From the importance of first impressions to managing guest expectations – the Reception Manager at one of the UK’s most celebrated hotels tells us about how to maintain flawless customer service.
I remember the day as if it was just a week ago. I was at the front door of my house in Poland, saying goodbye to my mother and leaving for England and my great adventure. That was 18 years ago now.
In my first, albeit brief, job in a London hotel, I was asked to prepare a table full of sandwiches ready for a working lunch for 200 guests. The next day I was asked to leave the company. It was then that I learnt my first lesson: do not upset the chef! Coming from a small town, I decided that maybe London was not the place for me and headed for Berkshire and Cliveden.
I started at Cliveden House in April 2001 as a kitchen porter. I can still vividly remember driving through the gates on my first day at work and coming down that driveway. For me, it was magical.
This is when I learnt that first impressions count. I will never forget my first glimpse of this remarkable place and the warmest welcome I received from the team. It was like coming home, and to this day, I always try to make my guests feel like they are returning home after a very long trip, and I have been looking after their beautiful home for them whilst they have been away.
Some might say, okay, I get that, but what if your guests are not always nice or approachable? Some of my guests might be more challenging but if you imagine yourself travelling day and night to get home, you would be happy to arrive, but you would also be very tired. We never know what sort of personal journey our guests have had before they arrive, they may have had a stressful week at work, or possibly family or health issues to contend with, so it is important to recognise that and give them some space and time to settle in. At the end of the day, we all want them to have a good and relaxing time, and so do they. Love your guests and take an interest, they have amazing stories to tell and we all love a good story.
I’ve realised that guests return for more than just the property itself. It is more about their interactions with the team. All those chats in the restaurant, on check in, whilst having a coffee in the lobby. People appreciate your time and friendship. Guests often say, “Let’s visit George and Jose at Cliveden” rather than: “Let’s go to Cliveden for a weekend”. Personal touches, relationships, being recognised, being known by your name, it is very important. People are important.
Sitting at my desk late at night, I sometimes get a call from a person from what seems like a million miles away asking questions about the hotel, how far it is from Heathrow, what restaurants are there in the area and what there is to do. Instead of wondering why they didn’t check the website or Google, you realise that they are reaching out to you. Of course anyone can search the web for things like that, but it is not the same, your future guests want to know the things only a local would know. Not many people want a tourist attraction these days, they want to know about the best local pub, the region’s food speciality, where you would go for a walk with your children. Anyone can buy a tourist guide, but not many have access to friendly, local knowledge.
I think that hotels should never strive for the best. What is the best? The best is irrelevant and the best is different for each and every single one of us. In my opinion the best is overrated. We should all strive to be special, exceptional, the most memorable, but more importantly ‘far better than expected’!
Doing those extra little unexpected things, like personal notes in the guests’ rooms, washing their cars, extending check-out times, giving a little something to take away are very important. We are all delivering a great experience, but we all have to make sure that experience last longer than guests’ time at the hotel.
Last impressions are as important, if not more so than first impressions. You made friends with your guests, they know your name, they loved their time, they are relaxed and ready to go home. But you risk upsetting them with a rushed breakfast, keep them waiting to pay their bill or stressing them to leave their room on time. Sure, there will always be things we can’t control or rules like check-out times. Your guests know that, but it is often not the ‘what’, but the ‘how’ that is more important.
By talking to your guests you will find out what their expectations are, and once you know it, you can manage it. Maybe if they knew that breakfasts tends to get really busy after 9am, some of your guests will get up a little earlier for that morning peace and quiet. Maybe they all think that they must be checked out at 12.00 noon. What if you told them that they wouldn’t have to leave the hotel at noon and they could pay their bill later, when they are ready? It is so important to offer solutions and not present problems.
When the time finally comes to say goodbye to your guests, we must get to know their feedback. We have done well this time, because they loved it! Great! Let’s now hear from them what they didn’t like and what they loved and make their next visit ‘home’ exceptional.
There is so much more I have learned over the past 18 years working at Cliveden with my colleagues as a team. As we spend more time with our colleagues than our own family, it is paramount to work as one and more importantly, to have fun whilst doing it.