The words hotel staff use when speaking to guests matter, and can influence online reviews.
As a frequent traveler, I often hear hospitality staff saying common phrases, seemingly with the best intentions. These phrases are spoken by staff at all levels of hotels, but it is most surprising to hear them used at upscale and luxury hotels, which one would presume are particularly obsessed on hospitality excellence. Perhaps this is because in the current era, too many hoteliers are focused more on the “tech” based solutions for guest service to the point that they are overlooking old-school hospitality essentials.
Certainly, the intended service “style” is a bit different according to each hotel’s classification. For example, “lifestyle” and some “boutique” hotels might be striving for a more authentic, genuine and perhaps even “hip” or “edgy” guest experience, whereas ultra-luxury hotels might reach for a more traditional, formalized guest communications style.
Regardless of what type of hotel you manage, training your guest contact team to replace these common phrases with words that better convey the spirit of hospitality will help create positive emotional reactions, increase guest satisfaction and encourage positive online reviews. Here are some examples, with the common phrase listed first and the better alternative following.
Don’t say: “Checking in?” or “May I help the next guest in line?” or “Do you have a reservation?”
Do say: “Hello, welcome to the (name) hotel. May I have your last name please?”
Nothing is more de-personalizing to a hotel arrival experience than to walk into a hotel lobby towing your luggage and to be greeted with “Checkin’ in?” When the lead phrase is simply “Do you have a reservation?” it kind of makes me feel like I don’t look like I belong there.
Don’t say: “We have ‘like’ a coffee bar in the lobby” or “There’s ‘like’ a business center on the first floor”
Do say: “You can visit our coffee bar in the lobby” or “For your convenience, you can find our business center on the first floor in case you need to print a document.”
Avoid describing your hotel features and services with the phrase “like.” This word diminishes the description by implying uncertainty. Sound more confident by accurately describing what it is.
Don’t say: “No problem”
Do say: “It was my pleasure” or “You are most welcome”
Although this phase is part of the vernacular these days, it actually implies “Normally sir, this is a problem, but for you we made an exception, so no problem (for now).”
Don’t say: “Just one?”
Do say: “Welcome to (restaurant name). Are you ready to be seated?”
As a mostly solo business traveler, I often find myself walking up to a host or hostess stand and being greeted by a raised eyebrow and the question: “Just one?” Even when said in a friendly manner, it still makes me feel lonely. Sometimes I feel like responding with: “Yes, just one, dining all alone. No one wants to have dinner with me tonight.” If the guest is waiting for someone, they will let you know.
Don’t say: “I’ll have to check on that for you”
Do say: “Let me check on that for you”
Over the years, I’ve heard associates from all departments saying this, often in a helpful tone and with the best of intentions. Yet it does make the guest feel like a bit of an interruption to our “more important” tasks. We might as well be saying “You know, if it wasn’t for all of you guests interrupting us all day, we could get a lot more work done at this hotel.”
Don’t say: “I think it is” or “It should be”
Do say: “It is” or “I will verify that right now”
When guests hear service providers make statements such as “I’m pretty sure,” it leaves doubt in their mind about receiving the accurate and sometimes vital information they need. Some service providers seem to use this as an automatic disclaimer, even when they are certain that what they are saying is a fact. A better approach is to say with confidence “It is,” or if you don’t know for sure, assure them you’ll find out and let them know in a timely manner.
Don’t say: “I’m only just the … so you’ll have to call …”
Do say: “Let me help you” or “Let me find someone to assist you.”
Whenever I hear a hotel staffer say “I’m only just,” it seems to diminish their status and sounds like an excuse-making disclaimer. Yet at great hotels, it doesn’t seem to matter who I voice my request to; they either take care of it directly, or they offer to convey it to the appropriate person or department.
Don’t say: “You’ll have to …”
Do say: “May I suggest that you …” or “May I ask you to …”
When some guests hear the words “You’ll have to,” it brings out the stubborn 17-year-old rebel teenager in them and can lead to a deadlocked conversation.
Don’t say: “This (problem/shortcoming) happens here all the time” or “This is the third one today”
Do say: “I apologize for the inconvenience; let’s resolve this for you right now”
The hotel engineering and housekeeping departments, in particular, often find that the majority of their guest contact comes when something has gone wrong. This example also has been said by wait staff or servers who blame the kitchen crew. It is important that they express support of other departments/divisions and avoid placing blame, especially for recurring problems.
Don’t say: “All I have left is our luxury suites” or “All we have left is our standard room”
Do say: “Fortunately we still have our (suites or standard room) available.”
When hotels are nearly sold out, it is typically either the highest rated accommodations or the least desirable, such as those with smaller rooms or limited views. Never say it’s all you have left; instead, position what’s left in a positive way.
Don’t say: “That special rate is not available”
Do say: “That special rate is sold-out.”
When we tell a guest a rate is not available, it makes it sound like the rate exists, but we are not giving it to you.
Don’t say: “The rates are higher this time (as compared to your last visit) because it’s our busy season”
Do say: “During your last visit, it was a slower season, so we were able to offer some special rates. For these dates, our (prevailing/published/traditional) rates apply.”
Yes, hotels do generally charge more during periods of peak demand, but they also provide lower/discounted rates during slower times. Better to position the high-season rate as being “normal” rather than to imply that the low-season rate is actually the “real” rate and prices go up when it’s busy.
Here are some training tips to eliminate these common phrases:
- Review a few of these examples on a weekly basis at departmental or pre-shift meetings.
- Have a “hospitality word/phrase of the week” that everyone focuses on.
- Implement a fun contest whereby supervisors and first level managers are challenged to “catch” staff in the act of saying the alternative phrase(s) of the week and reward them with poker chips or tokens. Take back a token for any slip-up. At the end of the time period, staff can cash in their tokens for prizes, time off, movie tickets, etc.
Doug Kennedy is president of the Kennedy Training Network, Inc. a leading provider of hotel sales, guest service, reservations and front desk training programs and telephone mystery shopping services for the lodging and hospitality industry. Kennedy has been a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations for more than two decades. Since 1996, Kennedy’s monthly training articles have been published worldwide, making him one of the most widely read hospitality industry authorities. Visit KTN at www.kennedytrainingnetwork.com or email him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. He is the author of “So You REALLY Like Working With People? - Five Principles for Hospitality Excellence.”
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