Wednesday, 12 June 2013
So you think it is the Italian marble, German bathroom fixtures, Peruvian pink salt in the baths, rarest of rare wines and whiskeys in the cellar and mini-bars, insanely expensive gold leaf on your dessert or the adorably exotic white truffle shavings on your risotto, the finest Egyptian cotton with the perfect thread count, perhaps Cor silver soap cradled in the rich inlay-work dish nesting in a supremely scented bath zone! Or perhaps the plushest mattresses and themed pillows to tantalize your senses and shoo away all the stress, the breathtaking architecture by some of the world’s best architects, vintage bed that was once used by a royal family, ancient and original lithographs that adorn the rich walls, location within a palace or a national park or at the edge of a mountain or the fringes of an ocean.......................that make a brand what it is and make the hotel stand out and over its competition!
Then you couldn’t be farther from the truth. It is the dexterous hands, pegged to perform personalities within the sound bodies and happy feet that dance enthusiastically to the drumming of duty. It is the fully committed characteristics and a trained, positively inclined, responsibly ticking brain that guide our Hotel Brand Ambassadors to make the real difference between the ordinary and the awe-inspiring, the mundane and the magical, the lazily common and the effusively enchanting.
Let’s learn about the remaining five Brand Ambassadors and their superior powers -
6. THE SERVING STAR
Eating out is such a mega business and a major need / entertainment for us that these fellas, with neat aprons tucked at their waist and neater smiles sweeping their faces, have a whole lot of relevance in our dining-out times.
Personally for me, and I am sure for a whole lot of you, a good waiter is the hallmark of a good restaurant. He can make an experience reach a crescendo of satisfaction or hash it up into such a terrible incident that you would vow never to return. The server, who you meet at the entrance of the restaurant by happenstance and who escorts you to HIS table, can either serve you with delight on his deftly supported platter or can pour water over your excitement just as easily and carelessly as he would drop the bowl of curry at your table.
A good waiter will direct you to a great table with the best view, will shield you from unnecessary noise when you seek peace and quiet or point you in the direction of pulsating activity if you so desire. He will tell you what’s good, bad and ugly on the menu and offer you value for money. He will assist you in making a sensible choice in combinations, portion size, courses, wines, dessert. He will bend over backwards to get the chef to tweak his recipe to suit your palate and divide the portion by half or quarter or whatever funny size you wish it in, without as much as a grimace.
If you are a repeat guest then he will greet you by your name, would have memorized your pet’s name too, would know all about your preferences, likes, dislikes and allergies. He will announce the new arrivals on the menu, recommend the best and take you discreetly away from any bad decision you are about to make. He will be kind, courteous, pleasant and prescient and will be genuinely grateful for your visit. What’s more, he will not judge you by the tip you would have left behind. The Room Service server will be even more clued on and sincerely bring to life the over propagandized hotel maxim – a home away from home.
A bad waiter will be an absolute antithesis of all the above, will rant about you in a bad-natured manner and will bitch hugely behind your back.
7. TALL IN TOQUE
Chefs are always the celebrities amidst hotel teams. They get photographed, written about, interviewed on television and some lucky ones get to have their own columns and shows too. Such is the aura around them that one of my chef colleagues went by the creative pseudonym of Chef Picasso. As a PR lead, I have reaped rich benefits in exposure for the hotel I have represented through these wonderful people in their immaculate whites.
The media loves them; but the guests love them even more. Think Alain Ducasse, Marco Pierre White, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Ferran Adrià, even Gordon Ramsay!
Chefs lend their charisma and inimitable character to their teams, kitchens and restaurants. And great chefs always have the guests eating out of their hands. Aficionados are known to choose hotels just on the basis of the chef who wields the ladle at the place.
Talented chefs are not only great culinary artists but also excellent in their PR skills. They hobnob with the guests, get to know them and their predilections well and have such a following that it makes the job of the Sales, PR, Guest Relations, Front Office resources a lot easier. They seduce the taste buds and loyalty of the guests with sheer magic of their prowess over the pots and pans and all that cradles within.
8. JEEVES JAMBOREE
The Housekeeping attendants, laundry valet, personal butlers, the Chambermaids are the critical cogs in the wheels which must be kept well-oiled to take the hotel cart onward and forward. There is no scope for any of these significant ambassadors to drop the ball of work excellence fuelled by brand standards and guest expectation.
Films like Pretty Woman (again!), Dunstan Checks In and Home Alone – to name a few – have painted funny caricatures of staff that have shown their brands in poor light by their sloppy dispensation of tasks, misfit mindset and greedily extended palms that the guest is pestered to grease with a forcible tip.
On the other hand, well-trained team members from these essential functions with their commendable service and sensibility, have been the saving graces when the hotel has faced extraneous competition. They, with not just their commitment to the job description as set within the brand practices but by going willfully and gladly beyond the brief and call of duty, can be credited for retaining the guest and his loyalty with the hotel. Go, pick out any guest feedback book and you will instantly know what I mean.
Hence, it is extremely important how you kit out your ambassadors physically; but much more significantly - mentally and attitudinally.
A guest’s stay is so much more than the location, the building, the view, the magnificent wine list and the Michelin-starred food. At the end of the day, it is how all this is packaged and gift wrapped in the finest silk of service and tied in neatly with the bow of stellar performance provided by the team members from Housekeeping, Front Office, Food & Beverage Department, Banquetting who are always in direct contact with the guests. No amount of advertising, direct or indirect marketing, promotions and brand endorsements will save your skin if the guest does not experience a high level of operational efficiency exhibited by such shining stars of hospitality. Once you ensure that, the guest himself will become a willing part of the word-of-mouth buzz and vibe that gets generated and that usually snowballs into large numbers and larger profits.
9. SALE-ING SMOOTH OPERATOR
Hence the Sales team members must be smart, suave, smooth, sharp yet sincere, sensible and sensitized to the guests and the business environment.
Besides, it is the Sales team that the guests feel a right to complain to. It is they who spin around like an unstoppable top between Rooms and HK and F&B to ensure that the stay is glitch free and that the guest feedback is happily shared amongst the team and not dissected masochistically in the morning briefing.
10. THAT GUY IN THE CORNER OFFICE
We must concede that the behavioural chain reaction starts all the way from the top. In fact, it is an established fact that the top leader’s qualities percolate down and seep into the mental nooks of the employees and the physical crevices of the building to take on the shades of his personality. Hence it is much more important to profile the right leader and then allow him space to rev up his engines and manoeuvre his plane towards commercial success and job / guest satisfaction.
There are all kinds of General Managers who run the show – from abysmal to awesome. I cannot forget the GM of the Marriott in Washington DC who took away my damaged luggage and assured me that it would be repaired suitably by his team, while he spent precious time away from his busy schedule to brief me on the award-winning aspects of his brand. Much like him, his team members – from the lovely PR lady, the refined Rooms Division Manager to the starred Chef and the knowledgeable F&B Director - showed delight in meeting a guest and went all out to make my stay immensely pleasurable. They all seemed to mirror the GM’s personality traits which he had blended well with the Hotel chain’s values.
Then there was this Gentleman who kept apologizing for bad service in his restaurants and rooms, unacceptably bad behaviour by his staff that had no guest focus or job orientation and the general dismal state of affairs that was found in abundance at his property. Little did he know or failed to acknowledge that the buck stopped with him and that he was making a mess of managing the hotel.
To broadly define the types, there are the global leaders who love fair play and encourage amazing environment for growth and development for their teams; which the guests can instantly pick up and rejoice in. Then, there exist the control-freak, megalomaniac terrorists who create such an atmosphere of fear, power-broking, apple-polishing and de-meritocracy that the guests immediately sense the rot in the system and the rancidity in overall staff deportment. The General Managers have been famously or infamously known to attract guests to the Brand or Pied Piper them away to Competition.
The bottom line of your hotel is directly impacted by the bonds you build with the guests and how you bind them - with your employee-centric best practices - into your brand’s fold.
In hotels, the significance of the outer personality meshed with inner base of skill, know-how and nous is to the power of ten as compared to a lot other industries. From hair to head and what lies within, face to frame of mind, appearance to attitude, gait to gumption, character to couture in brand attire, affability to availability for long, long hours, patience to penchant for finding excitement in the monotonously mundane……….. the hotelier must be able in mind and capable physically to walk the tight rope with as much flair and panache as exhibited by a sterling circus trapeze artist.
If I love The Pierre so much to this date and have made it my Preferred Hotel in New York then it is not the 30th floor Princess Suite with the breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline that I stayed in and all the other uber luxe trappings from soap to shoeshine; but the champion employees – the enchanting Doorman, the cheerful Concierge who exuded his Brand’s warmth, the well-informed Front Office Assistant who took time and pains to urge me to skip the City Bus and take a Walking Tour, going that extra mile to write out an elaborate route map so descriptive and easy to follow that I am yet to see a better one.
Let us, then, endeavour to have these Brand Ambassadors work in tandem with the Brand and the demands of business and not move against the current.
PS - Picture courtesy - Google Images
Tuesday, 11 June 2013
If you take a spot survey with me and ask me to name my most favourite hotel then I am very likely to name the one with the impressive Doorman who swept me off my feet. Not only did he show commitment to his role but also imbued it with a lot of pride. And the least favourite! Well! one with the chauffeur who showed no class, no affiliation with the Brand he stood for and in whom the Company had failed to put the mandatory training hours. What a miserable failure he was and, through him, his Company.
Regardless of what the ‘badshahs’ (emperors) of Brand Management will have you believe, it is not the smooth-operating Marketing Head who has been perfecting his and his team’s moves to net the customer(s) or the pretty and saccharine pleasant Guest Relations Manager who is equipped to lay the honey trap. No! not the slicker of a Public Relations Director with all the slippery-savvy PR spiel with which to ensnare the guests, the flamboyantly suave Food & Beverage flapper-jabber who excels in pandering to all the senses with richly loaded platters of ethereal pleasure or even the Owner who aims to put his buck and bravado where his Company’s bottom line is.
The power to make or break your brand lies with a handful of F.O.T.H (Front of the House) and B.O.T.H (Back of the House) team members who cater to the basics of a guest’s experience with your brand; from the moment the guest arrives to the length of his stay and beyond.
Hotels are a vibrant industry – as temperamental, moody, fun, idiosyncratic, and eccentric – as the people who make the structure throb and come alive. And that presents a unique challenge to those who are responsible for ensuring that the brand personality seeps into each employee optimally for a cohesive representation of the brand. Ask the Training and Human Resource fellas and they will tell you how much sleep they lose over beating, shaping, moulding, clubbing a delightfully eclectic mix into a unified cookie-cutter, strait-jacketed, assembly line incarnations of the Brand.
So, let’s take a closer look at these folks who hold the power of the Hotel’s universe in their very able hands.
1. THE WELCOMING PARTY
One of the most important Brand Ambassadors of your hotel is your hotel’s first contact with the guests – the Airport Representative. How the guest is accorded the ‘meet & greet’ service, how is he assisted, how comfortable are the lady travellers made, how smoothly, swiftly is the entire act of receiving, welcoming, escorting played out is at the centre of this preface. The guest is identified correctly, greeted by name, made to feel at ease on his first or nth visit, welcomed back warmly as extended family on his return visit, helped with passport, visa, disembarkation, extra baggage, customs formalities – the Airport Representative does all this and more; making the arrival a delightful touchdown after a tiresome long haul or annoying short haul flight.
It is the Airport Manager, with his excellent contacts within the Airports, enviable understanding of the goings on, change in policies, recent developments in the Airline industry and his training as a significant hotel-to-guest contact, who sets the tone for a great or grey stay for the guest.
Remember that avuncular, well-mannered, warm and friendly just-to-the-right-degree Chauffeur in Pretty Woman who extends the finest courtesy to Vivian Ward in spite of the way she is dressed? Do you recall how he stays completely non-judgemental and guest-focussed regardless of the known fact about Vivian’s trade and goes enthusiastically beyond the brief to seal the liaison between the two love birds? Well! he truly personified the finest Brand Ambassador a hotel can dream of or train and retain.
From my own experience, I have run the gamut from the pros in fine fettle to those failing to a fault with a few square pegs thrown in between. I have been driven royally from Manhattan to JFK Airport in a luxury sedan by a delightful man; asked about my choice of music, comfort with temperature within the car cabin, choice of magazine and a drink of Evian. I have found myself cooped amidst the flawed interiors that reeked of grime, sweat, socks and a very musty uniform with manners that jarred. Then there has been that brief association with the Driver who spoke nineteen to the dozen at the wee hour of the morning when he picked me up from the KTM station in KL with an overfriendly demeanour that tested my patience.
When hotels pay a lot of attention to the wheels they choose to represent their Brand – from the latest models of Mercedes, Ford, BMW, Honda CRV or even good old remodelled Ambassadors – equal attention must be paid to the captain who will steer the ship to success with the guest. From the spic and span crispness of the uniform to the perfect p’s and q’s of conduct, product knowledge, positive perspective that is eager to serve but is never servile and a zealous compliance with service standards, the hotel chauffeur can have the guest in turn doff his hat admirably at this fine example of a brand embodiment.
3. THE SCINTILLATING SENTINEL
There is something really magical about the tall, turbaned Doormen of The Raffles in Singapore and The Oberoi and The Imperial in New Delhi, India. Not only are these Sikh gentlemen large, pillar like guards to the hotel but are also the most gregarious, charming, sincere and larger than life direct-guest-contact members of the team. They help to draw the guests in and create a friendly first impression. They pull the guests into a comfort zone of familiarity with a know-you-from-before effortless conversation that guests seem to strike with them with utter ease. Above all, they convey a sense of security with their bear-like burliness. Perhaps that is why these gentlemen have become brands in themselves; literally iconic figures that the hotel finds absolutely irreplaceable. They have been some of the most photographed by the visiting guests and have had their mugs framed in hotel postcards sold in the hotel’s souvenir shops or tucked away in the guest compendium.
The Doorman who stood guard at The Pierre – then a Four Seasons Hotel – in the summer of 2001 has made such a strong impression on me that I have written about him often and put him down as a case study in my training papers. While on a Rotary fellowship, I was travelling through the United States on a shoe-string budget; hence my transportation of choice from Newark Airport to the heart of Fifth Avenue was not expensive cabs but affordable public carrier. As I stepped down at The Pierre’s porch from a far less than perfect bus, I showed trepidation and an oversized hint of hesitation. But not the majestic Doorman as he extended his gloved hand to help me get down from the bus and whisked away my baggage ever so discreetly. He welcomed me with the most heart-warming smile and ushered me inside the hotel into the very hospitable and efficient hands of the Front Desk. His respect towards the guest and overall pleasantness stayed professional and un-shifting, whether he saw me alighting from a public transport or hobnobbing with his super boss – the dapper General Manager. I think that is class and highly evolved standards of service that his Brand has benchmarked and instilled in him.
In direct contrast have been Doormen of a clutch of hotels who size up the guests from the clothes they wear, the cars they come in and also whether they drive it themselves or are driven in. I once had a journalist friend complain sorely about one such Sentry who was a complete anti-worker to the Brand philosophy we were trying to espouse. He, with his ogre like bearing, displayed a condescending bias against the important guest only because she had decided to take an auto rickshaw to the hotel and walk up to the porch. This is such a big reason for the GM, RDM, Training Manager and Director – HR to get into a huddle and relook at the best practices blueprint with the biggest lens in hand.
4. FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
The sparkling Bellboys with their trademark pillbox hats and spiffy uniforms at The Peninsula in Hong Kong are legendary.
The Imperial in New Delhi, when it repositioned and re-launched itself as one of the finest hotels in Asia, chalked out a template for its Bellgirls with the effort put into choosing the right profile, height (same height for aesthetic consistency), same features and remarkable disposition so that they could usher in a gust of positive chi into the hotel along with the guests. The formula turned out to be so successful that it became a conversation starter for the guests who just loved to be greeted by the bubbly bellgirls. It also became a great story pitch with the media for as long as the idea stayed novel.
The Bellboys and Bellgirls, as one of the first points of contact for the guest, should help seal the guest association with their strong information base, affability, easy approachability and a fine tuned frame of mind that is pegged at effortless devotion to duty.
5. THE GOLDEN KEYS
The Concierge need not be Les Clefs d’Or decorated to be one of the luminary performers in the scheme of superlative service at hotels.
Two of the essential qualities that should be central to a Concierge’s role are charm and compassion – the first helps build a bridge with the guest and the second creates an indelible bond.
The Concierge team must be the right mix of friendly, charming, warm and pleasant such that any guest – Asian or African, Western or from the Indigenous tribes of the world – should find them accessible and forthcoming.
Not just the product awareness, the Concierge must know the City (and in many cases the Country) like the back of their hand.
I once worked with Steve, the Head Concierge at our Hotel who incidentally is also India’s first Concierge to be dressed with the Golden keys by the international Les Clefs d’Or. Steve was so zealous about his task that he was always eager to collaborate with me for putting out interesting information for the hotel guests in unique ways. With him, nay, for him, I began the weekly Concierge letter that he would come knocking on my office door for every Friday. He was so keen to over deliver and capture the A-ha moments with his guests that he was forever reading up on new information and looking up for any and every guest contact opportunity to learn just what would they want, what could they want and when.
Where to get the suit put together in a hurry, which seamstress can remake a Dior gown, where can a pink elephant be sourced for a kiddie party, which places are best to enjoy the local cuisine in, where do you get authentic pearls, jades and rubies, what’s the best antidote for a spot of seasonal allergy or a local insect bite and which store will stock it, who sells the best souvenirs and also gives the best deal, what are the local no-nos to watch out for, what is safe and what is just not worth the guest’s time, where to buy branded luggage, high-end watches or couture or where to shop for artisanal products or essential oils, is there a play, musical or movie that is highly recommended, how to pack more in a little time and what all little things to relish so as to fill out an extended stay most optimally – the Concierge is a store house and Mr. Know-it-all of all this information and much more.
From Agony Aunts, tour guide, confidante, to information Mnemonic and super fixer – the Concierge must play out these roles with élan and expertise.
In Part 2 of this article we will look at the remaining five superstars who infuse the hotel with their brilliant energy! Sadly, they also have the muscle to diffuse and squander away all the goodness and goodwill with a counter-productive mix of wrong training, dismal output and marred temperament towards their roles and the setting they are meant to deliver in.
PS - Picture courtesy - Google Images
Monday, 3 June 2013
Hence it is essential to understand what are these buildings all about where we spend anywhere between 10-12 hours of our waking time and 5-6 days of our week (depending on which part of the world you work in).
As we all know, the buildings are much more than edifices of mortar, glass and steel, in so many cases, designed by award-winning companies. They are actually living things that breathe, inhale and exhale energy and embody characteristics and emotions mirroring all of us who come in and work here. What essentially forms the baseline of these buildings is three important constituent elements – the livewire organizations, the complex set of colleagues we work with and ‘WE’ ourselves who bring in our unique disposition to the matrix, sometimes maddening but always mindful of all these elements.
And hotels are a world into themselves – being so hugely people-centric, both on the inside and out. It is a people business like no other, such that for it to be a successful and harmonious venture there must be thoroughly trained and rightly attuned ladies and gentlemen serving discerning ladies and gentlemen (borrowing from and re-phrasing Ritz Carlton Hotel Company’s Rule of Business).
Therefore, it becomes imperative to understand what kind of organizations would we like to work in - a progressive organization where we can achieve more or would we rather stay put in a mediocre one, striving to improve it? One that buzzes with happy employees and happier guests! Or one where the only thing that attracts the guests is the off-season discounts.
We all have worked in both kinds of organisations. There, really, is no ideal organisation and every place has its mixed dynamics as much as there are a mesh of people who work there and bring in their set of values, drives and energies adding to or depleting the corporate culture.
I used to lament about the deep-rooted politics, credit-stealing, clique driven and yes-man culture in one of my previous hotels. And now when my niece talks of her experience with a Swiss MNC or a progressively Indian Legal Services / Development sector and my husband brings his woes from the Consumer Durables line of business, I notice that things are not very different. And that the more the companies may be different in their areas and appeal, the more they are the same in their cultural dynamics. In the hospitality industry, the issue is compounded by the power of ten. After all, it is a business of the people, by the people, for the people; to shamelessly borrow from one of Abraham Lincoln’s famous thoughts.
I am sure, most of us want to work with wonderfully progressive organisations with utopian work environments without realising that each of us are essential cogs in the corporate wheel. We as micro components and as a whole make the hotel what it is – whether in tandem or in conflict with the hotel’s parent philosophy.
My experience says that we need to do a lot of internalization and introspection in order to make our organisations optimum places to be in. So, the buck must stop with us and not the Hotel owner, Corporate Training Manager, the General Manager or our Department Head.
Colleagues and the Culture they help Create
There are great and efficient workers with questionable personal attributes.
There are excellent people with poor set of work related skills.
There are pathetic workers with deplorable personas, AND
There are wonderful, top notch colleagues with exemplary attitudes.
No organisation is immune to this awesomely complex and intriguing foursome of categories.
Our response to them, our kinetics of equations at work and the interconnected web of relationships therein is a result of the chain of reactions set off by each of these conductors. Isn't it???
We ourselves – The Power of One
What single-most important quality should underline the personality that defines our professional identity and that would help us row our career boat in smooth waters avoiding choppy waves?
Here's my pick - It is definitely, Passion, Zeal, Enthusiasm, fire in the belly........or any other name that you may call it by.
Passion for one’s work ensures that the tiller paves smoothly all the paths that lead to his work or Goal. Be it, then, the path of wisdom or desire or honesty or punctuality or efficiency or being not just able to lead but also always blend well with the team.
And because one has the passion, it certainly means that one has made sure that the essential requisites that arm him well for the road ahead - such as education or experience - are well honed.
Likewise, while passion can make people feel flighty, it still is going to ensure that for the success to be achieved again and again, shades of wisdom are roundly and squarely employed.
Finally, if it weren't for passion, then serendipity, creative genius, excellence, going beyond the brief and the marvel in the mundane would well be lost.
And keeping all the three cogs of the big wheel well oiled and continuously serviced will ensure a smooth and long professional ride in a self-promoted conducive work environment; colour, caste, creed, character, cultural mooring notwithstanding.
Yet, having said all this, when the going gets really tough (and absolutely against your grain) then the tough get going (to find another place under the sun)! Perhaps that beach resort in Belize, a luxury Spa in Phuket, the mountain top hotel in Swiss Alps, a Palace in India or a Wildlife Sanctuary in South Africa. A quick word of caution here – the essence of the hotel organization will be no different whether you are in an exotic land or by the banks of an azure sea. Remember what Abraham Lincoln said, albeit in a different context!
PS - Image courtesy - Google Images