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24 June 2013

Simon Pratt, MD of Portico, and Anthony Bennett, co-founder of bespoke hospitality services business Bennett Hay, provide their opinions on the importance of front-of-house services.

Simon Pratt believes the welcome that organisations give their clients and visitors can't be underestimated. And he should know - Portico, the company of which he is MD, specialises in front-of-house services. ''First impressions really do count and, when it comes to business, front-of-house hospitality is the first opportunity to wow customers and ensure repeat business.''

Pratt says owing to the intangible nature of what he likes to refer to as the 'moment of truth' - the first impression businesses make, based on their front-of-house and brand - many FMs find it difficult to justify outsourcing the function.

''This said, I firmly believe there are enough tangible elements within great service to allow any contract to be effectively evaluated. For example implementing key performance indicators that are regularly measured, such as customer greetings, visitor logging protocol, politeness, sincerity and helpfulness.''

Such measures, Pratt believes, should be audited on a frequent basis - ideally every month or certainly every quarter. FMs can do this by employing an independent survey company to conduct mystery shopper surveys, allowing them to review their front-of-house service, recognise its strengths and weaknesses and implement methods to further improve it.

''For those thinking about enhancing their front-of-house operations, there can be a lot to consider, which is why many FMs outsource the service to a specialist company. Before doing so, FMs should objectively review their current service, taking into account the quality and standard, how the vision and values of the brand are reflected, effective team work, client feedback, technology and innovations. This is because, while people are the core asset, there are other factors to take into account too, which can easily be missed or looked over.''

Looking to the future, Pratt says the front-of-house industry will evolve to offer more and more bespoke service solutions, responding to the growing trend of personalisation and positive brand image, as seen increasingly in corporate marketing and communications. And in order to keep up with these advances, FMs need to ensure they're proactively reviewing and refining their front-of-house offering.

Anthony Bennett, co-founder of bespoke hospitality services business Bennett Hay says that a particular front-of-house challenge is consistency of service during absence cover. ''We find several front-of-house services we take on don't have clear operating procedures and agreed "steps of service" and this is very noticeable the minute one of the team is on holiday.''

Bennett says the company's approach is to use its guest touchpoint survey to map out a clear guest journey and agree steps of services with its clients to ensure the experience reflects its brand and culture. Most importantly the team are then trained, on and off job, on the new steps of service.

Another challenge, according to Bennett is the differing guest experiences based on which team colleague is greeting. ''As with any team you have a range of personalities and quite often the same guest can have a completely different experience depending on who is looking after them. Our training ensures each colleague feels confident and comfortable using their own personality in the way they interact with each guest while maintaining the brand and culture.

Does the guest experience reflect the client brand or the contractor's brand? ''We were successful in winning a front-of-house service recently where the reception team was very corporate and formal looking in an environment where the culture was informal yet professional. Our approach was to change the uniform to better reflect the image of the client and also adjust the language used during greeting and hosting.''

Another pertinent point, Bennett says, is the number of duties that can be combined on the front-of-house role without affecting the face-to-face guest contact ''How often have you walked into a reception where the person behind the desk is on the phone. No eye contact, no acknowledgement.

''Quite often the front-of-house team are given the telephony at the front-desk and also the hospitality booking plus admin in an effort to provide a more efficient use of resource. This can quite often impact on the guest experience, with guests feeling they haven't been looked after well.''

Bennett says the company often looks at a separate area for calls and admin even just facing to one side of the main reception desk. The team then alternates between these duties and ensures telephony doesn't affect a seamless guest experience from arrival to departure.

Then there's the importance of the development that needs to be given to an in-house team. ''We've found in-house teams are often left with no training at all in terms of enhancing and testing the guest experience. This can lead to turnover of colleagues but more often to a gap in terms of the quality of the service. We work with in-house clients to provide training and development to support their teams.''

The measurement of guest experience involved all top London hotels measure their guests' experience and this is just as critical in other settings. ''We measure the experience through a guest's eyes and also a guest experience professional's eyes - the two responses are often quite different and enable us to make the best recommendations in terms of enhancements and quick wins.''

Bennett says the appropriate level of resourcing based on the number of visitors to the building is determined by using guest profiling software to carefully analyse the type of visitor (client, supplier, partner etc) reason for visiting, duration of stay, journey time to and from the building, mode of transport, the number of visits by time of day etc.

This data capture enables Bennett Hay to provide robust resourcing structures for its clients and indeed has enabled it to blend teams to enable cover in other areas of the building during the quieter periods, while adding resource from the hospitality team during the busier periods.

Presentation and housekeeping are two other front-of-house areas often included in the overall cleaning specification in terms of standard. However this is the shop window for several clients and its approach with new and old buildings with its Art and Style department is to consider the overall environment in the front-of-house areas.

''We then look at finishing touches to ensure these areas are consistently good in terms of cleanliness and sharp in terms of their first impression. These touches often include uniforms, flowers, refreshments, information points, relaxation props, hosting and rooming services, lighting and artwork.''

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