Can I Help You?

By: Barbara Sargeant

If you were to survey a cross section of hotel guests on what they look for when choosing a hotel room, their responses might include a selection of the following…

  • Cleanliness
  • Plenty of space
  • Good facilities
  • Good location
  • Quality of service
  • Friendly staff
  • Easy to do business
  • Good price
  • Good lighting

If I was a hotel guest I might agree with most aspects of
the survey but I am not the average hotel guest. I am an
Executive Housekeeper with many years experience, who this
year because of work commitments, has spent time in hotel
rooms in several properties both here and overseas as “The Guest”.

These experiences from the “other side” have made me re-examine
my teachings to staff or “the gospel according to Mrs. Sargeant” as
I recall overhearing my staff describe it as in the staff cafeteria
one day.

As Executive Housekeepers, we constantly strive to train staff
to meet guests’ needs, wants and desires (with a few exceptions of
course) and to anticipate their every move with a smile. But I
wonder how many of us get it wrong.

Back in the 60’s, the first Executive Housekeeper I ever worked
for, taught me that the guest was always right even if he wasn’t and
that the art of really good service was to say “Yes certainly sir”
whilst gritting your teeth, or to go out the back to the pantry and
then scream!! She taught me well, because even on the odd occasion
when faced with naked men whilst serving morning teas, as is customary
in the U.K., (the teas that is not the naked men), I was always polite.
I only ever dropped the tray once without personally apologising. I
don’t remember his face but there were some other things about him
I do remember.

There are not many difficult or challenging guests out there but
yes we do remember them. Likewise, I’m sure they remember us if we
do not deliver the service they expect.

Some of my experiences are less than memorable but I think are
worth sharing. In one hotel, when checking in, (after queuing for
some time), not at any time did the receptionist make eye contact,
except with my credit card. The questions fired at me were more
akin to that of being on patrol in the army but even less tolerable
when under the influence of jet lag and blocked ears.

The abrupt questioning was as follows.

  • Q. You checking in?
    A. Yes
  • Q. Name ?
    A. Sargeant
  • Q. How many people ?
    A. Just the one
  • Q. You checking out tomorrow?
    A. Yes
  • Q. Method of payment ?
    A. Credit card
  • Q. Are you going to use your minibar?
    A. I’ll tell you tomorrow.

Big sigh at this point from the receptionist whilst tapping,
head down at all times , on the keyboard of the computer “Here’s your key”
(Key thrust at me with no signal as to which direction the lift was in and
no assistance was offered with the luggage). In fact I was made to feel
like a real interruption to her day and after being checked in, in this manner,
I was disappointed not to be frogmarched to my room and told to sleep!! Being
in the same industry, I felt it my responsibility to comment on this experience
in the guest comment card which I completed on checking out, (at the same
time I paid for my minibar.) I have never received a letter of response
from the hotel as is customary in these matters.

In other hotels, I have heard staff having private conversations across
the lobby when they think nobody’s listening. Do they think hotel guests
sitting in the lobby waiting for somebody are invisible, or deaf? I remember
hearing two receptionists discussing rather loudly an obviously challenging
guest after hanging up the telephone receiver after holding a conversation
with him.

Now let’s talk about Housekeeping and the service. One of my former
supervisors would often make the comment “this would be a good hotel if it
wasn’t for the guests!!” when a certain guest was being challenging and the
same supervisor was very busy because the hotel was full. I thought of him
and smiled when in one hotel, I complained bitterly about the poor water
pressure and was told very politely by the room attendant, that in a bid
to conserve water and energy, the hotel had installed this super duper
valve that saved the hotel $80,000 per annum in energy costs. Great I thought,
the hotel is saving money so it doesn’t matter that I have to run around in
the shower to get wet each morning. Made me feel a whole lot better that
statement I can tell you. What the hotel doesn’t realise is that they probably
spent $80,000 in advertising in the first place to get my business. I now know
why the same hotel had towels the same size as a postage stamp and of about
the same thickness, It’s because the guests don’t shower!!

Stands to reason!! In another hotel, before stepping into the shower,
I placed my bathmat onto the floor in preparation for my exit, only to
find it soaking wet because the water hit the shower screen and ran
down the edge of the bath because the seal was missing. The room attendant
who cleaned this room probably thought dolphins stay in that room at
regular intervals but has never thought to question why the water was
on the floor. It had obviously been happening for some time because the
floor grouting was quite discoloured at this spot.

We know there are two sides to every story but why, when I stay with
the same hotel, do I sometimes get no soaps and at other times 3 presented
in a packet I can’t open with wet hands, or no shampoo but 2 bathgels in
bottles printed with writing that is so small, its impossible to read when
you are not wearing your glasses AND who wears their glasses in the
shower? And why does the room attendant insist on putting away my kettle
(which she empties) and ties the cord in a knot again. Is it to annoy me
or just to show me who’s boss??

Then there was the bed. I know when teaching new room attendants bed
making, I would always show them how to do mitred corners and to tuck
the bed in tightly along the sides as has been industry practice for years
BUT is that what I as a guest really want?? I have to say it is
not and the nightly battle to loosen the sheets so that my feet can
assume an upright position is not something I miss. I recently stayed
in a small hotel where the bedding is not tucked in down the sides because
the clientele is as a rule older and finds it difficult to negotiate the
bedding. This is the true meaning of meeting the guests needs and if indeed
it is not the norm, so what?

So why do we in Housekeeping not really understand this aspect of our
industry? We should from time to time re-evaluate our teachings and learn
to question our practices more. I also believe it is because not enough
Housekeeping staff or Executive Housekeepers are given the opportunity to
spend a night or three in their own property and view the experiences through
the eyes of the guest. One Executive Housekeeper I know has worked in
the same property for the last 10 years but has NEVER stayed a night or
had a shower in one of the rooms she is responsible for. I believe the guest
comment cards are only useful if the information the guests provide is utilised
in future plans and whilst some suggestions made are impractical from an
operational aspect, many positive changes could follow and contribute to
making our department even more professional.

Sargeant Hotel Housekeeping