Making service sense out of those that manage the dollars and cents of any hospitality business is a key but often overlooked part of any service culture. Hospitality leaders may go out of their way to pay the bills, secure revenue, finance investments and get reimbursements but they need to ensure that the accounting department reimburses service too.
Service training is critical and obvious for those on the frontline but how does service factor into the daily duties of those behind the scenes and in accounting roles? Managers and employees charged with the art of recording, classifying and summarizing expenses and income of any hospitality environment should also be charged with the art of service in any of those roles.
Ron Albeit, Vice President of Hospitality at Marco Beach Ocean Resort and Fiddler’s Creek Country Club on Florida’s West Coast teaches a Financial Accounting Course for the Hospitality Industry at a local university. He tells his students that the most important thing that accounting provides is SERVICE! He presents choices and asks students to prioritize inventory, cash, audits and service and is often surprised that service usually ranks at the bottom of the list.
Why is it that those entrusted to watch over revenue often neglecting the very principles that make revenue more solid? Repeat business, referral business, additional income and especially more than satisfied guests depend on comprehensively positive experiences. Guests form impressions and evaluate the quality and delivery of service based on their immediate needs as well as the cumulative experience of each interaction to meet those needs. This includes all the points of contact that involve any member of the accounting team.
“In fact accounting actually has an even more challenging responsibility in that they have to service two very important customers,” notes Mr. Albeit. “They must work externally with vendors, creditors, government, past hotel guests regarding accounts receivable or questions on the hotel billing etc… And, they must also work with internal customers; THE EMPLOYEES, especially regarding their payroll!”
Whether three seconds, three minutes or three hours, the comprehensive series of events which take place to fulfill any service request, including events/items handled by anyone in accounting, will be evaluated as one good or poor result. Guests will spend a premium price to receive better service and will base their lodging, leisure and business decisions on those that provide the best.
“Guest Service creates loyal customers that advertise your company, therefore increasing your company’s revenues,” says Andre Lattibeaudiere, Comptroller, Pelican Grand Beach Resort, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He notes that the Return on Investment( ROI) for training to ensure that all employees, in all parts of the hotel, understand the profitability impact of exceptional service delivery will continue to multiply as a powerful business strategy.
‘Overall life as a comptroller is easier when we take care of the guest, especially when they become repeat guests,” says Mr. Lattibeaudiere. “It’s important to have people who are good with numbers but it is even more important to have financial teams who are good with people.”
The flip side of this is the opportunity. Those businesses and individuals who recognize the platform of potential through proactive service excellence will stand out in a world that wants it but can’t seem to get it. A service culture must penetrate all departments of the hotel and hospitality venue. Standards of service apply to all roles, on the front line, behind the scenes, including accounting, bookkeeping, and auditing.
Taking time to map out the various points of contact where anyone in an accounting role can affect service delivery is worth the effort. In many cases, matters of money cause anxiety whether it is a bill discrepancy, an unpaid expense report, a missing check or a late payment. How those matters are handled, especially the difficult ones can make or break a service opportunity.
One very simple task and example is email communication regarding billing questions. These simple communication tools used by those in accounting roles are often impersonal, aloof and perfunctory. Many times there is no greeting, a short response and no thank you or closing. It’s as if to say, this relationship does not matter and accounting does not have time to be nice, only efficient. Another common complaint is simply understanding how a bill is laid out and how charges are determined. When doing our guest satisfaction studies, clients rank the way bills look and how they are explained or not explained as some of their most frustrating moments in the guest experience. Taking time to evaluate these touch points and how to enhance them from the guest/employee/vendor point of view would be invaluable.
I recall a recent written exchange with an employee managing revenue issues. The message began with “I do not” and then was followed by many reasons explaining all the reasons why not. My message had asked for a solution. I did get an answer but it was surrounded by a lot of unnecessary negative points instead of focusing on the positive alternatives to address my message. Learning how not to say no and present options that are possible in more positive language are key skills for accounting personnel to learn. When employees, guests or anyone encounters “no” as a first response, problems usually escalate , get worse and take longer than if a more responsive, solution-oriented positive response takes place first.
Escalation is another time consuming revenue distractor that can be handled at the moment of truth for any challenging guest interaction. If those in accounting leadership roles insist that any problems be bumped up the line for decision making and resolution, costs, aggravation and time get higher and service satisfaction goes lower. In fact, managers typically will spend more to resolve one escalated issue than a frontline employee who can dispose of the issue at its lowest cost. Empowering those in frontline roles to handle problems as they happen, with proper training and guidelines can relieve potential service disasters and lots of extra costs by getting the whole accounting team involved. Uniting all employees, in a shared understanding and commitment to the economic and emotional impact of service excellence and the importance of a motivated service culture is a cost reduction strategy.
Consider the following points as food for thought to make each financial role in your hotel fantastic:
- Showcase the importance and impact of service encounters at each point of contact and the impact of lasting impressions through training and day to day examples.
- Establish and integrate standards of service excellence and attitude for each employee role. Identify each specific touchpoint of the accounting team and how to avoid escalation.
- Analyze all service delivery needs in accounting, how to best serve them and how to set job expectations relative to accounting roles and attitudes.
- Recognize both the procedural and personal sides of service. Many employees in accounting roles are excellent with procedures. Show them how to add the personal side of service to make a winning combination and effort.
- Understand the value and impact of both external and internal customers in all accounting communications
- Focus on positive ways to resolve difficult situations and look for the “yes” to create a positive outcome for all those involved Identify all communication tools such as bills, correspondence, paychecks, invoices, etc. to see how they can be improved with the guest experience in mind
- Don’t leave out any member of the accounting team, including the night auditors in any service training. Introduce and integrate the latest techniques in guest experience management and service leadership.
- Recognize that vendors play a critical role in referrals, impressions and service back to the hotel which benefits guests and employees. Focus accounting teams on the impact of those relationships.
- Unify all employees including outside resources and executives in shared understanding and commitment to the economic and emotional impact of service excellence and the importance of a motivated service culture.
Focusing on the economic impact of service should make the accounting team very happy when service positively impacts the hotel’s economics. Make sure Service is entered into the General Ledger of daily accounting duties and watch for even greater financial forecasts.