How to help staff empathize with guests
How to help staff empathize with guests
20 APRIL 2015 6:57 AM
To ensure frontline staffers care about guests, make sure they understand the various situations that play out on the other side of the front desk. 
With all of the online guest reviews and social media postings available to prospective guests these days, it seems like the walls of our hotel lobbies are made of glass and that the service provided within is transparent for all to see. 
Personally, I think this has caused the hotel industry to focus more than ever on guest service excellence, which is certainly a good thing. 
Yet many hotel managers I encounter are frustrated that their guest service training is not leading to an improvement in guest surveys nor TripAdvisor rankings. Perhaps this is because too many hotel training programs are still teaching hospitality as if it were the summation of a series of communications techniques: Smile at the guest, maintain eye contact, use their name three times—and they will all leave the front desk happy
True hospitality superstars know that while delivering hospitality requires good communications skills, it also takes more. 
Guests are at the core of hospitality
The real spirit of hospitality is centered on caring about as well as caring for the guest. When colleagues care for the guest, they take care of their fundamental needs for clean, comfortable and safe shelter. Yet when they care about the guest, they are able to provide for their needs on a deeper, more humanistic level. 
Most guests can sense when they are encountering a service provider who is simply going through the motions and using scripted messages that mask an attitude of indifference. Kind of like the waiter who comes by to clear a plate of nearly un-touched food and asks: “How was your dinner, good?” prompting most of us to simply agree and say, “It was good.” Most of us leave and never return; some will take their complaint elsewhere such as to Yelp or Facebook. 
When you read negative reviews and guest surveys, most guests say something like, “What went wrong was this, but what was really upsetting is that no one seemed to care about our situation.” 
To ensure frontline colleagues care about as well as for guests, make sure they can empathize and understand the various situations, stories and circumstances that play out daily on the other side of the front desk, the other end of the phone call and the other side of the guestroom doors. 
Of course it is ideal to just hire staff who can personally relate to your guests or who otherwise possess the emotional intelligence to imagine what it might be like for others. Yet realistically, it is difficult to find candidates who have enough life experiences to do so on their own. Instead, make sure your guest service training program helps them gain insights into what guests are going through daily.
If they’ve not been asked to think about it, most frontline colleagues view travel as being fun, exciting or even glamourous whether it is business or leisure. To those who have not lived out of a suitcase, it might seem desirable to have someone on hand to make up your bed, serve you a meal and to wash your dirty dishes. If your only experience of leisure travel has been going on family vacations as a youth, it is difficult to imagine the stress that your parents might be feeling to have fun while on a vacation that got off to a rocky start or that is going way over budget. 
Here are some suggestions for conducting guest empathy training for your frontline colleagues:
1. During meetings, discuss the diversity of reasons why guests might be visiting your hotel. 
For resort markets, this might include family vacations, reunions and birthdays, but also memorial services, the first trip without a grandparent or even a “bucket list” trip for someone with a bad diagnosis. Explore how badly a family might need this vacation, to have time together, in today’s over-scheduled lifestyle of the typical two-career household. 
For hotels serving mostly a corporate clientele, talk about the pressure to produce while on the road that business travelers might have, the need to get the contract signed, the deal closed or the problem resolved. 
2. Ask colleagues to think about the more somber reasons why guests might be visiting. That it is not always for a wedding; it might be to attend a funeral. If you have medical centers nearby, it might be to receive treatments or tests or to visit family in the hospital. 
3. Focus also on the good times being enjoyed and the “once in a lifetime” events, such as special milestone birthdays and events such as baby showers, Bar Mitzvahs and christenings. 
4. Challenge colleagues to ask guests what’s bringing them to town during registration and then to report back to the next meeting what they found out.
5. Hold a brainstorming session regarding all of the challenges guests might encounter en route to the hotel, such as airline travel delays, uncomfortable airplane seats and traffic nightmares. Then talk about how the front office team in particular has a unique opportunity to turn things around for guests once they arrive. 
Doug Kennedy is President of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of customized training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over two decades. Since 1996, Doug’s monthly hotel industry training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hotel industry training writers. Visit KTN at or email him directly.
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