Managing the Delivery of Hospitality - Hotel Front Office Management

It is not enough for the front office manager to decide that the members of the front office staff should provide good service and display hospitality to guests. To provide satisfactory hospitality to all guests at all times, front office managers must develop and administer a service management program, which highlights a company’s focus on meeting customers’needs and allows a hotel to achieve its financial goals. This program must be based on sound management principles and the hotel’s commitment to meeting those needs.

Management’s Role

This may seem an odd place to start a discussion of delivering hospitality. After all, aren’t the front desk clerks, switchboard operators, and bellhops the people who meet and greet guests and fulfill their needs at the front desk? Yes, these employees do provide hospitality directly, but management must work behind the scenes to develop a plan that ensures that the employees’ efforts are continuous and professional. For example, management may decide to implement one or two specific, immediate changes on learning that a guest’s needs have been overlooked.

Management may feel that the negative impact of the rude, lazy, or careless employee has unnecessarily caused bad public relations. If a group of employees is not performing to management’s standards, the cumulative effects of the group will be perceived negatively by guests. This negative impression will take a toll in the long run.

Although one or two directives may correct an individual guest’s problems, that hotel will reap only short - lived gains. A comprehensive program aimed at meeting the needs of a hotel’s prime market - guests who continue to do business with the hotel - provides the foundation for long - term successful delivery of hospitality. This is what will make a hotel profitable.

Management’s commitment to a service management program must be as integral to the organization as effective market planning, cost - control programs, budgeting, and human resources management. In fact, service management is the most visible responsibility because it affects all the other objectives of the hotel.

Often the people in staff positions in hotels become so involved with their day - to - day paper shuffling and deadlines that they forget why they are in business. They may not necessarily mean to forget, but it happens all too often. Service management ensures that there is a commitment to a long range effort by appointing someone within the organization to be responsible for developing, organizing, and delivering it.

John W. Young, executive vice president of human resources at the Four Seasons Hotels, tells us: We expect our general managers to respect the dignity of every employee, to understand their needs and recognize their contributions, and to work to maintain their job satisfaction with us - and to encourage their growth to the maximum extent their ability and desire allows. General measurement is based on detailed employee attitude surveys, conducted by an outside firm as well as such factors as employee turnover, employee promotions, both within the hotel and to other hotels.

Also specific people - related goals are set according to the hotel’s needs or the manager’s personal needs, and measured, e.g., implementing a planned change in response to concerns in an attitude survey. The front office manager usually supervises service management efforts. Other key department heads who supervise employees who deal with guests, such as the food and beverage manager and director of marketing and sales, rely on the organizational leadership of the front office manager.

It is important to note that the responsibility of delivering hospitality to the guest in each department is always a part of the job of each supervisor or shift leader, the person responsible for directing the efforts of a particular work shift. The organizational efforts provided by the front office manager serve as the basis for a homogeneous plan for the hotel.

The owner and general manager must make a financial commitment to ensure the success of the program. An important component of the program is motivating employees to deliver hospitality on a continual basis through incentive programs.

Incentive programs are management’s organized efforts to determine employees’ needs and develop programs to help employees meet their needs and the needs of the hotel. Such programs reward employees for providing constant and satisfactory guest service and often involve money, in the form of bonuses, which must be budgeted in the annual projected budget. These incentives may involve the employees’ choice of a monetary bonus, higher hourly rates, shift preference, or additional holiday or vacation days.

Mark Heymann, managing partner of UniFocus, based in Irving, Texas, indicates that customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction (in hotels) should be considered simultaneously. He says, “Given today’s extraordinarily tough labor market, dissatisfied workers don’t stick around. So a happy staff is the key to happy campers.” Mr. Heymann also reports on feedback from hotel property clients with UniFocus, saying, “Money is not the key driver when it comes to holding on to staff. It’s the interaction with management and the environment.”

The goal of any lodging establishment should be to extend the same degree of hospitality to a guest who arrives on a busy Monday morning and to a guest who arrives on a slow Saturday night. Management’s ideological and financial commitment, along with the organizational efforts of the front office manager, will ensure that both of these guests are treated equally.

Owners and managers must commit financial resources and establish priorities for the operation of a successful service management program. (photo courtesy of Radisson Hospitality Worldwide

Owners and managers must commit financial resources and establish priorities for the operation of a successful service management program

The Service Strategy Statement

To produce an effective service management program, management must devise a service strategy statement, a formal recognition by management that the hotel will strive to deliver the products and services desired by the guest in a professional manner. To accomplish this, management must first identify the guest’s needs.

Those of you who may have taken entry - level jobs in a hotel as a bellhop, desk clerk, switchboard operator, table attendant, or clerk in a hotel gift shop may have some feel for what guests want. They want quick and efficient service. They want to avoid long lines. They want to find their way around the hotel and the immediate vicinity.

They want the products and services in the hotel to work. They want to feel safe and secure while residing in the hotel. If you use these observations as a baseline for beginning to understand guests’ needs while they are away from home, you will be able to better satisfy their needs.

John Young, of the Four Seasons Hotels, reports, “Market research, internal guest comments and our regular employee attitude surveys all confirm that what has set and will continue to set Four Seasons apart from our competitors is personal service.”

As Eric Johnson and William Layton note, “It is only through the eyes of a customer that a definition of service quality can be obtained. Senior management cannot adequately determine what is desired at the customer level until a comprehensive evaluation of customer preference is established through a systematic consumer research study.”5 Thus, in addition to identifying generally what guests want, management should survey guests about the particular property to determine what services they expect and how they want these services delivered.

The general manager of the hotel may assign this task to the marketing and sales director, who may start by reviewing and summarizing customer comment cards, which are usually held on file for six months to a year. A review of the areas in which the hotel has disappointed its guests, like that shown in Figure, will provide a basis for determining where to begin a guest survey. The problem areas identified from this study are then used as the focus of a simple survey form similar to Figure.

The survey may be administered by a member of the marketing and sales department at various times during the day. This information, as well as that gleaned from the comment cards, will give a general indication of what the guest wants. Sometimes pinpointing guest needs is not easy, because they change over time. In the example shown in Figure, speed of service delivery, high prices, poor selection of products, low - quality products,and rude personnel are problem areas in which the hotel failed to meet guest expectations.

These areas, then, should be the focus of the service strategy statement, as they appear to be the primary guest concerns. Ernest Cadotte and Normand Turgeon have analyzed a survey concerning the frequency and types of complaints and compliments received from guests of members of the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel & Motel Association. They report:

This report highlights areas of customer service and customer feedback

report highlights areas of customer service and customer feedback

The data seem to fall into a four - fold topology that compares how likely an attribute is to garner compliments versus the frequency of complaints.

  1. Dissatisfiers :- complaints for low performance, e.g., parking.
  2. Satisfiers :- unusual performance apparently elicits compliments, but average performance or even the absence of the feature will probably not cause dissatisfaction or complaints, e.g., atrium - type lobbies.
  3. Critical variables :- capable of eliciting both positive and negative feelings, depending on the situation, e.g., cleanliness, quality of service, employee knowledge and service, and quietness of surroundings.
  4. Neutrals :- factors that received neither a great number of compliments nor many complaints are probably either not salient to guests or easily brought up to guest standards.

Albrecht and Zemke also identify general guest expectations as follows:

  • Care and concern from service providers
  • Spontaneity - people are authorized to think

This individual hotel guest survey asks guests for their opinions on delivery of service

individual hotel guest survey asks guests for their opinions on delivery of service

  • Problem solving - people can work out the intricacies of problems
  • Recovery - will anybody make a special effort to set a problem right

Their conclusions add another dimension to the service strategy statement. In addition to certain recognizable products and services delivered at a certain speed and level of quality, guests expect employees to accept the responsibility for resolving problems. The guest should not encounter unconcerned staff or be bounced from employee to employee in order to have a problem solved. Management must develop a staff that can think and solve problems. This dimension to the service strategy statement will make the delivery of professional hospitality a challenge!

Developing the Service Strategy Statement

Once management has identified what guests want, it can develop a service strategy statement. The statement should include:

  • A commitment to make service from top - level ownership and management a top priority in the company
  • A commitment to develop and administer a service management program
  • A commitment to train employees to deliver service efficiently
  • A commitment of financial resources to develop incentives for the employees who deliver the services

These directives will serve as guidelines in the development of a service management program. More important, they force management to think of service as a long - range effort and not as a quick fix.

John W. Young states that the service strategy of the Four Seasons Hotels centers on offering exceptional levels of personal service. People are our most important asset. Each person has dignity and wants a sense of pride in what they do and where they work.

Success in delivering excellent service depends on working together as a team and understanding the needs and contributions of our fellow employees. [We must] train and stimulate ourselves and our colleagues. [We must] deal with others as we would have them deal with us. [We must] avoid compromising long - term goals in the interest of short term profit.

Here is one example of a service strategy statement: The owners of The Times Hotel, management, and staff will combine forces to establish a Service to Our Guests program, administered by management and delivered by staff. Delivery of service to our guests is crucial to the economic viability of our hotel. The owners of the hotel will provide financial support to the people who deliver hospitality on a daily basis.

Another version of the service strategy statement is as follows: The hotel, in its continual efforts to maintain a leadership position in the hotel industry, will develop a VIP - Guest Service program. The administration and delivery of this program are essential to the financial success of the hotel. This program will include incentives and has received a priority budget line for this fiscal year.

These statements, however worded, convey the message from owners andmanagement that a successful service management program depends on the support of all levels of management and staff.

Financial Commitment

Throughout the previous discussion on service management, financial commitment from management was stressed. Managers who want to develop and deliver a successful service management program must provide adequate staff time to think through a plan and to develop methods to motivate their employees. Scheduling time for planning and strategy sessions can increase the labor budget. Determining and offering motivational opportunities will also increase the financial investment. Often, lack of planning for these financial considerations will impede the desire to implement a service management program.

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