Workforce Planning Basics: How Poor Front Office Planning Causes Guest Dissatisfaction

A guest’s first experience upon arrival at a property can set the tone for their entire stay.  If there is no one to greet them and assist with luggage or a long line at check-in, you have immediately put yourself in a deficit situation that will require over-servicing to get them back to acceptable levels of satisfaction. Ensuring an adequate number of valets and front desk attendants is critical. As they must always be available for guest service, this inevitability creates downtime as guest volume changes day to day and even minute to minute. The challenging question is how much downtime is required and when does it become excessive? When is front desk agent waiting time costing more than it should?

Front Office Staffing Challenges

Having enough front desk attendants to effectively handle the volume of guest check-ins is an essential part of the workforce planning challenge for front office leaders concerned with maintaining guest satisfaction. When planning the schedules for staff, there are many factors that impact the guest experience and the productivity of the crew.  Firstly, predicting traffic patterns can be challenging – most hotels do not have pre-arrival data to anticipate when guests will arrive and depart.  Furthermore these trends may differ by day of the week or in different seasons. When a guest does arrive, hotels will often struggle with predicting how long their arrival steps will take – some guests may need more time than others.  A family traveling on vacation may need a longer transaction than a business guest staying only one night.

There may also be process breakdowns that make the arrival process challenging to forecast – if there are issues with the reservation information or supplies that are not stocked at the front desk, the cycle time for some check-ins may become extended.  With respect to guest departures, it can be difficult to predict how many guests will actually stop at the desk.  Meanwhile for those who do, the process can vary based on questions with their folio and disputed charges.  As a result of these unknown factors in workforce planning, hotels tend to compensate by over-staffing in these roles in order to mitigate risk of service failures.

Impact of New Technology

The ability to predict guest patterns is becoming even more complicated as industry   technology changes. New factors include smart phone and kiosk check-in and in-room or key drop methods for check-out. In some cases this technology allows guests to skip the front desk altogether, so staff planning has to account for these variables.  This may include completing a higher percentage of pre-registration steps and faster guest-facing activity.

Without clearly understanding the rate at which these technologies will be adopted by guests, and how that will impact the level of traffic at the front desk, managers run a greater risk of over-scheduling front desk staff. Conversely, by overestimating the expected utilization of self check-in services, understaffing could occur, resulting in longer waits and poor guest satisfaction. With new technology entering the picture, historical data on front desk traffic patterns start to have less predictive value.