Everyone knows that first impressions are vital. Whether you're on a date, at a job interview or trying to clinch that crucial contract, the way you come across in those vital early moments can spell the difference between triumph and disaster.
Nowhere is that more true than in our industry. We're here to make people feel at home, put a smile on their face, help them relax. If their first experience is grim, you've achieved the opposite.
At Willerby Manor hotel we were thrilled to win the Remarkable Welcome Award at the East Yorkshire tourism awards. It was great recognition for front -of-house manager Caroline Gavin and her four-strong reception team whose first-class customer service is commended time and again in guest surveys and letters.
They achieved this in a year when the front of the hotel - including the reception desk - was demolished to make way for a smart new entrance. Yet even in these difficult conditions they provided a wonderful welcome to visitors and guests.
So how do you create an award-winning welcome? It's all about the people. To find outgoing, naturally friendly staff who enjoy interacting with people is not always easy. To blend them into a team who work well together and offer a seamlessly excellent service is trickier still.
Once you have your team in place, it gets easier. If they have the right qualities, the rest is not difficult to train. After all, a smile and a pleasant greeting go a long way.
Alex TownendManaging director, Willerby Manor hotel, Hull
five steps to the perfect welcome
1 Recruitment You'll know a good front-of-house person when you meet them. Warm, friendly, good eye contact, a way with people - these qualities will shine through at interview. Snap them up. The next stage is to see if they can translate these skills to the working environment. Begin with a trial period where they work alongside an experienced member of staff.
2 Team building With your front-of-house manager, look to build a team who can work not only with one another but for one another. It can be a stressful job which involves unsocial hours. If your reception staff bond as a team they will go that extra mile for customers and for each other, providing mutual support and cover in a crisis. A good team is more likely to stay together - solving those retention problems - and will ensure that you maintain a high level of customer service round the clock.
3 Training We've all entered a hotel or restaurant where the person who's there to greet you is more interested in their computer or phone than in you. This is often a failure of training. Ensure staff know the value of a warm welcome. Give them strategies to deal with the competing demands of the reception desk which puts a premium on positive face-to-face contact.
4 Listen Absorb all the feedback - talk to customers and your staff, read the comments online and on paper, undertake regular customer surveys. It will soon become clear if your welcome is not what it ought to be. Act on this information through extra training and moving people to positions more suited to their skills.
5 Encourage initiative An experienced receptionist knows more about what customers want and need than almost anyone. Give them the confidence to take initiative and the results are likely to be positive. At our hotel we decided to take guests with dogs - and one of our reception team took it on herself to provide a dog walking service. Result? More happy guests.