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The Front Desk Isn’t Dead, Just Different

Ah, the front desk. It’s every stock image we see when searching for “hotel” photos, complete with perfectly positioned bells and mannequin-like associates. But is the front desk still relevant? Absolutely. It just doesn’t look like this anymore.

Through the years, I’ve heard countless industry experts question the validity of the front desk. I’ve heard things along the lines of, “The front desk is dead” or “There’s a new front desk now.” I hate to be a bubble-burster, but a new front desk is still a front desk. Any changes in appearance or functionality are simply meant to innovate older practices and deliver better care. The front desk still works; it’s just being elevated to meet evolving preferences and demands.

Consider The Henn-na, Japan’s robot hotel with humanoid front desk workers. Dinosaurs assist English-speaking guests, while a female bot assists Japanese natives. Guests simply press a button on the front desk and type their information on a touch screen to check-in and check-out. New technology, yet same guest needs.

So, how can your organization innovate and improve the front desk? You can certainly consider an “out there” concept like The Henn-na, but you don’t need to. Your best approach is to simply ask front desk workers themselves. To this end, here are two ideas to consider based on real requests from front desk associates:

1. Mobile check-in

Mobile check-in is exponentially growing, allowing hotels to increase productivity, improve quality of care and lower costs. “It’s a lot simpler,” said one surveyed front desk worker from Courtyard New York. And in response to concerns about mobility affecting human interaction: “We have plenty of time to build relationships with guests, not just at check-in. Guests talk to us all the time.”

But why must in-person engagement end with mobility? Consider that 88 percent of guests believe mobile booking with a live service professional will be more important five years from now. Who’s to say this can’t apply to mobile check-ins? Consider, for example, the benefits of live chat or video—anytime, regardless of location—for making mobile check-ins more high-touch.

2. Hot desking

Taking the “desk” out of front desk might sound silly, but it could significantly benefit your employees and guests (not to mention lower capital expenses). “I’m pretty personable so it’d be better if there wasn’t a big desk between us,” one front desk employee at Eventi said. “A little stand and a computer would be better. It allows for a more personable experience. I walk around this desk a lot. People love to feel like they’re super special.”

Imagine if your front desk workers didn’t have “assigned seating,” so to speak. No sprawling front desk, but rather workers comfortably dispersed across your lobby—technology in tow. When guests arrive, they can be sat down in one of your most comfortable chairs to experience the personalization and one-on-one attention they crave. Organizations across other sectors are similarly experimenting with their structuring. In the financial services industry, for example, Australia-based Suncorp Group is looking to transition from traditional bank branches to ‘concept stores.’

The Bottom Line

At the end of the day, front desk responsibilities aren’t changing. Your employees will still be asked for room upgrades and late check-outs. They’ll still be approached with billing discrepancies and dissatisfactions. They’re simply handling these duties differently as the front desk evolves alongside technology and changing expectations. That doesn’t mean it’s going to become extinct (at least, not anytime soon).

And let’s not forget the most important thing of all: guests still want the front desk. This is really all that matters. So, let’s keep making the front desk experience the best it can possibly be to enhance the guest experience, drive better business outcomes and improve costs.

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