The GM at Grand Hyatt Shanghai wanted to drastically improve guest service scores since the hotel had been stagnant with guest feedback scores hovering around 74%.
This meant a sizable portion of people were unhappy mainly from the F&B side, or the check-in side. Unlike most hotels, the rooms at Grand Hyatt Shanghai were quite nice, had great technology, and were well maintained. Which meant most of the issues were from a service standpoint: Slow check-in, cold staff, no greetings and the big one… staff couldn’t speak English.
It was a little easier for F&B since they had a menu, guests could simply point to what they wanted if the staff didn’t understand them, but from the rooms department guests had many varying preferences which couldn’t be communicated easily, or they needed a taxi and the bellman couldn’t communicate their destination.
I recall a time where a guest described an airport he wanted to go to, the bellman didn’t understand him and told the taxi driver which airport he thought the guest was going to, but Shanghai has two airports, one on each side of the city, two hours apart from each other. I overheard as I was walking to pick up a VIP from the front gate, and asked the bellman which airport, he tried to explain what the guest said but couldn’t understand. So we chased after the taxi which was at a red light and asked the guest exactly which airport he was referring to, he was going to Hongqiao airport, the taxi driver was bringing him to Pudong airport.
If we didn’t catch him, oh boy, the guest would have gotten to the first airport an hour and a half later, been lost, then spend two hours going to the other; also the trip would have cost the guest almost $100; for Chinese taxis, that is quite a lot of money.
The problem our staff had, wasn’t that their English was overly bad, it was decent, the problem was that they get nervous speaking to western guests. So HR and I started working on a guest interaction workshop. The point of this was to introduce a variety of scenarios the guest may inquire about which the staff would be able to provide urgent and effective care; and for the staff to be able to communicate in English!
It was fun and enjoyable, to say the least, they were eager to learn, we also gave them many phrases and sentences they might encounter, taught them how to pronounce certain words & improve their accents, how to handle complaints, international guest tendencies and…. The difference between western countries.
One difference between western countries and China, is that in the west, we are very politically sensitive and very aware of others backgrounds. Such as American, Canadian, Mexican, French, Italian etc. However in China, and also the language is structured this way, but it isn’t as politically sensitive, it’s simply you’re Chinese or you’re not. More specifically, 外国人(wàiguórén foreigner) means every country that isn’t China. The issue with this is that French, German, American etc. have no distinction to most Chinese locals until educated about the differences. All Caucasian people are from America or the UK; all black people are from Africa etc.
The workshop did wonders to show them some of the differences in cultures as well as improve their language and they were very eager to engage international guests. We did this workshop once a month and had good results. Overall, it was a good experience to teach old staff new skills, and for me, to assist in helping a hotel trying to regain its former glory was quite an enjoyable journey so far. At this point I’ve been working at Grand Hyatt for a two weeks so far.
My advice, especially when working in hotels within mainland China, patience is a virtue. Most of the staff have had limited exposure to expats, even in a hotel setting. Besides the normal interactions, there is a lot they do not understand and have never been taught. Take the time to find the best way to introduce them to different cultures, ways of thinking, and find the middle ground to help them bridge the gap. In my former hotel, I saw that they love learning in a group setting, so a workshop was most effective. See what would work for your property and make it happen!
Thanks for stopping by and see you in the next article!