By Mohamed Hamdhoon
The front office department is an integral part of any hotel or resort operation. As a revenue-generating business function, the front office department plays a significant role in informing, educating, and exciting the customers about the services offered by the company.
Few companies realize this, but the front office department is also a relationship-building business function.
From nailing a good first impression to wowing customers during their stay by observing their preferences, likes, dislikes, and personalizing the services based on behavioral psychology that results in repeat business falls under the purview of the front office department.
And from what I have gathered, seen, and experienced from so many hotels and so many resorts are they do not fully grasp this extremely basic fact about their front office operations. And that to me, is a flagrant underutilization of resources and a missed opportunity.
But it does not have to be that way. Any company can take their flailing or subpar front office operations and inject life and energy into it to completely overhaul its business efficacy, service superiority, and bottom lines. All it takes is a conscious, concerted effort to seek excellence from all parties concerned.
Here are five surefire ways hospitality-centric companies can next-level their front office operations regardless of their star ratings or service settings.
- Embrace Technology
The front office operations are as hectic as they come. And it requires a lot of moving parts to ensure the services are offered in a manner that adds value instead of frustrating the customer.
Given the complexity and variety of services being offered by the companies today, trying to rely on a shared Excel sheet is the easiest way to introduce chaos and ruin your day and upset your customers.
Here are some of the technologies that could prevent that from happening and help companies better plan and streamline their workflow.
- Cloud-based Property Management Systems (PMS). A PMS such as Opera 5 from Oracle Hospitality could help tailor personalized services and streamline billing and maximize revenue with its advanced rate management systems
- E-Concierge apps. Handling guest communication in a timely fashion is crucial. E-Concierge apps such as Alice, Hotelcloud, or Agilysys could help stay connected with the customers on an always-on basis and have records of those interactions to learn from and to further improve the service.
- Tablets, smartphones, vessel/vehicle tracking systems, and digital walkie talkies. As emailing is fast replaced by messaging apps such as Slack, Flock, and Ryver while most of the information about guest profiles, preferences, and daily movements are communicated online, it is important to invest in the necessary tools to get the best out of these new-age technologies.
Although embracing technology is crucial, companies must always remember to weigh this question before committing money or resources into any such undertakings: Is this going to help us simplify processes and improve guest experience?
If the answer to that question is a resounding yes, you are headed in the right direction. If you or your team have the slightest of doubts surrounding that question, keep looking.
- Cultivate a Growth Mindset
Today, companies are operating at such a competitive landscape in which the customers are so fickle and the choices so abundant that they risk losing their clients in the blink of an eye if they grow even a little bit complacent in their services or fails to engineer a new way to blow away their customers.
Exceptional services provided by gracious and passionate hosts is the name of the game of the entire hospitality industry. Meeting customer expectations is no longer enough. You must go beyond them. Satisfying your customers is no longer enough. You must delight them.
And for that to happen, companies must radically change their service philosophies and embark on a journey of iterative, sometimes mistake-prone, and lifelong learning.
In her brilliant book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, world-renowned psychologist Carol S. Dweck captured this idea beautifully when she said, “Love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy the effort and keep on learning.”
Here are some ways companies can shift their inherently fixed mindset in favor of a growth mindset to the next level their front office operations in a manner that reaps optimal benefits.
- Encourage employees to bring their extroverted self to work. Employees working in the front office are in a state of constant interaction between guests and other departments. Encouraging—and where appropriate, training—employees to project a pleasant and upbeat personality works wonders when it comes to delighting guests and going the extra mile on the service journey.
- Be open to new methods and to experiment with new service deliverables. Sometimes the best ideas come from those who are out there on the field interacting with the guests and observing the trends in real-time than from the executive team who are in a boardroom brainstorming for new ideas. Companies should encourage this from their employees and implement such ideas that carry any merit.
- Incentivize or gamify the implementation process of those new methods and service deliverables. Change is hard, and often, it will be met with resistance from those who are insistent on maintaining the status quo of how things have always been or how things have always been done. Incentivizing employees to adopt the new changes with a financial or some other form of reward or gamifying the process so that it will feel more like play could help create buy-in and make such change management efforts a true success.
- Adopt a Common Service Language
A lot of service organizations fail because they have a fragmented or disjointed understanding of what they are trying to accomplish between different functions, sections, and departments.
If delighting the customer means addressing the guests by their names at every interaction or acknowledging their special occasions such as birthdays, honeymoons, babymoons, and anniversaries for the Butler Team, then it should also be the same for the Reception Team, the Transport Team or the Call Center Team.
Anything less than all the teams singing the same song and dancing the same dance could render the excellent service provided by the Butler Team useless and create gaps that, once noticed—and they always get noticed—results in poor customer satisfaction.
Here are some ways companies can align everyone on their teams to work towards the same objectives instead of destroying value for each other or creating discernible service gaps that hurt the overall customer experience.
- Create a common service vocabulary and share it amongst everyone. And once it is shared, confirm that everyone has the same understanding as everybody else because they could still be working at a cross purpose from each other.
- Incorporate common service vocabulary into the onboarding and induction plan of new employees. Once there is a shared service vocabulary, it is important to pass it down to those who join the team later. Or else, the potency of such an effort will be lost with every employee who resigns or retires.
- Update the shared service vocabulary as the organization evolves. Nothing is set in stone in the life of an organization and the same is true for its shared service vocabulary. Get rid of those ideas and phrases that no longer make sense or serves any purpose and add those that better reflect the values and service philosophies in the present or an aspirational future.
- Identify Skill Gaps to Up-/Re-Skill Your Employees Accordingly
We live in a time and age where everything from the technology we use to the knowledge we acquire to the skill sets that are becoming obsolete fairly quickly. A lack of essential skills could spell disaster in the way how things are done and how services are provided and hinder future growth for some companies.
Closing such skill gaps—of both hard and soft skills—must be considered an urgent business priority and companies should treat it as such.
Here are some ways companies can up-/res-skill their employees and some important points to consider when conducting their gap analysis.
- Enable self-directed learning with online learning solutions. Instead of only providing employees with in-person learning and development sessions, complement it by providing self-directed learning on online learning platforms such as Harvard ManageMentor or LinkedIn Learning where they can acquire additional and ultra-specific knowledge about those skills they are lacking.
- Conduct yearly research to identify what skills will be most in-demand in the next 3-5 years. Do employees have the proper organizational or communication skills? Do we need to invest in improving their leadership skills or give them an immersive training on creative problem solving and how to handle a difficult customer? Failure to close these gaps could hurt customer experience and satisfaction and make it that much more difficult to delight the customers.
- Empower Employees and Bias Them Towards Action
Far too many companies have a centralized decision-making process when it comes to getting anything done. While it is good to err on the side of caution when it comes to making CAPEX or any huge financial decisions, speed matters when you are dealing with irate customers.
Empower the employees or the shift managers to make quick decisions if it is below a certain dollar threshold or if it could help resolve minor complaints or issues without further agitating a customer who is already not happy about something.
Here are some ways companies can empower employees and encourage them to take immediate action instead of waiting for the managers to sign off on something as simple as rebating an M&M from the bill of a guest who has spent tens of thousands of dollars on her extras.
- Recognize those who are proactive and anticipate customer needs. A lot of the times when a customer is unhappy and complains about the service, a service recovery must be done which could be multiples of the value of the service she received in the first place. Reinforcing such behaviors by recognizing those who proactively anticipate customer needs and save money for the company could also allude others to do the same with an added benefit of improved services for the customer.
- Value calculated risk-taking and train employees to do that intelligently. Most of the decisions made by employees no matter what the standard operating procedures say or what the usual course of action suggests can be summarized as a judgment call. Training employees to do that in a manner that increases the upside of taking the action and decrease the downside on not taking the action could save companies a pretty penny in the long run.
Running a world-class front office operation is not a luxury that is only reserved for the mega-rich or the biggest hotel chains with the most resources. Resources do not mean anything if the company does not know how to use those resources intelligently and responsibly.
If a company embraces the latest technology (well, at least what they can afford out of the latest technology), cultivate a growth mindset, adopt a common service language, identify skill gaps and up-/re-skill their employees, and empower them towards action, they could also nurture a front office operation that is truly next-level.