Guest relations

The region’s guest relations managers talk to Hotelier Middle East about training and staff development, swap unusual guest request stories and offer up their top tips for dealing with irate clients

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By  Sarah Gain Published  October 17, 2006

HME: How did you become a guest relations manager? |~|RT_David-Amador-B.jpg|~|David Amador, Grand Hyatt Dubai.|~|Indri Murtiandari:
I have been in the front office operation for the past three years and have held many positions. I started as a front desk agent, and after that I became a guest relations agent. In this role I also assisted concierge when they needed help, and I worked closely with the guest services department. I was also nominated as a front office departmental trainer and I was a quality leader for the department. Then I was promoted to front office shift leader, working as the manager on duty as well as the night manager on duty. I recently decided to transfer back into guest relations, as the guest relations manager.

Ericson Adame:
Similarly, I became a guest relations manager after years of experience in the hotel industry and with intensive training from the different departments I worked in. I started my hotel career as a room attendant, then I went on to concierge, waiter, and two other sections in front office: reception and executive club floor, before joining guest relations.

Elie Saliba:
I am head concierge at the Four Seasons Hotel, Doha, a member of Les Clefs D’Or International Association and a lifetime member of the International Hospitality Management Honour Society, the Eta Sigma Delta, in Washington, D.C.
I hold a Bachelor of Science degree in Hotel Management and Tourism from Notre Dame University, Lebanon as well as a Post-Graduate Diploma in International Hospitality Management.
I spent four years working with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company where I held several positions, including manager on duty, night manager and guest services manager.

Soha Moussa:
I began my career as a hospitality management trainee in the Phoenicia InterContinental hotel in Beirut, Lebanon where I worked in various departments, including food and beverage, housekeeping and front office. I then had the opportunity to be part of the pre-opening team of the Moevenpick Resort in Beirut; where I filled various roles in operations. However, it was with the Beirut Marriott that I discovered my passion for guest relations. My hospitality experience in Lebanon was extremely fulfilling, yet I desired new challenges and so I moved to Doha taking up the position of guest relations manager.

Bing Lafuente:
I began my career in food and beverage. Being a people-oriented person, this greatly helped in further developing my skills in customer service and when an opportunity arose to move into guest relations as a supervisor, I jumped at the chance as I found the job very stimulating and I believe that there is always room for career advancement in any field.

David Amador:
I was born in the Canary Islands where tourism is the main source of revenue. All my life I have seen and understood that hospitality is all about delivering service from the heart. Believing in this, I strive to build a rapport with the guest which makes them feel at home away from home.||**||HME: What are your main areas of responsibility? |~|RT_Ellie-B.jpg|~|Elie Saliba, Four Seasons Hotel Doha.|~|Adame:
My main area of responsibility is taking special care for VIP guests. Another important aspect is to gain as much feedback from the guests as possible in order to use this to improve our service. I also work together with the duty managers in dealing with guest issues or complaints.

I am responsible for providing a personalised service and to actively engage with all our guests to build relationships that create loyal guests. I am also responsible for developing and maintaining the guest recognition programme of all Ritz-Carlton guests visiting the hotel, thereby creating very loyal and satisfied guests. I ensure that all departments are aware of all our guests’ needs prior to arrival, which will lead to a unique and memorable stay for each guest.
I am also actively involved in daily problem resolution and ensuring the processes and procedures within the department are followed. This is achieved by continuously teaching and energising the guest relation process throughout the hotel.

Out of 674 rooms in total, I am looking after 193 rooms and suites as well as a 24-hour executive lounge. Here, we have the privileges of hosting royalty, heads of states, top executives and businessmen, and ensuring they have a flawless experience.

As guest relations manager I have to be familiar with cultural differences in order to meet our guests’ specific requirements. I also ensure that all information about our guests is current and accurate.

William Fokkenrood:
I am the “At Your Service” (AYS) manager of the Doha Marriott Hotel. What this means is that by simply dialling the AYS number, the guest has instant access to an AYS associate who is trained to handle guest requests ranging from room service to housekeeping, concierge, to organising recreational activities, wake-up call requests and directions to local attractions.
My department is responsible for recognising and responding to guest needs more efficiently and effectively and, with the guest relations department, expands the hotel’s ability to address guest preferences, enhance guest travel experiences and recognise frequent customers.||**||HME: What are the main challenges faced by guest relations managers in hotels? |~|RT_Ericson-B.jpg|~|Ericson Adame, Al Waha, Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Oman.|~|Amador:
Being always on the stage, we have to deliver a fine performance day in and day out for both our “internal” and “external” customers.

When there is a communication breakdown between departments, the operation will not run as smoothly and this will affect our guests’ enjoyment of their stay. For example, when a guest arrives in Dubai and no transportation has been arranged because the incorrect information was given, and there is no-one to meet and greet the guest at the airport.
This will result in the guests having to get a taxi to the hotel, and may cause a lot of upset. Clear and accurate communication is the key in anticipating and fulfilling guest needs.

Dealing with angry guests and ensuring that their problems are resolved in an efficient manner so that they feel happy and also remembering every guest’s preferences and ensuring they all receive unique, genuine, memorable experiences.

I believe that every challenge we face is just an opportunity for us to impress guests and exceed their expectations.
A challenge that I used to face was with the taxi service in Doha. However, I managed to make a deal with a private company which offers the service and can be on standby in our hotel.
At the same time I am in regular contact with the public transportation company in Doha and am informed on the latest updates in the company, like upgrading and increasing the fleet of cars.||**||HME: What experience and qualifications do you need to be a guest relations manager? |~|RT_Indri-B.jpg|~|Indri Murtiandari, The Ritz-Carlton, Dubai.|~|Moussa:
As a guest relations manager it is essential that your presentation and communication skills are exceptional; you require a strong ability to forge professional relationships with guests and co-workers.
In my line of work it is necessary to have excellent problem resolution skills and strong interpersonal skills. It is also important to be able to handle difficult situations and emergencies, to be trained in the procedures and to be able to act upon that training.
Previous guest relations and front office experience is also a key requirement. It is also imperative that you apply well-developed organisational and administrative skills; furthermore you should be knowledgeable with Fidelio/ Opera systems to be capable to check-in and check-out guests.
I should be knowledgeable about Marriott Rewards and other frequent traveller programmes, the guest rooms and their locations, services, promotions and the facilities of the hotel.
My main focus, however, is to maintain and enhance guest recognition of every single guest that stays at our hotel.

You must have the ability to clearly and pleasantly communicate in English with guests and your co-workers verbally, on the telephone, in writing and in person.
You require office management skills, and a strong ability to forge good, professional relationships with guests and co-workers.
A colleague graduation and/or previous hospitality experience is usually required, as is fluency in English and any other languages.
Very important is to have the ability to think clearly, quickly and be able to make a decision, often under stressful circumstances.

Since an executive floor is like a hotel within the hotel, we have to play multiple roles, which include reception, concierge, business centre, and a food and beverage service.
A few years of experience in the rooms division, backed up by a good hotel school background, are the minimum criteria that any reputable hotel would look for when recruiting for an executive floor manager position. ||**||HME: What has been the most unusual guest issue you have had to resolve? |~|RT_Marriott-Doha-B.jpg|~|Soha Moussa, Doha Marriott Hotel.|~|Murtiandari:
I once had to deal with two intoxicated guests who were shouting and swimming along our beach in the early hours of the morning. Neither of them were wearing any clothes, therefore I was not able to approach them to get them out of the water.
Luckily, I was accompanied by a male colleague who helped the guests out of the water and gave them some towels. I was then able to speak to both of them and escorted them back to their rooms.
It was quite a funny situation, but also very dangerous as they were very intoxicated and there was no lifeguard at that time of night.

One very amusing incident that I can remember was when a guest had checked out and taken the entire bedding collection which included a duvet topper, mattress topper, 300-thread Frette sheets and pillow cases.
When we approached the guest he was really surprised and displeased, as he assumed that he was entitled to keep the bedding collection as part of his giveaway amenity. Needless to say, he did not actually leave with the bedding collection.

We once had a family of four staying in-house who found the resort’s lazy river not functioning due to bad weather the previous day. They felt cheated as they were paying but were not able to enjoy the full facilities of the resort. They also mentioned that the only reason they had decided to check in to our hotel was to experience the lazy river.
In order to please the guests and not let them feel they had wasted their time by coming here, I assured them that once the hotel’s lazy river was operating I would inform them so they could enjoy a full day to use the facilities of the resort, free of charge.

As a concierge we face lots of issues that need to be solved on daily basis. The most unusual request was when one guest approached the concierge desk and requested to ride a camel and travel from Doha to Italy.
We just asked him ‘What time would you like the camel to be ready outside the hotel?’

One of our suite guests wanted to host a meeting in his room and asked me to help him to install small cordless video cameras around the suite for security purposes, which were linked to his laptop and recorded the whole meeting.||**||HME: What are your tips for dealing with an angry guest? |~|RT_Willem1-B.jpg|~|William Fokkenrood, Doha Marriott Hotel.|~|Lafuente:
Firstly, remember it is not personal, the guest is angry with the situation not you. Do not interrupt, show that you are keen to listen — this means maintain eye contact, nod, smile, take notes and paraphrase when the guest has finished.
Secondly, when you start to talk, put yourself in the guest’s shoes — explain you understand how he feels. Next apologise and resolve the problem. The guest must know that you are now owning the problem and he does not need to explain himself again as this will only make him more upset.

Nearly everyone has either dealt with an angry guest or been an angry guest themselves.
Angry guests are customers who feel as if they are not being heard or respected. They may be upset and confrontational or they may be silent and aloof. However their anger manifests itself, it is very important to know how to listen to their experiences and complaints.
As a guest relations manager it is so important to listen to the guest and if you do so effectively you have a good chance of diffusing the situation to a much more manageable level.
After listening, it is important to thank them for their feedback and if it is appropriate, we always apologise sincerely for whatever problem it was that they experienced.

Listen carefully and do not make the guest repeat themselves; take notes, display a sense of desire to help and understand guest’s wants.
You must allow the guest to let off steam, as the most positive resolution will be reached only when both parties are calm. Once you have achieved this, ensure that the promise is delivered, and follow-up for guest satisfaction.||**||HME: How many people work in your department? How often do you conduct training with them? |~||~||~|Murtiandari:
In the front office team we have 13 front office agents, of which two are in charge of guest relations. When a new person joins the team, they have to undergo departmental training conducted by the departmental trainer.
After they finish the department training, they will also undergo training with all the other departments that work closely with front office, such as housekeeping, reservations and Club lounge, to ensure they understand the hotel’s operations.
Aside from the training provided by human resources, our front office team conduct daily, monthly and annual training sessions. In the daily line-up we discuss the guest arrivals as well as their preferences and the service values we deliver.
Occasionally we also have role plays on how to perform some process. Monthly, we have our departmental meetings. We meet about front office operations and also energise our SOPs. Every six to 12 months we conduct a training certification for each agent to ensure that the level of service is maintained consistently.

I am accountable for five associates and I am responsible for the day-to-day training of my associates, including developing their communication, hospitality, customer care and technical skills.
I strongly believe in empowerment and team commitment, so my main goal is to ensure that my associates are empowered to make all necessary decisions to satisfy our guests’ needs.

Every single one of the AYS agents obtains a three-month intensive training schedule that involves all aspects of the hotel operation.
More importantly, we teach them to think of themselves not only as attendants to our guests but also as actors in spreading our brand; the feeling they get after they go through our orientation and our ongoing training is that they really are the Marriott brand. ||**||

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