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 Mastering The Lost Art of Check-In
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by Doug Kennedy, Februrary 2007

With all of the advances in property management systems and other front desk technology, from a service-efficiency perspective the check-in process at most of today’s hotels is running smoother than ever.  Newer systems make it easer and faster then ever before for a front office associate to find an available room; credit card approval happens almost instantaneously, and I can’t remember the last time my reservation was lost or misfiled. 

Yet as much technical skills and front office systems have improved, the check-in process itself has de-evolved into a scripted, robotic and heartless business transaction at most hotels these days.   

If my recent experiences in traveling to 20+ hotels in the last 90 days is any indication, this trend is apparent at hotels representing all market segments.  For me, the welcome I receive (or don’t receive) at the front desk has nothing to do with the number of stars or diamonds hanging on the plaque behind the front desk.  Only three of these 20+ times can I honestly say I was properly welcomed on arrival at the end of my journey; once at a two-star hotel and once at a four-star property, while I had visited hotels from economy segment to luxury.  

Granted most of the others were overall polite and efficient, except for the 6 minute interaction I had at the front desk of a 4-star hotel in Washington, DC, during which my entire interaction was limited to her saying following seven words:

“Checking-in?”
“Your Name?”
“Here you go.” 

In fact “Checking-in?” seems to be the overwhelmingly most common phrase used to greet arriving guests these days. (Although there seems to be a new trend for desk clerks to simply use the gesture of a raised eyebrow and a nod to find out your name.)  How silly the question “Checking-in?” must seem to an arriving guest, as he or she stands in the lobby, luggage en tow and credit card in hand.  I’m sure more than one guest has been tempted, as I have, to reply sarcastically “No, I’m not checking-in, I just stopped by the front desk lobby with my luggage to check out your artwork.  I’m actually a connoisseur of hotel lobby artwork and I heard you had some great pieces in your collection here.” 

When you think about it, one can’t blame the staff for this.  The reality is that most front desk associates receive little if any exposure to the concept of hospitality; most training is centered on working the front desk computer, reservations system, and telephone switchboard.  Considering the overall state of “manners” (or lack thereof) in today’s real-world society, we just cannot assume new-hires possess the social and interpersonal communications skills they need to relate to guests who are likely from a different socio-economic background, age group, and geographic region. 

If you are ready to help your front desk staff re-master the lost art of properly welcoming guests upon arrival at the front desk, here are some training tips for your next staff meeting:

Welcome EVERY Guest Upon Arrival.  Make sure no one starts any transactions before first using a sincere, proper welcome such as “Good afternoon, welcome to Anybrand Hotel.  How are you today sir?”  

Avoid Asking Obvious Questions.  In other words, if I am at the desk at 7am holding my garment bag and room key, I am most likely checking out; if it’s 7pm and I have my coat on, I’m probably checking-in.

Instead, Offer Assistance.  Rather than quizzing guests as to whether they are coming or going, why not simply say something like “How may I assist you today?”  Or use an assumptive question such as “are you checking out this morning?” if you are simply not sure. 

Bring Out The Best In Guests, vs. Reacting To Their Demeanor.  Be the first to express authentic and genuine hospitality by facial expressions, body language, and non-threatening, short personal questions such as “What do you think of this weather today?”   Make these efforts even with guests who look tired and cranky – they probably are!  You might even get a smile and kind remark back before they are done, and you are certain to meet more friendly people during your shift at the desk. 

If My Reservation Is Missing And You Have Rooms:  tell me the later first before you break the bad news to me gently.  At least I’ll know I have a place to stay.

If I Mention Having Had Challenges En Route, and if you can spare 90-120 seconds, I would so appreciate your therapy by letting me tell you just how bad it was.  A little empathy and understanding is just that much better. 

If My Credit Card Declines For Any Reason:  Ask me for another form of payment before blurting out loudly “Your credit card was denied.” Or put the burden on the bank by saying “I was unable to get approval.”  

Ask Me If I Need Information Before Offering Too Much Of It.  For example, if I am a card-carrying member of your hotel frequency program, or a known repeat guest, chances are I am more familiar with that breakfast buffet than you are.  So before you tell me everything that’s on it and what time it starts, why not first ask if I am familiar with the buffet or if I have any questions about the hotel?  

Properly End The Transaction.  Personalize your wrap-up remarks according to the human interaction that we just had.  Welcome me one more time.  At full service hotels, offer an bellstaff escort by name:  “Mr. Kennedy, may we have Chris escort you to your room?”   Please do not ask if I need help with my small garment bag and laptop case; do I look like a 98 pound weakling?  For hotels without a bellstaff, point me in the direction of the elevators and make sure I am walking in the right direction.  

With all of the many distractions today’s hotel GM’s have, such as spending two hours a day answering e-mails from the corporate office and checking for the latest TripAdvisory posting, it’s easy to understand things have come to be where they are.  Yet by training your staff on tips and tactics such as these, you can once again master the lost art of extending the generous and authentic gift of hospitality at check-in.
 
Doug Kennedy, President of the Kennedy Training Network, has been a fixture on the hospitality and tourism industry conference circuit since 1989, having presented over 1,000 conference keynote sessions, educational break-out seminars, or customized, on-premise training workshops for diverse audiences representing every segment of the lodging industry. Ee-mail Doug at: doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
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Contact:

Doug Kennedy, President
Kennedy Training Network
www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com
doug@kennedytrainingnetwork.com
Direct:  (954) 981-7689

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Also See: Speaking of Hotel Rooms: When You Turn The Lights Off They All Look The Same / Doug Kennedy / December 2006
Train Your Front Desk To Overcome Challenges of Fielding Reservations Calls At The Front Desk / Doug Kennedy / October 2006
The Hotels Reservations Sales Process; Today’s Callers Want a Personalized and Customized Experience / Doug Kennedy / October 2006
It’s Time To Give Hotel Guests What They REALLY Need and Want Daily! Key Basics Some Hotels Still Fall Short On / Doug Kennedy / September 2006
Have You Listened To What Your Hotel Sales and Reservations Agents Are Saying To Real Customers? / Doug Kennedy / August 2006
Next Step In Revenue Optimization: Train Your Front Desk and Reservations Staff To “Maintain The Rate Fences” / Doug Kennedy / July 2006
Beyond “Outrageous,” and “Legendary” Customer Service Training: Creating “Ordinary Excellence, Daily!” / Doug Kennedy / June 2006
The Politics of Revenue Management / Doug Kennedy / June 2006
Hotel Sales “Steps” and “Processes” Are Out; Today’s Inquiry Caller’s Want A Personalized Sales Experience / Doug Kennedy / June 2006

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