates of travel times that factor in local traffic patterns. The problem is that most front-desk staff no longer receive training in these areas. All too often, I hear staff saying things like “Hm… I’m not sure, I’ve never eaten at the restaurants around here …” or “I’m not really familiar with that part of town.”


When it comes to departure, it does seem like most guests are comfortable with leaving straight from their room, but plenty of travelers still go for the sense of closure one gets when dropping off a key at check-out and hearing “Okay, you’re all set.”


Contrary to what tech companies may tell you, and what formula-based staffing guidelines might call for, there’s still plenty of human interaction taking place in hotels.


But because we have far fewer interactions, each one of them is that much more important. Here are some training tips for your next staff meeting:


  • Provide frequent room tours to keep front-desk staff familiarized with locations, views and other specifics that are relevant to special requests.
  • Encourage front-desk staff to channel-convert guests who call directly with questions while shopping online. Train them to say: “Now that I’ve answered your question, are there any dates I can check for you?”
  • Familiarize staff with local area restaurants, especially the “local favorites” with unique menus or atmosphere. Frequent travelers like me get tired of chain restaurants. While it is good for them to hand out a list, being able to speak personally about a few of them really stands out.
  • Train them to respond to frequently asked questions such as estimated travel times to airports, conference centers, business complexes, shopping and medical/hospital facilities.
  • Encourage all staff to greet guests and engage them when passing them in the hallways, when riding on elevators, and to strike up conversations as they are awaiting their Lyft or Uber in the lobby. Offer conversation starts that go beyond a typical depersonalized phrase such as “How are you, good?” For example: “Are you having an excellent stay? What brings you to town?”


When you read articles, blogs and social posts from technology companies and hotel brand leaders, it is obvious that too many believe they can “out-tech” the competition or perhaps win guests over with a shiny new amenity or service. In the end, the competition catches up very quickly and there are a lot of copycat efforts happening. What truly makes the difference from one hotel to another has not changed since I started my career at a hotel front desk in the 1980s. It’s still the people that make the most difference.


Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. Contact him at doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com.



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