Engineers are the “fix it” squads who make things tick, click and stick to ensure that a property operates smoothly and without inconvenience to the guest. In fact, engineers don’t just do their jobs: they provide some of the most intimate moments with guests – fixing things in their rooms and around the property usually surrounded by guests. What service skills could and should they have in addition to fixing things?
A guest called the Front Desk at a luxury boutique hotel about the fan not working in her room and with additional questions on the thermostat. She asked if someone could come right away as the room temperature was uncomfortable. Within 5 minutes two engineers arrived. When the guest opened the door one engineer said ‘you called about the fan?” He did not introduce himself or the other engineer with him. They were dedicated and focused on getting the job done so marched straight in to get to work. The guest told him the fan did not work. He told the guest she must “turn it on.” She said she had done that. The engineer’s questions implied she did not know what she was doing and he proceeded to give her a lesson on how to turn it on. As he did, he discovered the battery in the remote was dead so she had done everything correctly. He then said he would be right back with batteries.
Up until this point, neither engineer had introduced themselves so the guest had to ask. Only one told her his name, the other stood silent. They both came back seven minutes later and fixed the fan. The engineers were nice and efficient but did not make the guest feel comfortable or at ease. They were task oriented yet implied the problem might be a guest error before checking the guest’s claim. They did not seem to have empathy, and missed a key touch-point when they did not introduce themselves when the guest opened the door.
Engineering teams should understand how important it is to introduce themselves, especially in the very personal setting of a guest’s hotel room and how it will set a guest at ease. They need to understand how their role involves service as much as it does engineering. And while they may (or may not) be experts in fixing things, engineers should not make guests feel incompetent or like the guest made a mistake. They should focus on the experience of helping the guest and restoring the room to the guest’s satisfaction.
On another occasion, my son and I were with a dear friend and her son at an elegant seaside resort on the East Coast. Late at night, my friend placed her diamond earrings in one of the drinking glasses in the bathroom, thinking that would be a safe place for them. Little did she know that I was quite thirsty so during my next bathroom visit, I took that glass, filled it with water and dumped the extra water down the drain. Her beautiful 3 carat diamond earrings also went down the drain. We both panicked and placed a call to the front desk to ask for help immediately, even though it was almost midnight. We were quite upset, both at each other and the situation. Ten minutes later, Peter, the engineer, was at our door. He took one look at us and knew we needed to be calmed down. He introduced himself and told us not to worry. We explained the situation and he once again, in a very calm voice, told us the hotel‘s management and engineering team had anticipated these potential mishaps. He explained that it would not be complicated to open the pipes below the sink and that most likely the missing earrings were in a special trap below. His calm and focused demeanor, his reassuring tone, his kind introduction of his role and his mission to help us, reduced the sweat on our brows significantly. Within ten minutes, my friend was holding her precious earrings in the palm of her hand and our sink was completely back to normal. Peter had saved the day…and our friendship! Though it was late at night, our two boys were sleeping and we were two women alone in our room, Peter knew how to set us at ease and kept a professional demeanor at all times. He took a near disaster and turned it into a promising rescue. His attitude and professional responsiveness and understanding of his role in the guest experience made him an extraordinary engineer.
Upon another occasion, a hospital chief of staff planned and attended her hospital retreat at a major West Coast resort with a top international reputation and guest roster. During that retreat, she and her team encountered many service problems with housekeeping, the front desk, baggage, room keys and more. She left feeling frustrated and distressed and asked for someone to follow up with her after departure. She never heard from the resort and would not have returned but for a meeting with some friends who had chosen that location as a central meeting spot. The resort is huge so locating the right restaurant and meeting place is not always easy. She took a wrong turn and was lost. Martin, an engineer driving the property in a cart, noticed her confusion and immediately stopped to see if he could be of assistance. He not only offered her directions, he offered to drive her there himself. His attitude was positive, engaging and responsive. This one employee, an engineer, went out of his way to help a guest and completely surprised her with his exceptional service. Thanks to Martin, the engineer, this guest was less stressed, relieved and found her friends on time. At the end of the evening, this same guest, said goodbye to her friends and walked to her car. It was late at night and the parking lot was dark. Once again, Martin, in his cart, drove up and to the rescue and escorted her again, this time to her car. His helpful attitude and service focus helped this guest navigate around the resort, twice, and gave her a completely different perspective and impression of service from a completely unexpected source. She was most appreciative and let the resort know. Martin turned her very negative impressions around and served as an ambassador of service where many other roles had not.
Many times engineers wear drab colors of gray and black or blue, drive carts/trucks with lots of tools, use walkie-talkies and have dirty hands and presume to have a more “backstage” role. In fact, because they are dealing with many unexpected situations and are called in to fix problems and to ensure the mechanical sides of each property run well, the engineers potentially have many opportunities to be seen by and interact with guests. They should be trained and positioned in the arena of guest service as much as any other employee and should be empowered to recognize the impact of and opportunity in service with each guest interaction. In fact, engineers especially need to be skilled in the basics of service recovery since the call for an engineer usually means something has already gone wrong.
Make sure service recovery and guest experience awareness is a front stage role for these back stage employees. Consider the following guidelines for engineering service success:
- Provide guest service training for each engineer, whether they are new employees or those who have been around awhile. Show them examples of how they can make a difference in the guest experience and empower them to do so.
- Reinforce the value of introducing themselves in each guest contact and help them understand how guests will feel more secure when they know who is in their room or helping them solve their problem. Make sure each engineer has a name tag and encourage team name recognition.
- Consider uniforms that make a positive statement and still allow them to do their work. Drab gray, black and blue convey a drab attitude and drab duties. Choose uniforms that recognize they are truly on stage in the daily guest experience. IBM repairmen were famous for wearing coat and tie while fixing typewriters.
- Understand the value and impact of any one point of contact that the engineer might make. At 10 o’clock at night, fixing a TV remote control, the engineer IS the hotel brand.
- Engineers are trained to be engineers and are usually very skilled at their jobs. While guests will appreciate that confidence, they will not appreciate being patronized or demeaned for items that may seem obvious. Make sure the engineering team recognizes how to positively react to each guest request, no matter how simple and to reassure that guest that they are there to solve the problem and keep a good guest experience underway.
- Management should treat and greet the engineering team the same way that they treat and greet guests. At one Florida property, the GM always greets the engineers by name and says a friendly hello or comment. This positive reinforcement rubs off on guests and serves as a motivating and positive role model. It also recognizes that the hotel’s management team values the engineer’s role in the guest experience.
- Evaluate ways to show guests that engineering has their comfort in mind as well as solving their problems. For example, when walking into a guest room, consider having engineers put on plastic shoe covers/rubber booties to show they respect the room’s cleanliness. Brainstorm other ways to do this with the engineering team.
- Ensure that walkie-talkies are not too loud and that conversations on problems or internal communications can be overheard by guests. Though they are solving problems and efficiently dealing with challenges to improve resort or guest concerns, the loud sounds can disturb the guest experience and should be handled discretely.
Engineers are known for the dependability, their resourcefulness and their problem solving. Make sure they are known for exceptional service as well and watch guest service tick, click and stick to new levels of excellence. Meet and exceed guest expectations by engineering service and solve guest experience challenges with engineered service success.