Hotel Maintenance Staff Can Be Ambassadors of Hotel Hospitality – By Doug Kennedy

When we as hotel managers picture hospitality superstars, we tend to envision the ‘traditional’ ambassadors of hotel guest service excellence, which are the smiling faces behind the front desk, bell stand, guest services/concierge, housekeeping lobby attendants, or perhaps the waitstaff and bartenders.

Yet when you stop to consider which hotel associates actually spend the longest period of time interacting with in-house gusts, it becomes evident that the associates from the departments we call maintenance or engineering actually have by far the most lengthy interactions. On top of this, their interactions are arguably of the most significant importance. Why? When the maintenance staff is called into action it is almost always due to a problem with the guest’s accommodation. More often than not they knock on the door to find a guest who is at best annoyed with the interruption, or worse, a guest who is already emotionally charged.

Ironically, due to “user error,” often the very person who is solely responsible for the problem which caused the call to maintenance, is also the very person answering the knock at the door from the responding maintenance technician.

In conducting hotel-wide hospitality training over the years, and in my own personal travels for business and leisure, I have had a chance to meet numerous guest service superstars from this department who have impressed me with their commitment to excellence.

In this month’s column I will share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned from workshop participants and also other lessons I’ve learned as a guest in need.

– Show up quickly! If there are delays in responding, contact the guest to let them know when you can reach them.

– Greet the guest and introduce yourself. Rather than saying, “Hi, air conditioning broken?” say “Hello I’m John from maintenance. I’m sorry to hear you’ve had a challenge with the A/C and I’m here to fix that for you.”

– Listen interactively. When encountering guests who are reacting emotionally, it is important to give them a chance to vent their frustration by allowing them to tell their “story” of the problem and how it has inconvenienced them.

– Empathize and apologize. As evidenced by reading online guest reviews and guest comment cards/surveys, guests seem to get more upset about the staff’s reaction to the problem, rather than the problem itself. How many times have you read a guest comment such as: “What went wrong during our stay was…. But what really was upsetting was that no one seemed to care and no one apologized.”

– For properties with specific guest parking spaces outside of each accommodation, take note of the state listed on the guest’s license plates. This gives you a great chance to express interest in their home state or perhaps comment on recent sports teams from that state. (Just be sure not to talk about politics, even if you agree with the messages on their bumper stickers!)

– Always avoid blaming other staff, departments, or managers. Statements such as “They put you in this room?” or “We’ve had so many problems with these new TV’s they just installed” only serve to infuriate guests that much more.

– Interact positively with the children,. Most are curious as to what the maintenance technician is up to and will want to watch attentively when safety allows.

– Take ownership of the “physical product.” Maintenance and engineering staff are also out and about the hotel more than most other staff. This creates a great opportunity to help pick-up trash, straighten picture frames, and putting out wet floor signs when spills are noticed.

– Anticipate guest needs. I was recently staying at a vacation rental home during the off season. The water was still off for the season when I checked-in. When maintenance arrived shortly after my call, the technician quickly fixed the water. He also then offered to check other features that might have been off for the season, such as the temperature of the refrigerator, the gas line hook-up to the outdoor grill, and to turn on the Jacuzzi.

Go above and beyond when possible. Recently I was staying at a resort for my daughter’s sleepover birthday where I was alone the first night with 5 kids. After paying $10 for AA batteries for her new toy, I realized I also needed a screwdriver. Right away a maintenance tech came to our room with the tool. It was then I discovered that I actually needed AAA batteries and had bought the wrong size. Rather than making me run back to the gift shop, (about ½ mile away, not to mention another $10) he went back to the office and returned shortly with the correct size batteries and we simply exchanged them.

Of course, one external key to their success is the person who fields the maintenance service requests. It is important for them to ask the right questions to “triage” the guest’s problem or concern. Often times by asking the right questions when the call comes in a maintenance call can be avoided.

In today’s world, a hotel’s level of guest service and hospitality is increasingly transparent to current and potential guests, due to the astonishing number of online guest reviews and social network postings being made and read every day. In planning your next round of hospitality training, be sure to consider the important contribution the maintenance or engineering department technicians can. With a little focus on hospitality, your future guests will be writing messages like…. “What went wrong was this… but we were amazed that a short time later Chris showed up to turn things around for us!”

– Doug Kennedy
– February 20, 2010

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