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By Vinny Maharajh, Hostex 2020 ambassador, Head Concierge at Sandton Sun, and the recipient of the highest recognition a concierge can receive globally – Les Clefs d’Or (the Golden Keys).

Vinny has 20 years’ experience in hospitality, having started at Southern Sun Elangeni in 2000 as Banqueting Attendant. Receiving the Golden Keys is a prestigious achievement (South Africa has only 14) which Vinny explains is about the bond between guest and concierge, and about not treating two guests the same. Here, brought to you by Hostex 2020, he shares his passion for excellence in service standards in hospitality with valuable suggestions for the industry.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” Gandhi

The real value of excellence in service standards in the hospitality industry goes beyond the immediate benefit of a satisfied guest – it encourages return business, builds reputation and recognition among existing and potential customers, as well as the wider industry, and can contribute to growth in tourism revenue within the country.

Service standards in the hotel and accommodation industry include ensuring the best value, comfort, satisfaction, and impeccable service, all of which are driven and executed by staff members, often behind the scenes.

Here are factors that I consider to be key to delivering five-star service standards:

  • Listening to the customer. There is no such thing as,  ‘sorry we don’t have that’ or ‘I don’t know’ in a five-star environment. We strive to get the next best or similar to the request, we follow through and get feedback. The interaction with customers makes a difference to their stay.
  • Staying in touch with guests and following up with them on their stay. This gives a positive impression and helps to build relationships with guests, ensuring return business, recognition, and word-of-mouth referrals.
  • Good communication skills. The team must be accomplished in appropriate communication at every guest touchpoint in their jobs, and attention must be given to hiring the right candidates for the job.
  • The right knowledge. Staff members must be equipped with the right knowledge to deliver fine service excellence, they must be briefed before their shift starts and updated on events and changes both within and outside of the environment.
  • Attention to detail. This is vitally important if high service standards are to be maintained. It refers to the little things, the personal touches, that contribute to the quality of a person’s stay. It means anticipating customers’ needs and providing service even before they know they need it.

From arrival  into your hotel or establishment, it must be welcoming, neat and clean, and the staff appearance must be dapper. For example, the doorman must be ready at all times, focusing on the arrival of a car, the way the guest will be approached, mannerisms, the welcoming smile – all of which can break the tension that arrival at a new environment can create. The arrival experience can set the tone of the stay for the traveller.

Daily interactions with staff develops their attention to detail, ensuring that they remain focused, they observe their environments, and take accountability when something needs sorting out. From the manager down, every staff member is involved in service excellence, and regular refresher training is important across the board.

Concierges in particular play a vital role as they are the custodians of guests and their communication skills must be on point, sharing important information with all departments. Guests must know that the concierge is the go-to person in the hotel, regardless of how big or small their requests are.

All concierges have their own stories about unusual guest requests – some need to be kept secret, some are difficult, but all obstacles must be overcome. I had a regular guest who always celebrated her birthday at the hotel – she loved balloons and her room had to be absolutely filled with them, up to 60 at a time, which we did.

My advice to smaller hotels and guesthouses who don’t have concierges, is to make sure you listen to your guests, stay in touch with them, personalise their stay, and try to offer something extra that exceeds their expectations.

Too often, customers ask for something and are sent to someone else or are given an ‘I don’t know’ response. That’s impersonal and unprofessional, and leaves a bitter taste in the guest’s mouth. Periodically try role-playing with staff members, depicting service-related scenarios to make sure the right communication, body language, and attention to detail is adhered to.

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