It’s late, it’s dark and it’s time for bed. Guests who arrive past dinner time are usually not in the best of moods. They have traveled far, have left the comfort of their homes and may have had some challenges which caused them to be later than they had planned. Welcome to the night shift.
Will guests be greeted by those who have been extra prepared for these less than cheery guests or will guests be greeted by those employees who are not in the best moods themselves? What kind of thought goes into the scheduling and placement of the night team, their attitudes and dispositions? Since they are the third shift, are they also the third team in service delivery, considering that most of the rest of the world is asleep? Are they the least service oriented employees since one would think they deal with the least number of guests? Are they the last ones in line for training, if any training at all? Do they have more distractions and have to handle more jobs since there is less staff on duty? Do they take a
more casual attitude toward their role in the guest experience since they have so many other responsibilities to handle?
Cranky and combative might not be the normal reactions guests expect during their evening stay but one guest encountered these exact emotions at a recent stay at a major brand hotel. Having arrived late, she was given one of the last rooms on a lower floor. During the wee hours of the morning, the clanging and banging started. When she called the front desk, the night auditor denied the noise existed and told her nothing was taking place. She protested and said something had definitely awakened her and that she was definitely not imagining it. He remained less than charming in his dialogue and expressed no empathy or concern for a guest who needed exactly that.
One hour later the noise started again and the groggy guest called the front desk once more. This time, a different person answered, told her that she was over the kitchen where some construction was taking place and responded that he would make sure the noise stopped immediately. Twenty minutes later, the noise stopped. When the noise began an hour later for the third time, she called the front desk and got the original night auditor on the line. He told her that there “certainly was no one working in the middle of the night” (even though the last person said there was) and that there was no noise. Luckily the noise then stopped. Unluckily, the alarm to get up went off. Service seemed to have checked out right after this guest checked in…what a nightmare.
Though the morning shift apologized profusely, offered to move her room and presented her with a meal voucher, a good meal is not a substitute for a good night’s sleep.
Why did the third shift, the night shift, handle this so poorly with this guest? Why was the first or morning shift equipped to handle the guest much better and why was the third or night shift not? What skills should the night auditor and his team have had to have turned this bad situation into a good one? Service recovery can be one of the most impactful guest loyalty strategies and this particular night crew had at least three opportunities to score a home run with an unhappy guest. Instead, they scored three outs and made the unhappy guest, unhappier. There was no empathy, efficiency or excellence in any of the three phone calls. Was the night shift neglected or even sleeping on the job when training on guest service took place? Or, did the training not take place at all? Just because employees are assigned the late night shift does not excuse them from their role in the guest experience. They need to be prepared for all things that go bump in the night…and know how to make them right.
My family had an interesting experience at a major brand hotel. We have stopped at this particular hotel at least four times as a late night stop during long drives between Florida and Georgia. We are repeat guests and all our information is in the system. The same night manager is always on duty when we arrive. Each time we arrive after 11pm and each time it takes this same clerk almost 30 minutes to check us in. He has a hard time accessing our information, confirming our rate, processing the papers and efficiently assigning us a room. Each time we think he will recognize us and whisk us immediately into bedded bliss so we get the rest we need for our long drive the next day. Instead, our repeat business is rewarded with more aggravation and less sleep than we had hoped by the time we get to our room.
During our last visit, we confirmed that it would indeed be our last visit even though it is a convenient hotel. During all of our previous visits, breakfast was included in the rate. Due to low occupancy, this time the hotel clerk was told to charge us. While he was explaining this, other guests were calling on the phone to ask why they were suddenly being charged for breakfast. The employee seemed confused and opened a drawer filled with the free breakfast coupons but explained that he could not use them now. Guests who had been expecting the included breakfast based on all their previous visits and as appreciation for the repeat business were now being penalized as part of the hotel’s cost saving measures. A lot of confusion and ill will were generated to save a few dollars. In the long run, saving the repeat guests would have been a more profitable strategy. It seemed like this hotel chose to put their least trained employee on the desk for late night visitors, change the rules on him and in turn the guests, give him no authority to handle repeat guests with extra care, and poorly equip him with procedures that encumbered any smooth check-ins whatsoever. In this instance, management set a poor example and provided little or no management assistance or guidance to the late night crew. Guests arriving at this time also got the impression that when you are late, you are less important and do not deserve the same efforts, benefits and expediency as those arriving by daylight.
What happens when the sun sets, the shifts change and the service settles down? Why would hotel managers consider having those less trained or less focused on service during the last shift just because there are seemingly less guest interactions during that time? Consider that the biggest guest challenges and most intense guest exposure may take place during that time. Grumpy, tired and impatient guests may need extra reassurance, empathy and problem solving when unexpected problems, delays or mishaps take place. Employees don’t have the option to ‘send them to the bar or restaurant’ while the problem is worked out! Service recovery needs to be immediate and employees should be empowered and oriented to do whatever it takes to get guests back to bed, feeling value for even the few hours they may be there.
And, just because employees are on the night shift, does not mean they should not be included in employee events, recognition and communications. Show them they are appreciated and not forgotten. Acknowledge the more challenging and less social roles they may have. Barry Frommer, General Manager of the Pelican Grand Beach Resort in Ft Lauderdale surprised his night shift with a thank you breakfast when their shift was over. This was a small gesture with a huge impact. He showed his team that they mattered and that their roles were significant and meaningful to the hotel’s hospitality. His recognition of them inspired them to more strongly recognize their role with guests.
To ensure late night service excellence is real and not just a dream, consider the following:
- Make sure each employee working throughout the night understands the many touchpoints and points of contact they may have with guests. They are still part of the guest experience and they do have opportunities to make midnight memorable or late lousy. Whether on the front line, maintenance, and housekeeping or in the back office, all employees will have opportunities to interact with guests at some point. Make sure they are prepared.
- Train managers and employees to ensure that empathy, efficiency and excellence are part of any night time encounter, no matter how brief or how intense.
- Review problems that come up during the night shift and develop responsive service solutions that can be put in place. Ask all night shift staff for their observations and ideas on how to make service a top priority, even when the lights go out.
- Recognize the extra duties and different social dynamics of those on the night team and ensure they feel part of the whole team. Reward good performance and show them they are appreciated.
- If using term “Night Auditor” or some other operations title for the one in charge during the late shift, consider renaming that position to a more guest friendly and approachable term. Perhaps “Evening Manager”, “Manager on Duty” or “Manager at your service” would convey authority, commitment and professionalism to guests, even late at night. Guests will be more responsive just hearing that the hotel placed a proactive and concerned individual at the helm that is accessible and ready to address guest concerns. Don’t let guests perceive they are getting the bottom of the bunch just because they arrived late.
- Sensitize all employees working during the night to any maintenance, interruptions or inconveniences that may impact guest slumber and comfort. Equip them and empower them with options and service solutions.
- Recognize that the hospitality business is a 24 hour business and that no one hour is less important than the next when it comes to comprehensive guest experiences and the exceptional service that will make a difference.
Perhaps singing group, The Commodores sum it up best in their 1985 hit, “Nightshift”…
“Gonna be some sweet sounds Coming down on the nightshift I bet you’re singing proud Oh I bet you’ll pull a crowd Gonna be a long night It’s gonna be all right On the night shift Oh you found another home I know you’re not aloneOn the night shift.”