We all have that one memory of an unforgettable hospitality experience – sometimes it is even the reason we enter the industry – and usually, there is a member of staff right at the centre of that experience. Add to this the fact that 78% of people rank great quality service above all else when selecting a hotel, and you have to face up to the task of providing outstanding staff training and leading a strong team. So how can you create these guest memories at scale, consistently provide great hotel guest service, and train your staff to stand out?
In this blog post, we discuss how to apply hotel staff training programs in a way that benefits your entire organisation. This includes a how-to as well as key attributes of great hotel guest experiences and tips on setting up an environment that fosters growth.
Hotel staff training: Benefits and outcomes
Rather than an onboarding activity, good hotel staff training is ongoing and shows its benefits in many ways every day:
- Happy customers return: Hotels are in the service industry but even beyond hospitality, companies that lead in customer experience outperform their competitors by nearly 80%.
- Pride and tips: Happy guests have a direct positive impact on your staff satisfaction, too. This applies beyond the direct interaction when you think of the next member of staff coming into contact with this customer for the first time, who is still positively influenced by an excellent prior interaction. Happy staff means lower turnover.
- Great customer service defines your brand: Whether it is an online rating, a review or direct recommendations, guests with memorable experiences are impactful beyond their stay. On average, a guest will tell nine people about a positive experience, but, perhaps more importantly, they will tell 16 people about a negative experience.
- Your standards go up: Customer satisfaction is a moving target. By keeping an ongoing focus on excellence and training, you keep in sync with your customer’s changing needs and adjust quicker than the competition.
- Prevention of potential issues: Perhaps the greatest value of training is preventing things from going wrong, because fixing mistakes is costly and simply too late. Well-trained, empowered and tuned-in members of staff can prevent costly mistakes from happening.
How to train hotel staff effectively
From luxury hotel staff training to onboarding in bed & breakfasts, the way in which people learn and absorb information is different from person to person. The one constant is that they all require a mix of activities, input, or exposure. Teachers know to transition students from activities that are purely listening to hands-on activities, to something yet different, all focused on the same topic. By using a variety of methods, every type of learner gets an opportunity to thrive.
In hotels, there are a number of different ways to facilitate learning and engage every type of learner.
Orientation may be more classroom-style based or part of a walk-around depending on how many new starters there are and how much information applies to everyone, such as hotel history, culture, and values. It may also apply to learning about team structure, routes of escalation and reviewing general policies. During orientation, staff usually listen a lot to content that has been prepared for them, without actively getting involved. If they have new starter peers during this time, even from other departments, it can make for a strong bonding experience and build their internal network; a priceless benefit to bring your team closer together.
To begin the process of getting engaged with the day-to-day activities, shadowing is a great tool that uses real on-the-job situations to teach: the benefit is experiencing when things go to plan and when plans have to be adjusted. In addition, it is also the quickest way to offer someone to step up and take a turn. Shadowing should not be limited to just one or their own department. By seeing other departments in action, staff will develop an understanding of each other’s unique processes and pressure points, while gaining inspiration from how other teams handle the unexpected. Great service is a mosaic made up of many interactions. Let your staff see the bigger picture.
In order to look up information about regular processes and policies, staff training should include the handing over of a handbook or other hardcopy material they can reference. In fact, at 65% the majority of us are visual learners. So whether it is your check-in process or a list of values, putting things in writing, maps or diagrams does matter. Yes, even if they do change.
Ongoing coaching & best practice sharing
Perhaps the most critical part of a culture of training is ongoing coaching and the frequent sharing of best practices: quite simply, it communicates that the learning is never done. Every member of staff has got more to learn. To seek out great coaches, look for members of your team who naturally gravitate to helping their peers, or ask your top performers to share some insights in a group setting. By making best practice sharing a part of your stand-up meetings or handovers between shifts, it becomes part of your culture, continuously reflecting on learnings and building on successes.
What does a great hotel staff experience look like from the guest perspective?
Surveys past and present offer a glimpse into hotel guests’ minds and priorities: perhaps the most drastic shift in recent years has been the desire of guests for unexpected service offerings, particularly ones that go above and beyond.
Understanding just what guests expect from your specific hotel sounds simpler than it is: there will be common threads of standards interwoven with reasons they chose your hotel over another one. With every guest interaction, you either reaffirm that choice or send them looking the other way for their next stay.
Luckily, some attributes, when embodied consistently, allow your team to get and remain in touch with your guests’ real motivation.
Attentiveness goes beyond paying attention. Someone who pays attention listens to the words, whereas someone who displays being attentive observes, watches and listens, takes note and asks questions for clarification. The latter is certainly more of a personality trait, but can be modelled and empowered in an environment where others consistently display these behaviours and are credited for it. Whenever a guest is delighted with service that matches them uniquely, such as a room not too far from the elevator for someone with crutches, it is usually because the staff were attentive and empowered to act.
They say you can’t tell the future, but many talented hospitality professionals appear as if they can: receiving proactive service is a cornerstone of great guest experiences. The ability to pre-empt needs is rooted in a deep understanding and empathy. By talking through a few scenarios, everyone’s lenses can be sharpened to become more aware and able to take action before it is needed. There is magic in not having to ask, but being understood or not having to wait for a room, because someone on the spot changed it for one that was immediately available.
Whether guests like to admit it or not, they like to be remembered. This does not just mean between one stay and the next, but during their stay as well. Often, simple acknowledgement by members of staff who see a guest more than once during their stay goes a long way in building relationships. This can come in the form of remembering names, but could be as simple as asking about their stay since you last saw them, or asking about their room if you had checked them in. Detailed notes in the PMS about any notable facts can be very impactful in ensuring knowledge is shared and retained between stays.
3 tips on setting up your staff for success
Storytelling: your greatest successes
Beyond training and modelling, nothing comes closer to reality than the story of a real event. Sharing the stories of your greatest successes or how the team handled unique scenarios sheds light for others on what is considered an appropriate, great or on-brand response. Some stories are shared anecdotally among staff, but don’t forget to also drive a conscious culture of vividly re-telling the stories that do resemble your brand and your vision. Studies have shown that the same goes for communicating your vision: the more vividly you can paint the picture and transport your team to that future scenario, the more they can work together on making that crystal clear goal a reality.
Whether it is an award or a “great job” spoken at the right time, recognition is not just important to the person receiving it: a ripple of impact expands around that recognition, communicating that what this person did matters, is valued and desirable to be repeated. By paying attention and rewarding the type of behaviours and actions you want your hotel to stand for, you can influence your team for greatness every day. If you’re choosing to actively work with recognition, make sure that it is consistently implemented across your teams and all department heads embody this culture.
Trial runs are common but have you storyboarded a hotel guest scenario before? Disney has long been using this technique and describe it in their “Be Our Guest” manual on customer service. The central idea is that through the use of drawings, however simple, vision is communicated and everyone has insight and the ability to input thoughts very early on; before it is even a trial run. By building and sharing new processes in this way, staff become familiar with the vision before stepping into the story and indeed learn to pre-empt when things go ‘off story’, and act in a way that aligns with the vision.