Communications is vital to front office operations, because nearly everything that happens in a hotel affects the front office, and vice versa. All functions of the font office rely in part on clear communications. Front office staff must communicate effectively with one another, with personnel in other departments and divisions, and with guests. Effective communication is a prerequisite to an efficient front office. This chapter examines the importance of communication and several ongoing responsibilities of the front office.
Front Office communications
Communication involves more than memorandums, face-to-face conversations, and electronic messages sent over computer workstations. Effective front office communication also involves the use of transaction files, information directories, internal and external networks, search engines, and mail and telephone procedures. The complexity of front office communication tends to be directly related to the number of guestrooms and the size and extent of the hotels public areas and facilities. The larger the hotel and the more people involved, the more complex the communication network. Even in small hotels, establishing and maintaining communication links can complex.
Communications takes many forms in a hotel, but none is more important than how hotel employees communicate with guests. Guest communications must present a professional, positive image for the hotel, whether they are in person, over the telephone, or online. The proper greeting, attitude, and follow up all set expectations and influence how guests perceive the hotel. For example, when staff members answer the telephone, it is appropriate for them to provide and informative and warm greeting. Using an introduction such as “Thank you for calling the Casa Vana Hotel. This is Emily. Provides a warm to the caller. By contrast, answering with “Casa Vana Hotel” may seem cold or abrupt and fail to create an impression of hospitality. The same applies to departmental calls witting the hotel. A warm greeting, such as “Thank you for calling the Casa Vana Reservations Office. This is Brad. Is a much more professional greeting than simply answering with “Reservations”. It provides a greeting, identifies who is speaking and offered service, all in concise expression.
When calling, a guest it is also important to introduce yourself and give reason for the call. For example: “Good afternoon, Mr. Wilson. This is Greg at the front desk. I’m calling to follow up on the service request you made this morning to repair the room’s air conditioning system. Is it working to your satisfaction now? With this approach, Mr. Wilson knows who is calling and why the call is being made. Also it’s less likely that he will consider the call an intrusion, since Greg made it clear that the call is in response to Mr. Wilson’s prior request.
Face- to- face communication is just an s important. Unlike telephone communication, where works and tone of voice alone determine how the message is received, face-to-face communications also includes body language and eye contact. Guests do not respond well when hotel employees don’t look at them when they are trying to communicate. Guests checking in at the front desk may become irritated when the front desk agents look only at their computer screens and note at them, for example. Guests respond well when hotel employees convey a sense of interest, confidence, and honesty. This is done through proper language, a professional demeanor, and an attitude of hospitality.
Front desk agents may keep a transaction file (if they are using an automatic front office system) or manually keep a log book (if they are using a non-automated system) so that all front office staff members can have access to a record of important events and decisions that occurred during previous work shifts. A typical front office transaction file (sometimes referred to as ‘a concierge file”) is a chronological journal that lists unusual events, guest complaints or requests, and other relevant information. Front desk agents make entries to the transaction file throughout a work shift. These notes should be clearly entered in a prescribed format or template, so they serve as effective reference material for the next front office shift.
Before beginning their shift, front desk supervisors and agents should review the transaction file, noting any current activities, situations that require follow-up or potential problems. For example, a front desk agent on the morning shift might record that the guest phoned requesting maintenance or housekeeping services. The agent should also note what action was taken to resolve the situation, if one was taken and completed. Notations become an important link in the communication network that informs employees on subsequent shifts of previous happenings. The front office transaction file should detail what happened, why, and when. After reviewing these notes, the front desk agent on duty can respond intelligently if the guest contacts the front desk for follow-up.
When entries are made in the transaction file concerning guest requests, it appropriate for the person who noted the request to personally follow through, if possible. For example, if a guest calls the front desk to request extra towels in his or her room, the agent who took the call should check with the guest later in the day to ensure that the towels were delivered. If the agent who took the initial call cannot make the follow-up-call, it should be made by an agent working the very next shift. Sometimes it’s not possible to respond to a guest’s request until the following day. In that case, the guest should be told at the time the request is made when action will be taken. Providing no information makes guests fee uneasy and often irritated. Once the guest’s request has been fulfilled, and entry should be made in the transaction file showing that the follow-up-call was made and how the guest responded to it. It is important to always leave enough space in the transaction file to (1) record the final action taken concerning the guest request, or (2) communicate with other hotel departments, if follow-up action on their part is required. This is the most efficient way for the next shift of front office agents to know if additional action must be taken.
The front office transaction file is also important to management. It helps management understand the activity of the front desk and it records ongoing issues. For example, if there are recurring problems with housekeeping or engineering issues, one of the best ways to identify these problems is through notes in the front office transaction file. Also, should there be any guest complaints, compliments, or unusual activity, the transaction file explains what happened and how it was handled or resolved.
Using the transaction file is much better approach than receiving a negative rating on a guest survey and having the hotel’s guest satisfaction score decline because of something that could have been successfully handled during the guest’s stay, if the transaction file had been filled out and consulted correctly.
Front office staff must be able to respond in a knowledgeable way when guest contact the front desk for information. Common guest questions involve:
- Local restaurant recommendations
- Contacting transportation companies, including taxi, limousine, and airport shuttle companies
- Direction to a business or office building
- Direction to a shopping center, drugstore, or gas station
- Direction to a place of worship
- Direction to a bank or automated teller machine
- Directions to a theater, stadium, or ticket agency
- Direction to a university, library, museum, or other point of interest
- Directions to a district court, police station , city hall
- Information about hotel policies (for example, check in time, check out time, or rules concerning pets)
- Information about the hotel’s recreational facilities or those near the hotel.
The front office information directory may include simplified maps of the area, taxi and airline company telephone numbers; bank, theater, church, and store locations; information about local restaurants (including their menus) and special event schedules.
Some hotels have installed automated information terminals or kiosks in their lobbies and other public areas. Information kiosks are the electronic equivalent of front office information directory. Information kiosks are easily accessed by agents to attend to other guest needs.
Many hotels provide a scheduled of daily events through the television system or information display panels. A common industry term for the device used to display daily events is the reader board. Information on a reader board usually includes the names of groups staying at the hotel and their meeting room(s), desk, in elevators, in the lobby, and in the meeting room section of the hotel; reader board information may be displayed on a guestroom television channel as well (this helps reduce the volume of information requests at the front desk) Display monitors may be place in convenient locations so that guests can review the list of daily events scrolling on the screen. Interfacing the electronic reader board system with the hotel’s sales and catering system allows the information to be updated automatically by the sales and catering system instead of manually.
Group Resume Book/File
In convention hotels, it is also common to have group resume book or electronic file at the front desk. Each group staying in the hotel has a summary in the booked or file of its activities, billing instructions, key attendees, recreational arrangements arrival and departure pattern, and other important information. Some hotels prefer to store the resumes by group name. Many hotels make the group resume book or file required reading for front desk and unformed staff at the beginning of each work shift. Front desk staff members should familiarize themselves with the resumes of all incoming groups to be sure they know what arrangements have been made. In addition, front desk staff members should familiarize themselves with the resumes of all incoming group to be sure they know where the group resume book or file is located so that any questions concerning the group can be answered quickly and correctly. Prior to a group checking in, it is common to have a pre-convention meeting, or Pre-Con. The hotel catering or convention services manager responsible for the group usually leads the meeting. Group resumes are usually distributed and reviewed at these meetings. Group leaders attend these meetings along with key hotel managers. Last-minute changes are discussed and any outstanding issues are resolved prior to the group’s arrival. The managers are then expected to return to their department and familiarize their staffs with the information on the resume.
A frequent guest concern involves understanding group billing arrangements. Most property management systems have the ability to monitor group room and non-room charges and to allocate charges to predetermined accounts (if desired). For example, it is common for corporate meeting planners to require that the room and tax portion of every guest bill be forwarded to the group master account, while directing that incidental charges (for telephone service, laundry service, alcoholic beverages, in-room refreshments, and entertainment fees) be paid by the guests. Property management systems can be programmed to automatically split folio charges according to the specifications of the group’s coordinator or representative. However, guest may not understand these arrangements. By having a group resume book or file, the front office agent can quickly verify billings arrangements and direct the guest to the group leader for further clarification, if necessary.
The group resume book or file should be kept current and should include not only the resumes of groups currently at the hotel, but also the resumes for groups due to arrive within a few days and groups that have departed within the past week. By having the resumes of groups arriving in the near future, the fron office group expects an early arrival pattern, or many requests for late departures following a meeting, these facts should be in the resume, so the front office manage can plan for these events. Maintaining resumes in the book or file for departed groups helps the front office manager refer to group arrangements should departed guest telephone with questions concerning billing or other arrangements.
Mail and package Handling
Registered guests rely on the front office to relay delivered mail and packages quickly and efficiently. Front office managers normally develop policies for mail and package handling based on the policies and regulations supplied by Post Fiji . In general, the front office is expected to time-stamp all guest mail when it arrives at the property. Doing so documents the date and time that the mail was received in case a question arises about when the mail arrived or how quickly the guest was notified of its arrival. When mail and packages arrive, front records should be checked to verify that the guest is currently registered, is due to check in, or has checked out. Different mail handling procedures should be prescribed for each of these three circumstances. Usually mail for a registered guest is held at the front office in the appropriate room slot in a mail and message rack or in an alphabetical rack by the guest’s last name. At one time, keys and mail were kept behind the front desk in view of guests and other hotel visitors. Due to security issues, these items are now maintained out of sight behind the front desk. This approach prevents other people from learning that a particular room is occupied because there is mail has been received. Some properties notify guests by turning on an in-room message light on the guestroom telephone; others deliver a printed form to the guestroom. If mail arrives for a guest who had not yet registered, a notation should be made on the guest’s reservation record and the mail held until the guest arrives. Guest mail that is not picked up or has arrived for a guest who has already checked out should be time-stamped a second time and returned to its sender or sent to a forwarding address if the guest has provided one. Guest may also receive registered letters, express mail packages, or other mail requiring a signature on delivery.
Most hotels provide in-room local and long distant telephone service hours a day. Regardless of whether front desk agents or telephone system operators answer incoming calls, all employees answering calls should be courteous and helpful. The telephone is often the first point of contact with the hotel, and the way that callers are treated does a lot to create the hotel’s image. Front office management may restrict the type of information the front office staff may furnish to callers, because of guest privacy and security issues.
Facsimile – or faxes are usually treated like mail, but with special care. The fax document usually contains the date and time of transmission. Confidentially of the contents is essential. Faxes should always be treated as confidential; front desk staff members should never read a fax. It is their job to deliver the document.
Wake-Up-Service – Since a guest may miss an important appointment, a flight, or simply a head start on a vacation by oversleeping, front desk agents must pay special attention to wake up call requests.
Email – Many hotel business guests have e-mail capability where they work, and an increasing number of guests want to be able to send and receive e-mail at hotels.
TDDs. – A special hotel guest service involves telecommunications devices for the deaf (TDDs) for hearing and/or speech-impaired travelers. A TDD is a specially designed piece of equipment for placing and conducting telephone calls.
Call Broadcast – Many hotels have a call broadcast feature on their telephone equipment that allows them to make calls to all guestrooms listed as occupied.
Many services in a hotel require coordination between the front office and other department or divisions. The front office generally exchanges most of its information with personnel in the housekeeping and engineering and maintenance departments. Front desk agents should also recognize how influential their advice to guest can be, relative to the hotel’s revenue centers.
The housekeeping department staff and the front office staff must keep each other informed of changes in room status to ensure that guests are roomed efficiently and without complication. The more familiar front office staff is with housekeeping procedures, and vice versa, the smoother the relationship will be between the two departments. Housekeeping must know the status of every room and all guest requests. In most cases, PMS have workstations in housekeeping offices that provide the staff with up-to-the minute information on arrivals and departures. However, it is still very common for front desk agents to call housekeeping with requests, whether for extra towels for a guestroom or to tidy up the lobby. The front office and housekeeping manager should meet frequently to review upcoming hotel activities. For example if the hotel is expecting a large check-out and check-in on the same day, the front office manager and housekeeping manager should discuss what priorities should be set for arriving guests and stay overs. Special requests, like VIP rooms, are very important since the hotel does not want to inconvenience or give bad impressions to VIP’s
Engineering and Maintenance
In many hotels, engineering and maintenance personnel begin each shift by examining the front office log book for repair work orders. Front desk agents use the log book to track maintenance problems reported by guests or staff, such as poor heating or cooling, faulty plumbing, noisy equipment, or broken furniture. The front office log book serves as an excellent reference for the hotel’s engineering and maintenance staff.
Although hotels enjoy their greatest revenue through guestroom sales, additional service and activities may support or boost overall profitability. In addition to the rooms division, hotel revenue centers may include:
• All day dining rooms, snack bars, and specialty restaurants
• Bars, lounges and nightclubs
• Rooms service
• Business centers
• Laundry/valet service
• Vending machines
• Gift shops, barbershops and newsstands
• Banquet, meeting and catering facilities
• Local and long-distant telephone service
• Health clubs, golf courses, and exercise rooms
• Car rentals, golf courses, and exercise rooms
• Car rentals, limousine service, and tours
• Pay-per-view television movies
Guests frequently learn about these services and facilities through the hotel’s Web site, printed directory, or advertising over the guestroom television. Front desk agents and unformed staff members must also be familiar with these facilities and services so they can answer guest questions in a positive and knowledgeable way. The transactions charged to room accounts by guest at hotel restaurants and gift shops, and other remote points of sale must be communicated to the front desk in a timely manner to ensure prompt payment and avoid late charges.