Being in the hospitality industry, an important major tool that many five-star hotels use for sustaining good customer relationship management is through delivering excellent customer service. The Investopedia (2015) defines customer service as ‘the process of ensuring customer satisfaction with a product or service’, as per each hotel brand’s own standards and procedures, aimed at exceeding the expectations of their customers. All departments of a hotel are collectively responsible for enhancing the hospitality experience through displaying great care and pleasure in establishing long-lasting guest memories. This paper talks about the housekeeping department, which plays a direct role in raising the bar of customer experience, discussing some major problems and strategies implemented by five-star property for preserving themselves in this dominating fast-paced industry.
The housekeeping department represents the operational side of a hotel and is considered to be an exceedingly important phase of the guest cycle, representing the ‘occupancy’ stage (Pizam 2010, p. 306). Hence, this department plays a crucial role in influencing the overall guest experience and is one of the major profit centers, in rooms accommodation, apart from the food and beverage department. Their important duties include managing ‘equipment, people and supplies’, preserving ‘furnishings and fabrics’, handling ‘cost control’ measures and maintaining important records (Tucker & Schneider cited in O’Fallon & Rutherford 2011, p. 168). Since five-star properties are always trying to make a positive first impression on their customers, this department always works under pressure in the cleanliness, sanitation and the maintenance of hotel rooms to perfection, for meeting their needs and desires and making them feel right at home. Therefore, housekeeping is a highly labor intensified job and described as the backbone of a hotel which has a direct impact on the rooms division and in establishing the overall brand image of any property.
The real action of the housekeeping department is being put to test when a guest has checked inside the property. It is during this time that the services and the hospitality provided by the housekeepers is extremely essential, right till the time the guest has checked out of the hotel, which can make or break the overall hotel experience. This could be considered as an all-important stage through which hotels could either win guest loyalty and retention or lose them somewhere in the process. However, it is extremely difficult for hotel staff to make all the guests happy simultaneously, which would vary from customer to customer. For understanding such situations better, the hotel staff should put themselves in the customer’s shoe, and assess such matters from their perspectives. It is exceedingly important for the housekeeping team to follow all procedures as per their property’s brand standards and policies, paying attention to all details since even the smallest margin of errors can result in bad service and unhappy guests.
Mogelonsky (2015) states that even the best of luxury hotel brands needs exceptionally high standards of housekeeping since they all face similar problems. Some of these factors include the absence of ‘dressing gowns’, ‘beds’ being made in an unconventional manner, troubles of not possessing extra ‘soaps’ in the bathroom amenities mainly for saving hotel costs, having an inappropriate quantity of products such as having extra ‘shower gels’ but a missing ‘shampoo’, hotel staff performing service hours at uneven timings causing inconvenience to some customers and experiencing drainage problems with the sinkhole and the ‘shower heads’ in the bathroom. Hence, it is extremely important for the housekeeping staff to maintain a checklist with them throughout their shifts, helping them to perform their tasks better. Thus, being a demanding job, the housekeeping department has a huge responsibility on their shoulders and must remain consistent throughout the process, which is the key to success.
For a five-star property to head and command over the others in this industry, the housekeeping department has to have certain strategies in place. Since the executive housekeeper represents the head, he/she is responsible for the progress of the department and is directly accountable to the general manager. O’Fallon & Rutherford (2011) describe that the role of executive housekeepers includes good ‘communication’ and ‘leadership’ skills through good ‘strategic planning’ skills and managing the department through effective staff ‘training’ and interaction with other departments. Firstly, since the housekeeping department is also dependent on the other departments such as the front office, maintenance, security, etc., interdepartmental communication is an important tool for departments to stay on the same page. Bardi (2011) states that communication between housekeeping and the front office is essential for sustaining important information such as security and maintenance concerns, projecting room sales, supplying ‘amenities’ to a guest’s room with daily communication through the ‘property management system’ concerning ‘room status’.
Another strategy, that many properties have been using is through outsourcing their housekeeping department to an external company including laundry services. This can be beneficial, reducing the burden of hotels to some extent. Burt (2010) says that outsourcing can help hotels save money, and in turn reduction of ‘labor’, ‘training’ and ‘recruitment’ costs, with their main focus on maintaining ‘guest services’. However, this can vary from property to property and implemented by affordable hotels. Thirdly, customer complaints can serve as an important tool in improving services of a property. Since this department is exposed to customer complaints daily, each with a different frequency and intensity, the department can learn from them recovering service and converting them into positive moments of truth for matching each guest’s needs and expectations.
Lastly, the role of the executive housekeeper has a huge influence on the staff in identifying the strengths and weaknesses of the department. As mentioned, the executive housekeeper has many responsibilities and be a team-player. They are responsible for guiding and motivating the entire team through understanding and encouraging their staff members. Training is an important factor, especially since this department has a high staff turnover. Topolewski (2015) states that with the advent of technology, mobile phones have become the perfect ‘training manuals’ for employees since it allows much more flexibility with updates on any changes, allowing full staff participation. Apart from this, the executive housekeeping should hold more staff briefings and conduct regular room inspections. In another article Mogelonsky (2015) expresses that in an interview with the general manager of Halekulani, Ulrich Krauer, it was found out that staff interaction with guests can build strong customer relationships for which staff members should be respected and treated in the same manner as their customers.
To conclude, if the above factors can be taken into consideration, then the housekeeping department is in for a treat with the best customer service package in town.
[Written by Angad Arora]