Answer the call

Bev Balusik, an assessor for the AA Quality Assured Accommodation Programme, has years of experience in the hospitality industry and her personal passion is service standards.

We all spend money on promoting our product – in great publications, on the web, on splendid brochures and business cards, annual industry accreditations, at trade shows etc  (advertising and marketing gurus tell me that the rule of thumb should be at least 5% spend of annual turnover ...).  All of these things are necessary and can translate into a substantial outlay to entice guests into your establishment.

Why is it then, that having spent time, effort and considerable money to persuade a potential guest to choose our establishment, we tend to ignore the least costly and most effective way of ensuring that the potential guest actually makes the reservation with us – by Answering the call in a memorable manner.

Often my call to an establishment has been answered with only “Hello” ... or my email has remained unanswered – or even acknowledged – for days! All praise to those proprietors who practice the standard of promptly answering calls using the establishment name or replying to an email request immediately. Do we have an excuse with all the technology available to use today?

Exceptional front-line communications should be top priority in your Operating Procedures manual (and yes, even the smallest B&B should have an Operating Procedures manual). I had the privilege of working with a remarkable colleague some years ago whose main task was to “answer the switchboard” (it was Quite some years ago!!); she made the caller feel as though she was looking at their eyes as she greeted them and genuinely welcomed their call to the company; you could ‘feel’ her smile and her pleasure at speaking with them’ her diction was clear, the speed of her delivery was steady enough to understand each word yet not so slow as to bore or frustrate a busy executive, and she made it her business to know precisely where to direct their call and to know the product well enough to answer the most frequently-asked questions without sending the client on an ‘extension roundabout’.  Public and trade alike chose to call our Tour Operator first as a direct result of Pauline’s splendid telephone manners. It follows that our turnover dipped once she retired!

This case study raises three critical aspects:

  • Always answer a call as though your guest is standing in front of you – let them feel your smile and your pleasure at doing business with them
  • speak clearly and always use your establishment’s name – your potential guest may speak a different mother tongue and needs to know as quickly as possible that they are connected to the correct place;  then use your name (unless you are ashamed of the job you are doing)!
  • All staff are potentially front-line employees – ensure that they know and understand the difference between your email and your web addresses and that they can competently provide the caller with, at least, this information. I am frequently amazed at how many staff members in an establishment have never even read what is offered to guests in the brochure and on the web site! It is like asking someone to install a DSTV decoder for the first time without giving them the manual!
  • As far as I am aware, there is no business rule that says professionalism precludes warmth and friendliness – in fact, in the hospitality business, these are a basic expectation. The FIFA Soccer World cup this year is a wonderful opportunity – but there is life...and bills... thereafter. Start re-evaluating your basic service standards NOW and raise your own bar to make your service splendid to ensure that the soccer weeks are a memorable foundation for your international marketing for 2011, 2012, 2013...

For information on her in-house staff mentoring sessions, email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.