Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Changing face of hotel housekeeping


Housekeeping was an area not taken by many students from the catering colleges. There were more graduates from the other streams working as housekeepers. When I graduated in 1997 from IHM Mumbai and joined a reputed hotel group we were only 5 Management Trainees from all over the country, who had taken Housekeeping as a career. We were a batch of 45 Management trainees. The work place was dominated by lady housekeeping managers and the room attendants were all men.
…..I used to wonder why men couldn’t be good housekeepers. And felt that there was certainly a need and there were plenty of opportunities not just in India but also in countries overseas.

Housekeeping is a science more than an art. It requires men, material resources and machines in a good balance. It requires you to have an exceptional eye for detail and good people skills. Can men and women be different at these qualities?

I would say “no” Men are also more open to different shift timings, which can be an advantage for the hotel.
It requires you to prepare for the job and when I was in the catering college I knew I had to take up accommodation operations as there was so much to learn there. We were handling interiors, taking care of all the areas, be it floors, restaurants and other public areas, had a fabulous inventory to maintain and manage and also handling the largest department in terms of manpower and area covered. There was something new to learn each day. The toiletries were changing, the chemicals were improving and more automation was coming in the department. I joined the industry at the time when there was transition happening. SOPs were being made for all operations and were getting standardized.

I think a lot has happened in the last 10 years. Today you walk into any hotel you’ll find quite a few male housekeepers.  Many executive housekeepers are men and yes they are also going on to becoming the General Managers of the hotels.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Good hotel housekeeping begins with experiencing the product before delivering it.

Experience the product that you deliver….
A business keeps its customers by treating them Right every time!
A consistently superior customer experience cultivates customer loyalty, strengthens the brand value and gives better revenues.  It also turns the customers into advocates of the company. In today’s hyper competitive market, it’s just not enough to have the best product at a nominal price. To sustain and progress the business must deliver a great customer experience – a delight! Hotels must deliver superior guest experience from his view point.
In my hospitality career, spanning over a decade and a half, I have met people right from the entry level staff to the General Managers and Managing Directors. All these interactions have been extremely fruitful; each one has been a learning experience.  When I joined as a Management trainee with a reputed 5 star hotel I got to learn a lot about hotel operations that I hadn’t learned in my student days. Also it brought about a few questions on my mind. When working in the housekeeping department I came across Room attendants who were on the job for more than 25 years. They were good in what they were doing but didn’t understand some finer nuances of the trade. I always wondered why and started looking out for those answers.
I have seen room attendants who haven’t ever used the rooms that they make.  For that matter, even the Executive Housekeepers may have worked in the same property for many years but would’ve never stayed a day in the hotel room or had a shower in the rooms that they are responsible for. They would’ve never experienced the services that they provide to the others. When it comes to the chefs and the kitchen staff they have to test and then taste the dishes on the menu. The same applies to the Food and beverage service staff, each dish or a drink is reviewed before it finally sees itself on the menu card. But we don’t look at the room as a product. In fact it’s a product that gives the highest revenue to the hotel. It deserves the same level of commitment that goes for the items on the menu. The Guestroom is the customer’s personal space for the time that he is staying at the hotel. Housekeeping staff are the eyes and ears of the hotel as they get the first hand feedback of the guest experience or feedback.
Housekeeping staff need to know what happens when they make the bed a bit tighter, or ignore the areas below the vanity counter or the area under the WC.  Sometimes the guest gets no soaps and at other times two present in a packet, or no shower get but two shampoos printed with writing that is so small that its impossible to read while you are in a shower. Guest keeps certain amenities in the place of his convenience but while cleaning the room housekeeping attendant tucks them away at a different place that is the standard for placement of amenities. This can get annoying for the guest. Are we giving what the guest wants and how he wants it or are we imposing our standards on him.
This situation can be altered when we make our Housekeeping staff stay in the rooms for a day or two to experience the services and understand the product that they deliver. They’ll learn about the aspects that they need to focus on or areas that they can’t afford to overlook.  For example when lying down on the bed the guest can see below the writing table, if it is dusty, it is visible to him. Whereas while checking the room Housekeeping staff may have overlooked. Similarly while having a bath the guest can see the areas below the vanity counter and the WC. So these areas require the same attention as the vanity counter or the mirror. And many of such minute details which add up to the guest experience.
Housekeeping department should evaluate their Standard Operating Procedures and practices making sure that they are guest friendly at the same time convenient for the staff. Guest feedback can come very handy here. The key is to make the Housekeeping staff experience the product that they deliver – the guest room and its facilities. Thus they can give a zero defect, comfortable room to the guest.