• Stephan Busch

Should it scare us to cancel standard phrases?


“In todays hotel and restaurant industry staff has to learn their script and use the standard phrases. The one who remembers the most gets promoted. Not the best performer but the one who learns like a parrot, complies with the standard and is easily measured by KPI’s.” (Key performance indicators.)

A recent statement from a post of a hotelier.

While the “local” and “authentic” experience is “hip” and advertised most hotels still require their staff to follow the Standard sentences. In small operation but also in worldwide hotel chains it is obvious that this might be a problem. The standard sentences get adjusted for different cultures but still everybody is required to use standard phrases and to leave the “local” and “authentic” stuff in the locker. Does that make sense?

We are always on stage when we are on duty but why shouldn’t we bring in our whole personality?

Maybe we would be more entertaining? At least we would get a clear message over!

I once had Director for Guest Entertainment and he always finished his introduction for the guest with the sentence: “You will enjoy your holidays!” Sceptical look from guest - some laughter. I ask him if he should not change this to “we hope you will enjoy your holidays” or “we will do our best to ensure you will enjoy your holidays”.

He said no. He told me that everybody is enjoying his holidays and so will they. I was as always curious to receive the guest feedback on check out and I was curious about how they took his sentence. Some guest told me that they were surprised and not sure if it was an order from him or an honest convinced statement. They decided to opt for the second and at the end of their stay knew that they were right. I ask some more guest and received only positive feedback.

We left this sentence as it was. Now you will never find a sentence like this in the Standard phrases of a handbook. If it would be inserted some VP, while double checking, would cut it out or change it. If some corporate person would have heard him on stage they would have made him change right away which would have been wrong in this situation.

He had the personality, was convinced of the product and had the way to bring it over to the guest so it was always received positive. It was entertaining and it proofed to be the right thing to say. Do you always have the right person? No. But leave space for personalities.

Standard sentences and SOP’s are needed but should be used more as Guidelines and not followed word by word.

What would happen if we cancel all standard phrases?

Is he using a standard sentence?

The bigger the company the harder it would be to control. Control what? That we all function and speak the same like robots? It would take vision and values to replace standard sentences and to implement and communicate them would need personalities and not parrots that we unfortunately raised to many. That’s why guidelines are appreciated.

It would require to hire right. Easy said but hard to do. It would require change. The bigger the company the more difficult it is to change.

Anyway! How do this standard phrases get into the handbook?

First an expert – someone who knows the business - is ask to compile all the correct phrases. At this point it still make sense.

Then it is reviewed by the one who has to forward it to the corporate office. Can’t do without changing something! – it starts to make less sense.

It reaches the first VP. – normally training & development . He has to change something – isn’t he supposed to know better? Change might make no sense but boss expects action and we deliver.

Reaches the VP operation. No time to read. Just briefly skim through it – he is busy with the important things. Change something – of course – he is supposed to know better and change something, right? VP feels better. Chairman happy!

Chairman has to sign off on all of this. Its for a worldwide company. Chairman ask lawyer to give suggestions to be on the save side. Lawyer adds. Doesn’t make sense at all but Chairman pays him. Chairman is relieved – now it must be good! Lawyer is relieved – got paid.

All standard phrases come back to the little employee. Strange stuff!! Can only learn like parrot because it is so boring that we normally would try to say it better. But boss will be happy.

Result: Guest gets the first portion of standard sentences. Must be a good hotel – they say the same like in every hotel in the world. Nothing unique. Just standard.

One morning I went to my office that was right behind the Front Desk. It was 5:30 am and only the new Night Auditor was at the desk. I greeted him, pretended to be awake and waited until the coffee machine kicked in. I heard the Night auditor picking up the phone, dialling a number. “WAKE UP!” he said loud into the receiver and hung up. He dialled again. “WAKE UP!” And than it was a repeated a third time.

I went over to him and ask him if he is waking up the cooks for the early shift. No he replied he was doing the wake up calls for guest. Clearly he didn’t get briefed on the standard phrases for wake up calls. I briefed him shortly and he changed. Later I talked to the guest who received his three calls. All of them said that it was the first time they received such a wake up call. All agreed that it was highly effective, one said it was exactly how his wife woke him up everyday, another one said that only his dog and this call got him out of bed that fast. Better then a forgotten wake up call was the only slightly negative comment. Even though it was not the way we want wake up calls to be executed - considering the guest feedback it wasn’t that bad.

To replace standard phrases it would require to have guidelines and a senior person to monitor, advise and suggest. It would help staff to develop their personality. We would be more professional and “local” and “authentic”.

One thing is sure: We would have more fun!

© 2017 by Stephan Busch