Updated: Jan 14
IN OUR BUSINESS, WE ARE ALL GUEST RELATIONS OFFICERS
If you have worked with me, you probably know me for being one who doesn't necessarily look at positions in a restrictive way, especially in the business I'm in.
What I mean by that, is for sure that nobody should hold themselves above any job, and that we should all be willing to step in wherever necessary, despite our title. But not only that.
I also don't like to limit people to one role and one job description. In the hotel industry it's particularly true that one individual can impersonate as many roles as necessary at that moment.
In spite of what department we belong to and of what our title is, no matter if we are front of the house or back of the house - the number one role we all constantly depict is that of the guest relations officer. If you work in the service industry and you don't act as a true guest relations ambassador, if you don't think of that as your priority, you might want to rethink your place.
In the luxury world, departments such as Guest Relations, and figures such as the VIP Manager, have always been key to clientele management success and to a good reputation. Not only this function represents a facilitator for internal operations, that guarantees the smooth execution of a guest's stay, but it's also something guests very much expect when staying at a luxury property.
My first role in the United States was the Guest Experience Manager, which was later turned into VIP Operations Manager, and which unfolded an exciting challenge and opportunity for me.
As the department did not exist before, it was placed in my hands to create a guest experience operation from scratch, and identify how to increase loyalty and improve service reputation, within a 1300 room property in midtown Manhattan. Easy task? Not at all, however one of the accomplishments of my career I can confidently say I nailed, and I am most proud of.
Today, with the assistance of two hospitality colleagues - Andrew Lewis and Katerina Wolfe - I am here to share some insights for all hoteliers out there, who need a motivation and a reason to get into guest relations, who are looking to grow in this crucial department, or who want inspiration on how to make the difference in the guest journey.
When approaching guest relations, what unique touch does it take to make it successful? How do you gain your guests' loyalty and trust? How do you inspire others to be real service ambassadors? How do guests perceive your role and your purpose?
Here are some tips I've developed - with Andrew and Katerina - for the guest experience world.
1. Talk to your guests. When I first started in guest relations, I quickly realized the best way to figure out what would make my guests happy was very simple: I asked them.
I sat with them and frankly asked what I could do to improve their experience, and they told me everything I needed to succeed in my task.
You can think you know the answer, you can try and guess what will work or what will not, but only your audience can tell you what really does.
Don't waste your time assuming, talk to your guest and they will tell you exactly what you need to know.
2. Be consistent. I learned the number one most frustrating thing for regular guests, is having to deal with inconsistency. If things are never done the same way, if they constantly have to remind you of what they need and how they need it done, if stay after stay they have to repeat themselves, you are guaranteed you are going to loose them. The secret to a comfortable stay is for the guest never having to remind workers of their needs. Your staff knows what to do, and they get it right every time, no exceptions. Quality does not exist without consistency.
3. Provide your guest with one - and one only - point of contact. Number two most frustrating thing for a regular guest, is always having to deal with different people. Guests don't appreciate having to repeat and explain themselves multiple times, which is typically what happens when there is more than one individual handling their stay. Even if their request has to do with something that is out of your expertise and you don't know how to handle it, you are still their one contact. Do not hand it over to other people, you will figure out the solution and you will get back to them yourself. The relationship is between you and the guest only, and nobody else needs to be involved. If for any reason you are not available, you are responsible for designating a replacement, you introduce them to the guest, and that person becomes the one and only contact during your absence.
4. Become the guest's personal assistant. It doesn't matter if you are dealing with one or one hundred people at the same time, each guest should feel like they are the only one you are working with, and that you're entirely devoted to them. Make time for them, treat them as if your only priority is their wellbeing and satisfaction. You're there to make their stay stress free, to create a sense of complete relief from their duties. They don't need to worry about a thing, because you are there to take care of it all. That's your job: to give them peace of mind.
5. Stop thinking the guest has a responsibility. Important tip, because in our day to day we all make the mistake of thinking the guest is responsible for letting us know what they need and what they want, and if they don't... oh well, that's their fault. This is the wrong mindset.
In the luxury world you cannot afford to wait for your customer to give you the information, you are the one who must go out and get it. If you fail the guest experience because you did not know of a specific preference or restriction, you should not blame the guest for not telling you, you should instead realize you haven't been proactive enough. Guests come to your property and choose your services because they trust you can handle their needs better than others, and that means being anticipated in every aspect.
6. Don't stop at basic needs, always remember the wow factor. Assigning a quiet corner room because the guest needs peace and is a light sleeper is not wowing them, it's just responding to basic needs.
A basic element is what everyone pays a hotel room for and expects to have, therefore it's a precondition: clean room, working shower, quality sleep, efficient service.
Personalized service represents the next level, when we search beyond the bare necessities of a human being and look for what creates comfort for that particular individual: their preferred bottle of water, the newspaper they read everyday, the pillow they sleep best with, their favorite room.
A wow factor upgrades the experience to the unexpected: you are no longer dealing with necessities, comfort and pleasure, you are dealing with hidden desires. You are going for a true investigation of what the guest doesn't expect, what they don't even know they want, what will really surprise and impress them. Because if they can anticipate it, it's not really wow. When you achieve the unexpected, you have truly created a wow moment.
7. Record everything you know. As good as you can, be the reality is that you work with a lot of people and you forget things. To ensure the consistency previously mentioned, it's imperative to create and maintain a database with all guest's preferences and special needs, that you can always go back to. 10 years ago I used to work with a huge spreadsheet, where I listed every single guest's request as far as room and bed type, room location, bedding preference, amenity requests, F&B favorites, arrival and departure time, and anything else. It was my bible.
Nowadays, the technology we have available allows us to build and update database in an extremely easy and efficient way, and to access them from everywhere. You can be outside in the driveway and easily access from your phone the guest name, their VIP status, their preferences, and even their picture.
8. Communicate effectively. You are the link between the guest and all the operational departments. It is your responsibility to communicate clearly and promptly all the information you have collected prior to the guest's arrival, so that your colleagues can help you ensure proper execution. Ultimately, you are the final inspector of preparation and delivery, and the one who assembles and directs all the moving parts. You are knowledgeable and you give the right instructions. You keep in mind, however, that the other departments don't work for you, they work with you, for the guest.
9. Pass on the torch. Younger professionals don't typically see the advantage of working and growing in such department, they are more attracted to roles who are responsible for bigger teams and bigger operations. You can be the one to teach them what a great opportunity guest relations represents, in terms of learning and development. It really is a position that exposes you to all the departments, it gives you the chance to learn about it all and connect the pieces, it teaches you to be a great communicator and a strong leader, it builds your flexibility and versatility. It is no doubt a very high visibility role that should never be underrated.
10. Inspire others to be service ambassadors. It is not uncommon for who works in the back of the house and doesn't deal with guests face to face, to think they are not accountable for guest relations. You can change their mindset and inspire them to be true service ambassador. No matter what their department or role is, everybody's work is essential in creating a wonderful experience, and every bit makes a difference in the journey. People need to understand the importance of their task and the value of the work they perform in the bigger picture. A puzzle cannot be complete if some pieces are missing or in the wrong place. An exceptional guest experience is like that puzzle.
That's why we must all think of ourselves as guest relations officers at all times: in a broader sense this is what our industry is really all about.
THANK YOU TO:
Andrew Lewis, current Guest Experience Manager at Park Hyatt New York, is a passionate individual who truly has a clear vision on how to provide guests with what they don't know they need, and on how to seamlessly put their desires into action.
I really appreciated hearing a young professional share thoughts such as:
"It's important to remember Guest Relations is not only about the needs of VIP customers, but that every guest that stays at our hotel must have their needs met and exceeded, and experience the best possible service we can provide them with."
"I believe in putting myself in the guests' shoes and embrace their expectations. It’s easy to just check off an item from your to-do list, it's a whole other thing to create a successful experience."
Andrew enjoys his role mostly because:
"It's one of the few roles in the hotel that links all departments together in a seamless manner, all guest requests can be funneled through one position. This job allows me to interact with all departments, to understand each function of the hotel, and to communicate effectively to create the best guest experience together with my team".
"Being in New York, we have all the resources in the city to provide the most customized stay possible. We do our best to deliver at all times, because we can".
THANK YOU TO:
Katerina Wolfe, current Director of Guest Relations for Conrad New York Midtown, is another dedicated hotelier who like me was given the task to build a new department and enhance the guest experience, and has some very interesting thoughts on how to do this successfully.
"Our team is really what makes us shine and what has kept so many guests coming back for years and years through several ownerships, rebranding, and renovations. Everyone is an essential part of the guest experience, I cannot think of one person who doesn't contribute positively to a guest's stay."
About her purpose as director of guest relations she says:
"It is to support the team's effort and make them shine, to centralize all the valuable bits and pieces of information so that everyone is fully aware of the experience we paint."
When it comes to inspiring her team members to be real service ambassadors, she thinks:
"No one takes a job in hospitality who doesn't care about the people they serve. Unlocking full potential however can take some intentionality and energy. Everybody has a great contribution to give and I enjoy finding out what each team member wants to do for our guests, what ideas they want to try, and I do my utmost to facilitate it."
"The most important part of our job is to demonstrate consistency in the pursuit of excellence and a genuine desire to be of service. We must constantly set the bar higher for ourselves and uplift those around us, to improve their participation in the guest experience. Hospitality is the place where effectiveness and productivity meet emotion and creativity."
Thank you Andrew and Katerina for your great contribution and insightful perspectives, I wish you all the best in your careers and future, and a quick recovery for your properties. Continue to stay strong, hopeful and dedicated as you are, your passion will continue to inspire people in your teams and in the industry. Thank you for being the guest relations ambassadors you have become!