Train Your Hotel Team To Use The Language Of Hospitality

By. Doug Kennedy 30th Mar 2012

Part One 

Although there is no doubt that non-verbal signals such as eye contact, body language, and facial expressions strongly help convey meaning during human interactions, the words we choose also impact interpersonal communications. Therefore it’s important to help your hospitality and guest contact staff to choose their words carefully when interacting with guests, prospects, and even their “internal” customers from other departments.

Today’s hospitality associates have the most advanced technology at their fingertips for “processing” guests through the hotel systems. Also, driven by real photo postings and online guest reviews at TripAdvisor and elsewhere, hotel owners and operators have certainly put forth the best “physical product” when it comes to guest rooms, meeting space, and public areas.

Despite all these improvements, there’s still one area of opportunity at most hotels I stay at these days, and that is to train all guest contact associates to use the language of hospitality.

All too often I find myself walking into the lobby of a luxury hotel, towing my luggage being greeted by a raised eyebrow and nod followed by “Checking’ in?” Even where I’m properly welcomed by service providers with a warm smile and eye contact, often the words I hear being used present a less than professional and positive first impression.

If you are looking to take your team to even higher levels of guest service excellence, here are some examples of words and phrases to better-convey the spirit of hospitality:
Not That: “Checking In?” or “May I Help The Next Guest In Line?”
Say This: “Hello! Welcome to the (name) hotel. Do you have a reservation with us?”

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 these phrases. If you are unsure whether or not the guest needs to register, say “Good afternoon. Welcome, how may I assist you today?” Replace “May I help the next guest?” by establishing eye contact with the next person in the queue and saying something such as “Welcome sir, you may step up so I can assist you…”
Not That: “We Have Like A Pool and Hot Tub On The First Floor.”
Say This: “Our Pool and Hot Tub Are On The First Floor.”

Avoid describing your hotel product with the phrase “like.” This word diminishes the description by implying uncertainty. Sound more confident by accurately describing what it is.
Not That: “No Problem”
Say This: “It was my pleasure.” Or “You are most welcome.”

Even at four and five star hotels, “no problem” seems to be the most frequent response I hear after genuinely thanking a hotel service provider. Although this has become part of the vernacular for some time now, when you think about it what this phrase actually says is “Normally sir, this is a problem, but for you we made an exception.” Although few if any guests will actually be offended by this harmless remark, your staff will sound so much more eloquent when they simply respond “You are most welcome” or “It was our pleasure.”
Not That: “Just one?”
Say This: “Welcome To (Restaurant Name.) Are You Ready To Be Seated?”

As a business traveler I often find myself walking up to a host or hostess stand, my newspaper or book neatly tucked away, and being greeted by “Just one?” Even when said in a friendly manner it still makes me want to frown and reply sadly, “Yes, just one. No one wants to have dinner with me tonight.” Instead avoid reminding single patrons they are dining alone and greet them by saying “Hello, are you ready to be seated?”
Not That: “I’ll have to check on that for you.”
Say This: “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 of running our hotels. A better approach is to say “Let me check on that for you.”
Not That: “I Think It Is.” Or “It Should Be.”
Say This: “It Is.” Or “I Will Verify That Right Now…”

When guests hear service providers make statements such “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 of what they are saying such as “The breakfast should open at 6:30am.” A better approach is to say with conviction “It is.” or if you don’t know for sure, assure them you’ll find out and let them know in a timely manner.
Not That: “I’m Only Just The…”
Say This: “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 again 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 convey it themselves to the appropriate person or department.

By addressing examples such as these at your next meeting or training even, you’ll help ensure that your hotel staff will professionally convey a message of pro-active, guest-focused hospitality during each and every guest interaction.

In Part Two of this article, I will provide some fun ideas for training your staff at your next pre-shift or departmental meeting. Also in Part Two I will share additional examples of common phrases frequently used, along with more eloquent replacements that convey the language of hospitality.

Train Your Hotel Team To Use The Language Of Hospitality: Part Two

As we have said, there is no doubt that non-verbal signals such as eye contact, body language, and facial expressions strongly help convey meaning during human interactions. Yet the words we choose also impact interpersonal communications. Therefore it”s important to help your hospitality and guest contact staff to choose their words carefully when interacting with guests, prospects, and even their “internal” customers from other departments. In the last article we explored numerous examples commonly used words and phrases along with better alternatives. Thanks to all of the readers who submitted their additional examples of words and phrases to focus on:

Not That: “You”ll have to….”

Say This: “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 17 year old rebel teenager in them and they draw a line in the sand and it can often lead to one of those “Oh no I won”t!” – “Oh yes you will!” deadlocks. A much better response can be elicited when we use the phrase “May I suggest that you…”

Not That: “I can”t believe they put you inthisroom!” or “They were supposed to fix this problem last week!”

Say This: “I apologize for the inconvenience. Let”s see what we can do for you now.”

The hotel engineering, maintenance, and housekeeping departments are faced with the unique challenge that the majority of their guest contact comes during circumstances where something has gone wrong. It is important that they express support of other departments/divisions and avoid placing blame. A few words of empathy and a simple and sincere apology can go a long way in defusing emotionally intense guest encounters and turning things back around for the rest of their stay.

Not That: “Sure.”

Say This: “You are most welcome!”

Similar to the phrase “No problem” addressed in the previous article, this phrase is also used in response to a guest”s statement of thanks. When guests make comments such as “Wow, thank you so much for your excellence help on this,” instead of responding “Sure,” train your staff to simply say “You”re most welcome” or “It was our pleasure to assist.”

Not That: “Yes?”

Say This: “Hello, welcome! How can I assist you today?”

Similar to the commonly used greeting statement at registration of “Checkin” in?” addressed in the previous article, I have twice in the last month been greeted at the front desk with the word “Yes?” usually with a raised eyebrow and nod. Much better to use a welcoming statement to greet the guest, even if they are there just to ask a question.

Not That: “GoodafternoonthanksforcallingBrandXHotelthisisDoug.”

Say This: “Good afternoon, thanks for calling Brand X Hotel, this is Doug?”

Some frontline associates use the right words, but they speak so quickly and without any pauses that the greeting sounds like someone talking with a mouth full of marbles. Train your staff to speak at a moderate pace and to use proper inflection, with energy.,.

Not That: “Yep” and “Uh-huh.”

Say This: “Yes,” “Absolutely.”

Encourage the staff to use proper grammar and complete words and to avoid common slang such as these.

Not That: “Your credit card was declined.”

Say This: “We were unable to get approval from your bank. Do you have another method of payment?”

When we say “Your credit card was declined” it sounds like we personally have chosen not to accept it. With the second example, the responsibility is moved to the card provider.

Not That: “All I have left is our X suites.”

Say This: “Fortunately we still have our suites available.”

When hotels are sold out, it is typically either the highest rated accommodations or the least desirable, such as those with limited views. When all you have left is all you have left, never say it”s all you have left! If you do, it will make what”s left sound like leftover dinner. Instead present the remaining options in a positive way by saying “Fortunately what we still have open for your dates are…” When offering last-sell type rooms, first let them know about any glaringly obvious negatives, then remind them what is good about the option such as “You”ll still have all the same amenities” or “You”ll still be able to enjoy the hotel activities.”

Not That: “That special rate is not available.”

Say This: “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! Better to say “That rate is sold out” and then to ask “Are your dates flexible? I”d be happy to help find that rate for other dates.”

Not That: “We can”t guarantee that…”

Say This: “We can make a note of your request.”

Sometimes hotels are not able to guarantee factors such as view, location, or connecting rooms, although it does seem to be a positive trend that hotels are increasingly moving towards “confirming” these request. Even if your operational constraints do not allow you to guarantee such requests, it is much better to focus on the “can dos” in a positive way.

It is hoped that you and your hotel managers will use the examples from this two-part series to review with your hotel team at your own in-house training or departmental meetings. In doing so, ask them to brainstorm other examples of commonly used phrases they hear every day, along with better alternatives.

Once you have exposed your hospitality team to the concept of using the language of hospitality, the next step is to reinforce it. Here are a few ideas:

  • Select a “word of the week” to eliminate. For example, pick a different word each week to challenge your staff to stop using. Challenge each associate to catch their colleagues using the word, and then to document it. Reward those who go through the whole week without using the word.
  • As they do in Toastmasters International, the organization that helps aspiring public speakers develop their skills, charge a small penalty when someone is “caught” by a supervisor or co-worker using a word from the training. For example, at Toastmasters meetings, one member is designated to be the “Ah” counter. At the end of the meeting everyone is required to deposit a dime or quarter into a bank for each time they use the crutch word or slang. The money can later be awarded to the person with the least number of “violations.”
  • Find a way to record real-world calls so that all sales and guest services staff can hear themselves talking on the phone. Then all you need to do is play back the calls and let them listen for themselves. This is a great way for everyone to learn from their own experiences so that they can improve in the future. In today”s world there are numerous new and inexpensive technology systems for recording calls. For example, many long distance companies now provide inexpensive call recording options, along with call analysis and tracking

About Doug Kennedy

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. Doug continues to be a fixture on the industry’s conference circuit for hotel companies, brands and associations, as he been for over

View Complete Profile

Related Resources