Excellence starts at the front desk


The front desk of the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton, Johannesburg.

Today’s business travellers have become accustomed to all the bells and whistles. The spas, the chocolates on the pillow, the turndown service, and even the number of stars on the plaque outside, have all become part of what is expected on any trip to any hotel. This does indeed leave the question ‘how do we keep them coming back?’

Peet Grobbelaar, rooms division and deputy general manager of The Michelangelo hotel in Sandton has the answer. ‘Exceptional service is key,’ he advises. ‘Warm, sincere interaction with guests is something that you can’t put a price tag on. As service professionals, we should aim to delight and pamper our guests. This is what guests will keep coming back for.’

Grobbelaar’s passion over the past five years he’s been with The Michelangelo has centred on the front desk– as the forefront of the guest experience. ‘The guest’s experience begins and eventually ends at the front desk. This is why it’s so important to give them impeccable service from the moment they come through the door.’

The Michelangelo is one of Gauteng’s most prestigious hotels, nestled in the heart of Sandton in what is often referred to as “the richest square mile”. As a result of its location, as well as its reputation as one of South Africa’s finest luxury hotels, it has a certain reputation to uphold, and there is no doubt that guests expect a higher standard of service from the hotel and its staff.

According to Grobbelaar, service excellence is something that can be experienced from the greeting you receive from the doorman to the friendly smiles of the front desk staff and management, right through to the tiny guest centric nuances you place throughout a property.

‘Service really is the lifeblood of a hotel. Ultimately, if the service is bad, it will have a strong, negative impact on the hotel’s bottom line. That eventually may mean that the people who depend on the hotel for their income could lose their jobs if the hotel had to close,’ states Grobbelaar.

So where do you begin? At the front desk of course. While Grobbelaar acknowledges there is no magic formula for transforming service overnight, his years of in-depth experience in dealing with and training staff have provided him with the knowledge on how to raise service standards– and the front desk is where he always starts. Yet, how do you teach warmth and friendliness?

‘Front desk staff need to understand the reasoning behind pampering guests and giving them professional, friendly service,’ Grobbelaar explains. ‘We encourage our staff to actively engage with guests. We do a lot of training, which includes role-play and active listening. Each guest is an individual with their own unique needs. Staff learn to treat each guest as a person and not a room number.’

Grobbelaar believes that once the current challenges of the front desk are understood, resolutions can be found. ‘You need to know if the challenge is performance related and if your staff have the right tools and training to do their job,’ he advises. ‘Do they have the know-how? Do they have the right attitude? What areas can be improved and how can we improve them? These are all important questions to ask of yourself as a manager and a business.’

Once the challenges have been thoroughly examined, put together an action plan. Once an action plan has been created, set goals for all staff– management and front desk personnel alike. Each person needs to step up and take responsibility and personal accountability for their area of work.

Creating policies and processes for the running of the front desk is also highly valuable. What procedures need to be in place to ensure the smooth, practical running of the environment? Checklists are wonderful tools to ensure that all the tasks and checks are done on a daily basis.

Grobbelaar is a big believer in leading by example. He not only believes that a manager needs to demonstrate right from wrong and set an example, but that the example should be consistent and demonstrate right and wrong.

‘Change comes from the top down, what is good for staff is good for management. Management should not be afraid to apologise for mistakes or being held accountable. This takes self-awareness and maturity, and the staff appreciate and respect managers who are willing to admit that they have made mistakes,’ he adds.

‘Speaking of managers, they must be able to let go. You can’t do everything yourself. It is just not a good management style. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your team. You need to feel comfortable with handing over tasks. It helps to grow your staff’s confidence.’

Grobbelaar believes that management is there to coach and assist as well as ensure that the day-to-day runs smoothly. He says respect encourages respect in return and that managers need to be transparent. If you do this, you not only secure loyalty, but you also provide your teams with a deeper understanding of their role in the success of the hotel.

Individual development, team building and creating systems and procedures, can lead to a successful front desk. This, coupled with a strong team that understands what it takes to create success led by a strong management component, are therefore the winning ingredients to create an optimal experience for guests.

AUTHOR: Peet Grobbelaar, rooms division and deputy general manager of the Michelangelo Hotel

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