Quality is a concept that is needed to be a part of any business activity in today’s competitive environment. It is probably the most important factor in deciding an organization’s survival and growth. Business leaders all over the world have acknowledged this as a necessity. As a result many programs and processes that help to implement quality management in organizations have evolved over the years. The concept of total quality management and Kaizen are few of the examples. Many benchmarking schemes too like the ISO series too have developed over the years. One industry within the service sector where quality is paramount is the hotel industry.
It involves keeping people happy and satisfied. Human nature is complex and due to its inherent nature, maintaining quality is a challenge in the hotel industry. But there are a lot of success stories where effective implementation of quality management programmes has resulted in a positively changed customer perception of the organization. But there are also concerns that quality implementation does not have the required effect in many cases.
Another problem is that a hotel has many departments each having different levels of direct contact with customers and guests. One of the most important areas in a hotel with regard to customer satisfaction is the front office in general and the front desk in particular. This is primarily because the first area that an outsider comes into contact with when entering a hotel is the front desk. The quality of the front desk personnel will determine whether a person will become a guest or leave the place in search of better accommodation. This area also seen to suffer from ineffective implementation of quality management programs and initiatives.
This paper is a study of effectiveness of quality management programs (TQM) with regard to the front desk of hotels. The hypothesis is that quality management programs are not very successful with regard to the front desk area in hotels. It is proposed to conduct a literature review and primary research in order to confirm this hypothesis.
To critically evaluate the current literature and show why many hotels around the world of quality management on the front desk fail to give better customer service.
In the process the following areas also will be studied. The advantages and disadvantages of quality management implementation with regard to management and staff of a hotel will be reviewed. It will also review how quality management can help created better standard operating procedures.
Rationalization for the study – Importance of the hotel industry
The only possible option for a traveller to a city in case it is an overnight visit is to stay in a hotel or visit a relative or friend. The second and third option is possible only if they are available and are willing to put up with a guest. It may also happen that the traveller may not like disturbing them and opt for a hotel instead. People visit places for a variety of reasons that include activities like business, tourism, leisure, employment etc.
In cities and towns where such visits are huge, it is the hotel industry that provides the necessary sub-service to all the reasons (for visit) given above. Of course, many homesteads offer some of the services (like bed and food), but they are too few to cater to all the visitors arriving there. Due to these reasons, many sectors of the economy view hotels as important service providers. For example, a trade organization will definitely need the assistance of hotels in conducting a large international conference.
A company or corporation will need the help of hotels to accommodate customers and travelling executives. “There is also outside interest in the industry by other bodes such as trade unions and consumer groups that are also looking to the future and recognizing the growing importance of the hotel industry”. Trade unions, individuals, local governing bodies, and the government view hotels as an important source of employment and livelihood for a lot of persons. Since it is solely a service oriented industry, hotels have to have more staff to say a factory of a supermarket. Another factor is that a visitor to a city or town is likely to spend money on other areas like consumables and local artefacts.
Large number of visitors means that this practice of spending will benefit the whole economy of the area. The number and quality of the hotels in a particular region or country can swing an external business decision to its favour. In other words, a city with good hotels can get the opportunity to host a business conference even if it does not compare favourably in terms of other factors like location or distance. “Hotels also play a pivotal role in attempts to regenerate urban cores, and recreated heritage sites, as cities attempt to reverse the ravages of deindustrialization and restructure their economic base”.
The importance of the hotel industry to the UK economy can be seen from the fact that the government had provided special assistance to this industry during the late 1960s’. This special assistance was provided to improve the conditions of the hotels in the UK at that time. “In the service sector there was also discrimination in favour of the hotel industry through the 1969 Development of Tourism Act, part of which provided grants and loans for improvements and extensions to existing hotels in the UK, under the Hotel Improvement Scheme”.
The above mentioned Act is in place even today, primarily for improving tourist facilities in the country and to make their (tourists) stay in the country as comfortable and affordable as possible. This is “An Act to provide for the establishment of a British Tourist Authority and Tourist Boards for England, Scotland and Wales with responsibility for promoting the development of tourism to and within Great Britain; to provide for the giving of financial assistance out of public funds for the provision of new hotels and the extension, alteration and improvement of existing hotels; to enable provision to be made for the registration of hotels and other establishments at which sleeping accommodation is provided by way of trade or business and for securing that the prices charged there for such accommodation are brought to the notice of persons seeking to avail themselves of it; and for connected purposes”.
But this improvement benefits all the guests coming to the hotel and not just the tourists alone. Improvements of the existing hotels in the country naturally include improvements in front office and front desk operations also. Unless the front desk improves, positive changes in other areas will largely be unseen. Lack of a good front office and front desk may result in travellers not registering and booking rooms in the hotel at all. Unless they occupy rooms, changes in other areas cannot be experienced. The importance of front office and front desk in the day to day operations of a hotel is discussed in detail in the next section.
The front office and front desk
One of the most important functions in running a good hotel is to have an efficient front office and front desk. This is obvious due to the fact that it is inevitably the first place that a guest will see when he or she approaches the hotel. “The front desk has always held a pivotal position of importance in the lodging operation. It is one of the first points of contact with the guest, and, as such, its ambience sets the tone for the hotel”.
The first step that a person who plans to stay in a hotel is to approach the front desk and ask for a room. In case a previous booking has been made, the approach will be to ask for the room that has been booked. Hence this section will discuss in detail, the requirements of an ideal front desk and front office. A well planned and effective quality control and management program should positively improve all these areas of operations.
When a person approaches the front desk, the feelings that should be apparent to him or her should be with regard to safety, importance, and professionalism on the part of the management and staff. For example, if the lobby of the hotel is filled with unsavoury characters, the customer may feel that the hotel is not a safe place to stay. The dress and manner of behaviour of the front desk staff can also create a big impression with regard to importance and professionalism. The staff can respectfully address the customer and make him feel that his business is important to the hotel. Their behaviour can also provide an idea of whether the hotel is run in a professional manner.
In normal circumstances, there are four distinct phases with regard to a customer and the hotel. They are pre-arrival, arrival, occupancy, and departure. (The guest cycle, Page 46). The front office has a lot to do with three of these phases, namely pre-arrival, arrival, occupancy, and departure. Pre-arrival usually happens when a guest communicates with the hotel with regard to availability and booking of a room. Nowadays, most reputed hotel rooms can be booked through a variety of media like the telephone, email, travel agents, airline companies, and online booking. Arrival of course happens when the customer physically reaches the hotel.
Once the formalities are done, the next obvious step is occupancy which will vary in accordance to the purpose of the customers visit to the place. Once the business (or pleasure in case of tourists) is done, the guest is ready for departure. The front desk arranges for the necessary bills that include restaurant, laundry, and bar expenses, along with the bill for the hotel room. The customer pays or makes arrangements for payments (in case of a corporate booking for conferences) and departs. The whole process starting from pre-arrival to departure is very important in terms of customer satisfaction. Except for occupancy, the front desk is directly involved in all other three phases.
Even in case of occupancy, the front desk acts as a medium of communicating between the guest and other persons. For example, a person may be visiting the guest in his room. The front desk will contact the occupant and enquire whether the visitor can be sent up to the room or not. The relation of the front office and front desk with the three phases is represented as a diagram given below. The different tasks handled by the front office and front desk with regard to the guest cycle are clearly indicated in the four quadrants of the outer circle. The cycled phases are given in the inner circle. As mentioned earlier, pre-arrival has only reservation as a factor.
Arrival requires doorman to open the door for the customers. Porters at this time have to take the luggage from the vehicle and carry it to the front desk. Registration, room assignment, and issuing of keys are the duties of the front desk. Baggage has to be handled again by the porters to be taken to the room. During the occupancy, currency has to be handled, probable transportation arrangement have to be made for the guest to undertake his business, telephone calls and mail to and from the room has to be handled. Some customer need to have their valuables kept under lock and key. The front desk will usually have to collect it and hand it over to the hotel security department.
At the time of departure, the bill has to be settled and checking out facilitated. Baggage has to be handled by arranging of porters, and transportation from the hotel to the railway/bus terminal or airport will have to be provided. Most of tasks given come under the ambit of the front desk. For example, even if front desk staff does not have to personally handle baggage, they have to call the porters standing by to do so. They will also have to call the transportation department for facilitative movement of the guests.
The arrows moving from one phase to another show the order in which these phases take place since no other way is usually followed. Sometimes the pre-arrival phase also could be dispensed with. For example, a customer is a regular guest at the hotel and he or she knows that there is always a room waiting. In such a case the customer may come without prior contact (pre-arrival) and obtain a room at the time of arrival. The arrow from departure to pre-arrival shows satisfaction with the hotel and indicates that the guest will come back for further stay. If the guest is not satisfied, then that arrow (from departure to pre-arrival) will not be present.
The concept of hotel or inn was conceived when the concept of travel became necessary. In the early days, travel was confined to areas within a country or region. Even then, the travellers needed a place to stay and hence enterprising people saw a way to make money by providing a solution to their needs. “Travel had created a demand for home away from one. There is a close link between the growth of accommodation facilities and development of modes of transport”.
The concept of home away from home as the special factor that will lure visitors to become guests also resulted in the importance of the concept called hospitality. Those places that were more hospitable and friendly were seen as better places to stay by many serious travellers. They would seek out the best play to stay that is also amenable to their budgets. All definitions and meanings of hospitality have to do with treating of guests and visitors. For example the term is defined as “the friendly and generous treatment of guests or strangers” http://www.askoxford.com/concise_oed/hospitality?view=uk by the Oxford Dictionary. According to the Institute of Hospitality in Scotland, the term is defined as “‘kindness in welcoming guests’ so ensuring that all parts of an organisation are focused on the customer makes good business sense.”
This definition links business with hospitality which is what is necessary in the hotel industry. In short, hospitality is the most essential part of the hotel industry that will assure good business and growth. An earlier definition of the term is more in tune with the concept of home away from home. “An early definition of hospitality included any and all businesses and services whose primary objective was serving people outside of a private home”.
This definition actually links the concept of business and hospitality with emphasis on providing an environment that is similar or reminiscent of what is seen in a traveller’s own home. All definitions and meaning generally point out to one factor, namely being sincerely nice and sociable to a guest and behave in a way that is beneficial to the guest as well as the business. Front desk and front office should keep this in mind when dealing with customers.
The present day hotels and its many classifications practically evolved out of what is known as the three common laws of innkeepers. “There were three basic components of innkeeper law, customarily condensed into the phrase “bed, board, and hearth.” The first common law duty of innkeepers was to provide any available accommodation (“bed”) to any traveller willing to pay a reasonable price. Innkeepers were not at liberty, in other words, to pick and choose their clientele, accepting some as guests while turning others away”.
The first law implied that the hotel or inn is obliged to provide a traveller with a room if one is available and should not be refused on except when he or she does not have the capacity to pay for the room. The practice and law in some states in the United States was so much in favour of the traveller. For example, if a traveller was turned away for any other reason than non-availability of a room or inability to pay, the license of the hotel could be cancelled. There used to exist other stringent laws in favour of the customer or traveller. “For example, if a traveller’s goods were stolen or damaged by rain because an innkeeper refused to offer shelter, that innkeeper would have to pay the traveller at least the full value of the loss”.
It is usually the front desk that is responsible in assigning (or not assigning) a room to a traveller. If such a law existed now, the front desk would be held responsible for the hotel’s loss. Hotels in those days were compulsorily required to provide food, represented by the word ‘board’. The third common law is presumed to exist even in today. It is that the hotel is responsible for the safekeeping of a traveller’s possessions while staying as a guest at the place. The ‘hearth’ factor forces a hotel to pay for damages or for the cost of the possessions if it was damaged, lost, or stolen during the period of stay. This was particularly relevant in olden times because of two things.
The first is that travel during those times was considered to be more lonely and unsafe when compared to today. The government also did not want collusion between the innkeeper and local thugs and make an arrangement to rob a hapless traveller while he or she happened to stay there. Such strict laws would see to it that this collusion did not happen. Guests usually approach the front desk for safekeeping of the articles and it is the staff there who will make arrangements for it to be transferred to the security department of the hotel. Alternatively the possessions can be placed in a safe deposit locker within the premises. The possessions left inside the room are to be kept safe from damage and theft primarily by the housekeepers and waiters. It is these two categories that come into most contact with the room and its occupants.
Even if something was lost, damaged or stolen, the aggrieved guest would first report to the front desk who will in turn inform the manager or a competent superior to look into the matter. All these indicate that the front desk needs to perform more duties and sub-tasks than what is said above (the guest cycle). This area will be discussed in more detail later in the paper.
The UK hotel industry had a good year in 2007, but if a study was conducted for 2008 and the beginning of 2009, a slowdown is expected. This is mainly because of the overall slowdown of the US, UK, and world economy overall. According to a study “Based on a consistent sample base of 644 hotels across the country, representing 100,879 rooms with complete sets of monthly data over the last five years, rooms yield in the UK reached £71.36 in 2007 – after a 6.4% growth over 2006 – as both occupancy and AARR were higher”.
AARR stands for annual aggregate revenue requirement and is an indicator of financial performance. Hotels in the city of London fared much better when compared with the performance of those across the country. This according to the study is mainly because the city is the financial hub of the nation. A similar study conducted in 2009 reports that “In light of the economic downturn, 2009 will undoubtedly be a difficult year for the industry. Consumer spending continues to fall as confidence remains low”.
These facts for provided to illustrate the fact that performance of hotels in a country is closely linked to the performance of the business, tourism, and travel industry. Any slowdown in any of these sectors will reflect in a reduction in hotel occupancy rates also. It is well documented that hotel business across the world, especially in the United States and UK suffered badly after the September 11 terrorist attack. The UK also suffered badly after the London bombings five years later. The new threat to the industry is the increase and prevalence of terrorism.
In times of slowdown, business begins to fall and the most competent and well run hotels will be better off than the poorly managed ones. The role of the front office in presenting a good picture of the hotel is paramount in difficult times. Hence quality management for the front office and front desk is a crucial factor especially during these times.
Any educated and informed person is aware of the fact that there are many types of hotels in every part of the word. The service and amenities provided vary a lot in these hotels. The usual standard classification depending on services and amenities offered is benchmarked by what is known as star rating. The rating ranges between one and five, the latter being the best with regard to luxury, service, and facilities. Every aspect of running the hotel including front office and front desk is reflected according to this rating. For example, a person cannot expect the same level of professionalism in a two star hotel and a five star rated one.
The courtesy, efficiency, and professionalism in the latter will be much higher. The cost of these services will also be understandably high in comparison. But training and competent staff can make the front desk a pleasant place to deal with in any setting. The hotel need not be categorized as a four or five star one to provide this experience to guests. A high level of courtesy and professionalism can be imparted to the front desk of cheap and budget hotels also if the management is capable and competent. A brief explanation of the star rating of hotels is given below.
Hotel ratings vary greatly from country to country. Moreover the ratings are voluntary in many areas including the UK. But courtesy (hospitality) is a requirement in all ratings and front office and desk should take note of this fact. All star ratings required rooms en suite. This means that all rooms (a majority of rooms in one star rating) should have individual bathrooms. “Following standard English patterns, they hyphenated the phrase as “en-suite bath” and often made the phrase into a single word: “ensuite bath.” These have become standard British usage; but hoteliers often go a step further by writing “all rooms ensuite””.
In the USA, the usage would be with bath or bath attached. A single star rated hotel should also be able to provide at least cooked breakfast. The food can either be provided in a separate room or be delivered to individual rooms. Reasonable levels of cleanliness and hygiene should be maintained. A two star rated hotel should have all rooms ensuite and should be able to provide food that includes at least breakfast and dinner. The two ratings do not expect food to be served to people who are not staying at the hotel. In other words, only guests need be provided with food. The eating room in this case cannot be classified as a restaurant. The next rating requires staff to be dressed smartly and behave in a professional way. A restaurant that provides food to outsiders is also a necessity. A dress code (uniform) is also expected of the staff.
The quality of the furniture and fittings in rooms and other places is also considered. Four star rating requires a certain level of personalized service. This requires more staff when compared to lower starred hotels. The quality of furniture and fittings should be very high. Three star and higher rated hotels should also provide choice in food. The quality of food is also a factor to be considered from this level onwards. People always want to enjoy a five star hotel experience. The word luxury is what sets it apart from the other four ratings. Everything in the hotel should reflect luxury and not just cleanliness and hygiene.
The staff (or at least some of them) should offer multi lingual service to guests. Providing alcohol and wine is also required in many countries. Another factor that sets it apart from other ratings is the ability of the staff to anticipate guest needs and not just respond to requests. This factor will reflect on the front desk also. For example, an approaching guest should be seen to immediately and staff should be able to anticipate whether the guest is approaching for room keys or with some other request. This is what the AA or the (internationally accepted) Automobile Association says about five star rating. “Awareness of each guest’s needs with nothing being too much trouble. All bedrooms are en suite or have a private bathroom (from 1 January 2008). Excellent quality beds and furnishings. Breakfast includes specials/home-made items, high quality ingredients, and fresh local produce”.
What should be noted is that these some or all of these five star standards can be seen in three and four star ratings as well. Even a three star hotel can provide five star courtesy and professionalism across all areas including the front desk.
The star rating was never taken seriously until 2007, when the British Government published a new standardization scheme based on the star rating mentioned above. “The new ratings are based on a five-star system and will see all grading bodies following the same criteria for the first time. Visit Britain, Visit Scotland, Visit Wales and the AA are joint partners in the project and have spent 2006 applying the new rules to their inspections”.
The standards are basically aimed at promoting the tourism industry in the country, but will be beneficial for the business traveller also. Any traveller can now judge a hotel or other forms of public accommodation by looking at the rating category provided according to the facilities and amenities in each hotel. Outstanding organizations will be awarded with gold and silver standards and can display the same with the following logo.
The additional requirements for each of the stars in addition to the AA standards mentioned above are given here for reference. It should provide at least breakfast and dinner for a minimum of five days per week for guests. They should have 24 hour access to the hotel and rooms and should also have access to a bar with the required license in place. The hotel should also meet statutory obligations with regard to public liability.
The two star rated hotels should have a dining room which provides evening meals (minimum) seven days a week. For three star category, the hotel should provide access to the hotel at all times during the day without the use of a key, and access at night with the use of a key. This means that the hotel gate can be locked at night, but should be opened up to a guest if he needs to come in or go out of the premises. Twenty four room and other staff service is compulsory for four star hotels. A five star hotel should provide at least one restaurant that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year. It should also have more than one luxury suite for guests willing to pay for it. The hotel should also provide parking assistance, personalized service in bars and restaurants, and escort to room service. (Key requirements at each rating level, Page 12)
The Standards also consider the following types of establishments eligible to apply for star rating under the scheme. They include regular hotels, budget hotels, guest accommodation, self-catering accommodation, serviced apartments, camping/touring parks, holiday villages, hostels, university/college accommodation, spas, caravans, and house boats/crafts. (Which Scheme would I need to be Assessed Under). A hotel has to have a minimum of six rooms to be recognized as one. All other statutes with regard to safety, hygiene, licensing and related areas that are applicable to public places apply to these organizations as well.
Benchmarking the hotel industry
Star ratings are basic indicators as to the quality of service provided and are used by prospective guests in selecting a particular hotel with regards to facility and affordability. Benchmarking on the other hand is a more comprehensive term and is more of a performance indicator of the hotel as a whole. “The establishment of benchmark as a toll to aid the evaluation and review of the performance of hospitality and tourism enterprises in a number of areas, e.g. financial appraisal, grading schemes is comparatively long established. More recently, benchmarks have been developed for the accreditation of business in such areas as TQM and IiP”.
This benchmarking is essential in increasing the quality of service provided by the hotel and includes the front desk also. IiP stands ‘Investors in People’, an initiative launched by the British Government in 1990. “Primarily a human resources initiative focusing on the training and development of the workforce, with its explicit customer focus, IiP forces a link between business strategy and human resources by linking the development of people (i.e. the producer employees) to the goals and targets of the organization”.
This initiative is extremely relevant in a highly service oriented industry like the hospitality and tourism sectors. It should be noted that hotels are business entities and their primary motive is making profits for its owners and shareholders. But processes like TQM and IiP, if effectively implemented, will ensure that an equitable balance between profitability and hospitality can be achieved.
Quality management in front office and front desk
Cohen and Bailey have described four types of teams that work in a typical hotel. They are work teams, parallel teams, project teams and management teams. (Page 299)
The front office staff and those attending the front desk are classified as work teams. Parallel teams include those personnel belonging to departments like quality control and security. The employees working on new projects come under project teams and the managerial staff comes under the management teams.
Implementing quality management in hotels is tricky and cumbersome. This is mainly because of the high labour turnover found in the industry. “The hotel industry is characterized by low pay, low job security, high labour turnover, and, often, questionable management style”. The problem lies in continuous training that is required because old employees leave and new ones replace them. The name total quality management implies that each and every department in an organization needs to be addressed in this regard. When new implies come they have to be given fresh training. But they leave soon and a new set of employees have to be trained all over again. Moreover many employees have a wrong perception about TQM. Instead of understanding and grasping the depth needed for a successful implementation many think that it is like a package. They erroneously think that once the contents are learnt, it can be implemented just like that. This was one of the observations made by a TQM trainer to a hotel.
The result is that “They cannot evaluate the experiences of other organizations and, so, they develop unrealistic expectations for TQM”. Moreover the hotel industry being service oriented, evaluation of results is also very difficult. Studies of literature show that in order to implement a TQM, prior standards have to be set. Only then can targets be set and performance evaluation be done. In its simplest definition quality is something that tallies with requirements. (Defining quality in the context of service, Page 160)
Setting up standards and requirements for performance evaluation is difficult in the service industry.
As mentioned earlier, not many studies have been done linking total quality management and its effect on the front desk or front office. But the few studies discovered will be discussed here. This is the main reason why a primary research is being considered. One of the studies was related to improving quality of service by providing a higher level of empowerment to the employees of hotels in Taiwan. “Top management leadership and employee empowerment are considered two of the most important principles of total quality management (TQM) because of their assumed relationship with customer satisfaction. As a result, many top management leadership and employee empowerment strategies and practices have been suggested in the management literature”.
Taiwanese hotel industry usually resorts to highly hierarchical management practices and hence the study was conducted to see whether modern management practices that encourage employee empowerment will have any betterment in the quality of service provided. It should be noted that the study included employees from all department. But twenty two percent were from the front office staff and the results can be said to be relevant for this paper. “Researchers have generally agreed that overall psychological empowerment is positively related to job satisfaction and organizational commitment as well as other outcomes”.
The results, according to the researchers were very positive. As given above empowerment can result in increased job satisfaction and more commitment towards the organization and its goals. The increased commitment will be reflected in the quality of service shown by employee towards guests in all departments included front office and front desk. In the case of this study, both the above factors are evident from the following responses given by the employees. It should be noted that only those responses directly related to job satisfaction and commitment (with respect to empowerment) is given here. The responses were measured by using a Likert model scale ranging from one to seven. Seven indicates strong agreement and one indicates strong disagreement. Each of the responses given below had a response of five or above indicating strong agreement to the statement like questionnaire. It should also be noted that all participants in this study enjoyed higher levels of empowerment.
Trust is an important aspect of empowerment. “Within the LMX literature, managerial trust has been deemed a critical component leading to a high-quality relationship and empowering leader behaviours”. LMX stands for leader-member exchange and states that employee commitment to their leaders will increase when interaction between them is high. “LMX and HRD (as represented by identified outcomes) theories are linked by at least three key factors: trust, empowerment, and performance”.
The response was that management exhibited a high level of trust in the employees and their capability to take decisions. The employees felt a lot of confidence in their abilities to perform their tasks and also felt more willingness to learn and master the skills required. They felt that their work has now become more meaningful and expressed a high level of job satisfaction. They were now extremely happy with their jobs and felt a sense of pride in working for their hotel.
They also responded that they were committed to the goals and visions of the hotel and its management. So, it can be said that empowering employees as a part of quality management and total quality control can benefit the organization and employees. They will have more job satisfaction which results in higher employee commitment to the organization. This commitment will reflect in their attitudes towards guests also. If front desk staff are empowered it will definitely help in raising the standards of quality of work.
Another factor that confirms the LMX model is the relationship between frontline employees and their managers. According to the book ‘Hotel Front Office Management’, “The most important aspect of total quality management in the context of the hotel industry is the interaction between frontline employees and their supervisors”. The attitude of the managers or supervisors can greatly affect the quality of work done by front office and front desk (frontline) employees. Managers should take the initiative to facilitate more interaction between departments. An example from the book will make the matter more clear.
A guest may be made to wait for a long time for a room until the housekeeping staff cleans the room after the previous occupant has checked out. But close interaction between the two departments (front desk and housekeeping) can ensure that cleaning is speeded up or done in advance so that this waiting is eliminated. Front desk can inform that the room is to be ready by such and such time and housekeeping can plan their activities accordingly. Front office and front desk staff should work in close association with departments like housekeeping, restaurant, cleaning, security, and booking departments. This aspect of total quality management will help in professional and efficient service eliminating unnecessary delays and confusion.
There an inherent problem in the service industry with regard to implementation of quality management programs. In a manufacturing industry, defects and problems can easily be identified and quantified, whereas in the service sector it is difficult to do so. According to Schwartz and Stamatis, the inherent differences between manufacturing industries and service industries are the following. In the case of the former sector, the output is tangible, storable, and need not be made for immediate use. But the output produced by a service industry area like front desk, it is intangible, it is perishable, and cannot be stored for future use. (Overview of service, Page 111). For example, a gun can be felt, it can be stored in the factory or the showroom and it need not be manufactured for immediate use. But a service like courtesy or professionalism displayed at the front desk is intangible, and cannot be stored. Once it is exhibited, its use is over and can only be used in a different context or shown to a different person.
Leader is the person who can guide the people in a best possible way. We can see that a good leader behind success of any organization. a leader is a person who can inspire, motivate and well aware of followers mentality. Good leaders are made not born. Everyone can become a good leader if they have desire and willpower. Leadership quality can be made through education, experience and training. Good leaders always trying to improve their skills.
Leadership is a process by which one person can influence others in accomplishing objectives. The first and most important thing in the leadership process is , the leader should know himself and should try to improve their own qualities. Leaders can be of two kinds, humane leaders and tough leaders. Humane kind of leaders are always giving consideration to human beings. But in the case of tough leaders, they are giving importance to their own decisions they do not consider others opinions and suggestions. By looking history, we can see such kind of leaders. The example of humane leader is Mahatma Gandhi, who was the spiritual political leader of India.
And the example of tough leader is, Adolf Hitler, who was the German Politian and leader of the National Socialist German Workers Party. He was eliminating, all oppositions and launched ambitious program of world domination and elimination of the Jews. For the success of any organization, there should be proper communication between the leader and the follower. The leader who emerged among the followers knows the feelings of followers and act vice versa.
There are some principles should leaders must be carry. They are;
- Seek responsibility and take responsibility for actions.
- Problem solving skills.
- Decision making skill
- Set character as a role model for employees
- Complete knowledge of his followers
- Effective communication sills
- Develop a sense responsibility among followers
- Ensure that tasks are understood supervised and accomplished
- Built team spirit among members
- Be technically proficient
From all the above information’s, we can determine the role of leadership in an organization.
The main objective of hotel industries is offering good products and better service to its customers. In these challenging economic times, customers are keen to get the value for they are paying. To withstand the competition, industry players are dropping the rates and travellers are becoming more demanding and less forgiving. While considering hotel industry, leaders facing some challenges. The important challenge is lack of coordination between the employees within the industry. And the second challenge is motivating employees towards the organization goal. Location and ambience are the major factors influencing the customers to attract the hotels. In this scenario, participative style of leadership will be more effective. In this style, leaders are giving an ear to the follower’s opinions.
While coming to the personal characteristics of a leader, the leadership attribute such as beliefs, values, ethics, character, knowledge and skills considered important factors that make them unique. All the leaders are result oriented so, they are conducting continuously monitoring the progress of the work.
Leadership in Hotel Industries
“Treating people with respect will gain one wide acceptance and improve business”.
Tao Zhu Gong 500BC, Assistant to the Emperor of Yue, 2nd Business Principle
In the present scenario, all the hotel industries are competing each other to make the feeling of an emperor in the minds of a customer. So, everyone is trying to improve their competitiveness by giving quality service. For delivering effective service, leader wants to ensure the employees commitment towards the organization. And that person’s leadership style affects the way front line employees do their job. Effective leadership makes the employees committed towards the organization, helping to share values, understanding the roles and can perform at a higher level of quality in servicing hotel guests. Rapid growing of global competition, demographic changes in employees and technological advancement results leadership a more complicated one. Leaders should adapt their leadership style according to the requirement of the entire organization. For the sustainable development of the hotel, a leader needs to be taken care of both the employees and guests. “To the person who does not know where he wants to go there is no favourable wind”
Lucius Annaeus Seneca 5BC-65AD, Roman tragedian, philosopher, and counsellor to Nero
A successful leader want to be pro active and they have interpersonal skills with business knowledge and well awareness of the industrial practices. To succeed in the hotel industry the leader must aware not only the happenings within the industry but also should aware about the updating changes in the outside. In the case of drama, stage manager’s contribution is inevitable. Likewise, the leader is inevitable for the success of any organization.
An analysis of the diverse tasks needed to be performed by front desk personnel
As mentioned earlier, the front desk personnel need to perform a variety of tasks and function in an efficient and professional manner. Some of these tasks are explained below to illustrate the complexity that entails a job with the front desk. It should be noted that the list is not exhaustive.
The front desk is inevitably the first area that a guest or any other person approaches when coming into a hotel. The staff manning the desk should make the experience as pleasant and professional as possible. “Guests have often travelled a long way and may be impatient and tired when they arrive at a hotel. They will, therefore, want quick, efficient check-in services provided by pleasant and courteous receptionists.”
This happens in most reputed hotels and staff should take note of this fact. Front desk staff should see to it that the following is adhered to when speaking to a guest or any other person. Maintaining eye contact is important and will impart a sense of confidence and trust in the person talking. It also gives an impression that the staff is attentive and interested in the welfare of the other person. A pleasant smile is always welcome and front desk staff should see to it that they do this when talking to a person.
Posture is also very important. Standing erect when talking to guest will create a favourable impression. If the staff attends to a person in a slouched posture, it could indicate a feeling of disrespect for that person. Staff should be neatly dressed. In case, the hotel has a uniform, the front desk personnel should be dressed in that. Their hands and fingernails should be clean because it is quite visible when handing over objects like bills and keys to a guest. This also gives an impression that the staff is proud of his or her hotel. Speech should be clear and courteous.
The most obvious place that a person who is in need of any information is the front desk. “The front desk is often called the hub or command centre of the rooms division because so much information is funnelled through it. The front desk is the logical point of contact for the dissemination of information for guests and other hotel employees”.
It could be with regard to information about a guest, availability of rooms, enquiring about reservations, or any related information. The front desk personnel should be equipped with any information that a guest or any other person might have. Many guests also require outside information like flight timings, tourist attractions, directions to go to a certain place etc. A good knowledge in such areas is an added advantage in creating an impression with guests.
Computers and Information technology
Most modern hotels make extensive use of computers and information technology with regard to their day to day running. The front desk is no exception. While staff are not required to be experts in the above areas, a working knowledge sufficient to make use of the technology is necessary. Availability of rooms, information regarding reservations and billing are some of the areas that use IT with regard to front desk operations.
Another important and frequent duty of staff manning the front desk is using the telephone. This can be an outside call or one coming through the hotel EPABX system. People and guests call for all sorts of reasons, and hence it is important that personnel be well versed in what is known as telephone etiquette. There are some well established standard when speaking on the phone used by receptionists and front desk personnel in any type of organization. The world famous Ritz Carlton has the following policy regarding telephone etiquette. “Answer within three rings and with a “smile”. When necessary, ask the caller, “May I place you on hold”. Do not screen calls. Eliminate call transfers when possible”.
It is frustrating for any caller to keep on hearing the ring tone for an inordinately long time. If answered within say three rings, a picture of efficiency and care becomes apparent. Hence care should be taken to see that at least one person is available to attend calls at all times. Even if the caller cannot see the staff at the front desk, a smile when speaking will be felt in the voice making the conversation a lot more pleasant to the caller. The book ‘Office Practice’ provides that following guidelines when speaking over the phone. “People can hear you if your are smiling over the phone. Do not let the caller feel that you are irritated or upset about the call. Even if something has upset you in the office, remember that it is not the fault of the person calling”.
Care should be taken to see that each call should end with a thank you irrespective of the reason for the call. In many instances, the caller could be rude or irritated. But staff should be able to maintain poise in any such situations and calmly attend to the caller’s needs.
Relocation of guests in overbooked situations
Handing rude, difficult and irate customers
Any front desk personnel in a hotel would have at one point of time or other had to face rude, difficult and irate customers. If the hotel is at fault, customers can be irritated and complain to the front desk. In such instances the action of the customer is justified. But there are some people who are difficult and rude and they will create problems for the front desk for no fault of their own or the hotel. In both cases, training to handle such situations is necessary. But in the case of difficult customers who create problems for no apparent reason or just because they are angry can create emotional problems for the staff that interact with them. In case where customers behave perfectly, like for example, praising good service, staff can feel happy and also feel a sense of justice.
But in case of difficult customers who accuse wrongly, staff may feel that injustice has been done them. It should be noted that this feeling may arise out of interaction with other persons also. “Sources of (in)justice in an organizational context can be the organization as a whole, one’s supervisor, coworkers, subordinates, customers, or other entities with whom employees interact.”
Front desk employees will have to be trained to handle the stress that comes out of these negative emotions. According to Hochschild, employees who experience these emotions will begin to act in a certain way to hide the true emotions so that the required behaviour (courtesy, professionalism etc) is exhibited. “Quoting at length from Stanislavski on “method acting,” Hochschild divides the work involved in day-to-day emotion management into “surface acting” in which we display the outward signs of a desired emotional state without really feeling it, and “deep acting” in which we use a variety of techniques to induce from deep within ourselves the real feeling desired”.
Putting on a false smile in times of intense stress is an example of surface acting. Trying to understand the other person’s view and behaviour and then bringing emotions under control is an example of deep acting. For example, a guest might have shouted at a person manning the front desk. Instead of getting upset, the staff can try and understand and justify the guest’s anger. But if this acting goes on for a long time, it may create problems like loosing interest in the job and performing not up to the expected standards. Managers should have the quality to be able to detect this acting and take suitable measures to help a particularly stressed employee.
This is a part of the quality control program aimed at improving staff performance. In such cases, the employee can be shifted to another area for some time so that he or she may have the time to relax and become normal again. Receiving actual or perceived injustice can also lead to anger and frustration on the part of the employee. “First, there is evidence that injustice leads to anger. Bies has argued that the experience of interactional injustice constitutes an emotionally charged episode. He has described such experiences as “hot and burning,” and associated with “intense and personal pain”.” Anger and stress management should be a part of the quality control program in hotels and similar organizations. If not managed properly, this anger can lead to job dissatisfaction which may ultimately lead to lower levels of commitment to the organization.
Special or strange requests
Guests may sometimes come up with strange or special requests to the front desk. Staff should develop innovative solutions to cater to such requests. This is because many diverse types of people stay as guests in a hotel. Some of them may be eccentric while most are normal. Some may be forgetful and absentminded. Requests from such people may sometimes seem strange or special. An example of how an employee caters to special requests can be illustrated from the case of Mohammed Hannan who works as a concierge in Omni Shoreham Hotel in Woodley Park. Once, an absent minded guest forgot to put on his shoe in his hurry to get to a meeting. There was no time to buy a new pair or go back to the room to get the shoes. Hannan promptly gave his own pair to the guest for the time being. (From Bangladesh to Woodley Park)
Being innovative and solution oriented are desired characteristics of front desk personnel and employees should be encouraged in this regard. It can be included as a part of the quality management initiatives of the hotel.
This is one of the most important aspects of working at the front desk. Inevitably, guests or any aggrieved party approaches this area in case of any problems. Being a highly service oriented industry, problems can and do occur. It is how these are handled that reflects the quality and professionalism of the staff working there. This applies to the front desk also. Problems can happen from two areas. The first is within the hotel itself and is usually the fault of one of the employees. The other one is external causes outside the control of the management and employees of the hotel. (Summary, Page 271)
But the problem is that the guest may not be aware of the source of the problem and blame the hotel for it in any case.
A complaint can sometimes be handled at the desk itself or can be assigned to the concerned department. For example, if a dress has been damaged by the laundry (an outside agency) the first call by the guest will be to the front desk. They can, if empowered to do so, offer a free replacement for the guest and solve the problem then and there. Alternatively, they can move the case to a supervisor or manger who will handle it from then on. Whatever may be the outcome, front desk staff has to be extremely patient and courteous to the guest. The above illustration is an example of external problem since the laundry is an outside agency under contract to the hotel.
There are some basic rules that need to be followed when communicating with a customer who has a complaint. It is okay to apologize even if the hotel is at fault. But the apology should be for the problem and not for its cause. In the above case, the front desk personnel can say that they are sorry because the guest is unhappy. Another factor is not to blame a colleague or another department for the problem even they were actually responsible.
Personnel should never give excuses for the problem since this might irritate the customer even more. In the two instances above it is better to state that the problem will be looked into immediately. Another important aspect that can appease a customer to a large extent is to repeat the problem to the guest. “Always summarize the guest’s problem, so that they know you understand what the trouble is”.
Customer complaints can be viewed from a different perspective by staff and management of a hotel. In a way, a customer complaint will bring to light a shortcoming in the running of a hotel and hence it is in reality a gift from the guest. “It is as if they are giving us a “book “(i.e. gift) entitled, A chance to survive: Listen to Me and You’ll Stay in Business.
If more than one complaint comes with regard to the same issue, the front desk can inform the management that this area should be looked into. Even otherwise, it would be prudent to check if the problem area has something fundamentally wrong or whether it happened by chance. For example, if more customers complain about laundry, it would be better to even change the service provider and contract another company to do the work.
Unless customers complain, the hotel staff and management would not know that such a problem existed. In this case the quality management initiative plays a crucial part in imparting the correct training to handle complaints effectively. The initiative should also see to it that the front desk has frequent and cordial relationships with other departments of the hotel. In this way any communication to the other departments will be taken seriously and earnestly. The front desk should also have contact with outside agencies like taxis, airports, railway information services so that guest complaints and queries can be effectively handled.
A fairly detailed description of different duties, tasks and responsibilities of front desk personnel have been given in the paper. A quality management program should effectively cover all these areas even though it poses a lot of practical difficulties and problems.
Conclusion of literature review
It can be seen that the front desk personnel have a diverse set of activities to perform. The difficulties in implementing an effective total quality management programme are given below. It can be said that these difficulties are the main reasons why quality management in hotels in hotels as a whole (including front desk) fail. The first reason is the diversity of tasks as mentioned above. Setting performance measures for these services is quite difficult and is also difficult to measure.
Another factor is that the industry as a whole experiences high labour turnover. This makes effective training difficult. A near continuous programme might be required to indoctrinate new employees as they come into the organization. This is impractical and also a waste of time and resources. Moreover, the whole training becomes a waste when the newly trained employee leaves for better prospects or otherwise. It is also seen that managers and staff have unrealistic and even wrong perception of a quality management program. They feel that it is a magical package that can be implemented once its contents are revealed. They also feel that performance standards will improve drastically through its implementation. They do not realize that it takes time and patience to understand a quality implementation program.
Once they encounter practical difficulties and lower than expected results, they become discouraged. Leadership also plays a key role in effective quality management implementation. A few studies show that empowerment in the form of LMX model is effective. Leaders (managers and supervisors) should practice this form of management model. A sincere effort at clearly explaining the whole concept of quality management is also needed for effective implementation. These are the reasons why implementation of quality management in hotels fails to a large extent. But as seen in the case study in Korea, it is possible to implement quality management through the implementation of certain factors like empowerment. Each of the factors could be implemented one by one instead of bringing a total quality management approach all at the same time.
Once again it is mentioned that there is a lack of deep studies with regard to quality management implementation in front desk. One alternative is to conduct primary research. It is proposed to conduct one for this study, the details of which are given in the next section.
Sampling and data collection
When undertaking a study two main methods of data collection are reported to. Data can be collected from primary and secondary sources. “Data collection is simply how information is gathered. There are various methods of data collection such as personal interviewing, telephone, mail and the Internet”.
In most studies, it is possible to collect data from people who are directly affected by the topic of the study. Such a collection of people is called population for the study. “In theory, to generalize findings, evaluators must fist define the population”
For example, if the study as in this case is about customer needs and perception with regard to a bar and restaurant business, it is possible to ask people from the population about this. They can be asked directly, by telephone, by email, by post questions regarding what they think is a good restaurant and bar. These are people who actually go to restaurants and bars and have preferences and likes about an eating place. Data collected from such persons are known as primary data. If done properly accurate information and knowledge about the topic of the study can be got from such studies or surveys. In other cases, it may not be possible to collect such a primary data.
For example, a study about international oil prices will need extensive travel and also interviews with exerts in the area. This is expensive and time consuming and not feasible especially for students. In such cases, data is collected from reliably published literature and other studies on this area. Such studies are based on secondary data. There are many methods of data collection which will be given in detail in the next section.
There is a step to be taken with regard to collection of data especially if it taken from primary sources. It is practically not possible to interview or survey every single person of the population especially if the population is quite large. If the population consists of all the students of a particular class, it is quite easy to survey each and every one of them. But in a larger population like the one intended here (those visiting restaurants and bars) this is practically not possible and also not required. In such a case a representative group from this population is selected using many accepted methods. Sampling refers to process of choosing the unit from the available population like people, organizations…etc. using different methods and techniques. A sample is “a group of people or elements selected from the population being studied”.
The methods and techniques used in sampling are also given in detail after which the correct method for this study will be selected. This report will also provide details of how this study will proceed. The individual persons of the sample are referred to as sample unit or as even simply as unit. The one thing that a person has to be careful is not select a representative population and also not to let sampling errors come into the study. If the selected sample consists of a large number of people who do not visit restaurants and bars, the results will not be relevant to the study. Sampling errors occur if the following situation happens. Suppose every single person in the population had participated in the study and the study arrived at a particular conclusion. If the results of the study of the sample comes out different from the one mentioned above, sampling error will exist.
Data collection methods
The results from the study and survey of the sample will result in possession of a information or data with the researcher. The researcher has to measure and record the results from this data. This process is known as data collection. As mentioned earlier, there are many scientifically accepted method of data collection which is given here in detail. There are primary and secondary data collection methods. Secondary data can be collected from journals, demographic data, other studies, etc. Primary data can be collected through surveys, interviews (personal, email, and telephone, internet surveys, mail surveys, etc. (Primary data collections, Page 1). The data collection method needs to consider face-to-face interviews and questionnaires in order to reach a final conclusion upon the efficacy and effectiveness of research on the subject.
For this purpose, it is necessary that suitable respondents are selected after identifying the sample population using lots, in order to avoid bias and discrimination.
In this study, being a qualitative study, necessary mathematical and statistical data need to be provided in order to defend, or deny the hypothesis question. Thus, it is necessary that data be collected, based upon reactions of respondents during the course of survey and personal interviews. The study would involve around fifty (50) respondents, in the field to whom the interviewers would confabulate and ask questions relevant to the study.
This would also be followed by Group discussions in order to assess whether the respondents are capable of working in groups or sub-groups, it is important that important research data be collected from group discussions also, in order to arrive at a right solution regarding the hypothesis and its validation.
It is needed to be seen that proper permission and consent is taken from concerned authorities regarding moral and ethical aspects of this study, and also, in terms of the areas in which this study would prove useful.
It is also necessary to determine its limitations, in that whether further studies would also become necessary for further advanced studies on this topic. All research studies have their limitations, and this would not be an exception. However, it is necessary to identify, assess and focus upon deficient areas, whether it impacts present and future studies.
Another important aspect of research would lie in terms of the fact, that in qualitative assessments, much of the research would consider how one could improve one’s hotel business.