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Re-Imagining the Potential of the Front Desk: Top 5 Benefits of a Paid Upgrade Program

June 13, 2019

Introduction

Elevating the guest experience is at the heart of the successful hospitality and achieving this in today’s ever-increasing competitive hotel landscape means going back to the basics of giving customers real, meaningful value.

Determining how best to deliver that value is not always easy, but it must tangibly resonate with the customer in order to be impactful. Programs that put this goal forward, while giving hotels and their employees the opportunity to reach their full potential of profitability and professionalism, deliver a major advantage in the hospitality industry.

A property’s location is extremely important to customers, but where they relax, recharge, and rest their heads at night is central to delivering a value proposition that will enhance the guest experience. A paid upgrade program that transforms the front desk team into service-minded sales professionals and rewards guests with premium accommodations, increases employee’s monthly income and improves their quality of life, and boosts a hotel’s incremental revenue is a win-win-win for all involved with also creating an enviable workplace environment where innovation and satisfaction thrive.

The White Paper – Re-Imaging the Potential of the Front Desk: Top 5 Benefits of a Paid Upgrade Program, presented by Frontline Performance Group (FPG) – outlines how a well-crafted paid upgrade program is a hospitality game-changer driving hotel profitability, employee engagement and retention, and guest satisfaction and loyalty. Believing in the potential of people, FPG transforms front desk operations into profit centers by elevating the performance of their frontline agents, while enhancing customer satisfaction. For over 25 years, FPG has generated billions in incremental revenue for its clients through a proven system of customized consulting, groundbreaking technology, and proprietary training. FPG entered the hospitality space in 2013 and is privileged to work with leading brands such as Hilton and Marriott, as well as many other brands and independent operators.  

This White Paper explores the following benefits of a paid upgrade program – Click here to download the full copy.  

  • The concept of “service-based sales” where the front desk team is transformed into service-minded sales professionals, and guests feel served, not sold
  • How real value translates into substantial incremental revenue and coveted customer loyalty
  • Game-changing advantages for employees, such as increased monthly income and an enhanced professional skill set
  • Creating an enviable workplace environment where innovation and satisfaction thrive
  • Tapping Technology for operational efficiency 

Tapping Into Service-Based Sales

Successfully executing the sale of upgraded accommodations at the front desk and delivering exceptional guest service are not often seen as complementary practices, but that’s not the case, especially when “service” is what unifies the approach. “There’s a persistent belief that service and sales are different things, but they are closer to the same when done properly—when guests feel served, not sold,” explained Geoffrey Toffetti, President & CMO of FPG. Enter the concept of “service-based sales,” where the focus of a paid upgrade program is on hospitable front desk associates presenting accommodation options in an unobtrusive way to

generate genuine value for hotel guests. The family who might appreciate a spacious suite, honeymooners who may favor a room with a better view, the business traveler who may like a quieter room for a good night’s sleep—all options that, in addition to earning the hotel incremental revenue and the front desk employee commission, also deliver a service that’s of concrete value to guests.

When the customer-centric approach of service-based sales is embraced, it can revolutionize staff performance, enrich the guest experience, and bolster a hotel’s bottom line; when sales is viewed as something positive that can be done for guests, not to them, it aligns with the elements of good hospitality.

“Our new team members might think a paid upgrade program is just a sales program, especially if they don’t feel comfortable selling, but after extensive training and coaching, they realize they are offering customers a way to improve their stay, allowing sales and hospitality to naturally come together,” said Glen Winsor, General Manager of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek in Florida. “It’s value-selling redefined.”

This White Paper explores the following benefits of a paid upgrade program

Benefit #1 – Real Value Translates Into Substantial Incremental Revenue

Boosting incremental revenue through service-based sales starts with re-imagining the front desk as a place that can drive revenue by spurring the sale of under-utilized or under-performing premium rooms. It begins with the language—front desk staff are trained in reframing their dialogue to effectively engage customers. It’s not about asking “do you want a room upgrade?” at check-in, but offering them something valuable and relevant—a specific offer that resonates with who they are. For example, when a family checks in, recommend a one-bedroom suite because the adults can close the door for some much-needed privacy at the end of the day. The reframed language—tailored to the type of traveler and available product—delivered by a confident, trained staff member, presents the room upgrade as a real service yielding real value and results in higher conversion and satisfaction rates.

The numbers speak volumes about this type of program’s success. According to Thomas Petrillo, General Manager of the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes in Florida, sales increased over 200% since the launch of the FPG paid upgrade program at the front desk, and conversion at the front office increased from 1.5% to 4.5% over the last five years.

“Our new team members might think a paid upgrade program is just a sales program, especially if they don’t feel comfortable selling, but after extensive training and coaching, they realize they are offering customers a way to improve their stay, allowing sales and hospitality to naturally come together.”
Glen Winsor
General Manager of the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek, Florida

“We started a paid upgrade program with FPG in 2014, initially in reservations because we wanted to limit call abandonment and maximize opportunity,” said Petrillo. “The following year, we brought the program to the front desk in order to drive topline revenue, and we quickly realized we were succeeding in generating ‘found’ revenue.”

Paid upgrade programs can be successful for hotels of all shapes, sizes and markets because of the customization of room upgrades that can be offered at an individual property. Boutique properties and hotels in city centers and airports might have fewer room categories than large beach resorts, casino properties and convention hotels, but hotels are encouraged to “dig in” and find where the biggest potential lies.

“Approximately 80% of the FPG program is consistent regardless of hotel type because we’re teaching front desk staff crucial fundamental skills linking service and sales,” noted Toffetti. “Understand the guest and why they are at your hotel, and then recommend something to them that might enhance their on-property experience. Our program gives hotels the opportunity to earn incremental revenue they never imagined was possible, allowing them to achieve their potential.”

An outside perspective is important in strategizing about what is considered premium accommodations.

“FPG has introduced a new way of thinking,” said David Gust, FPG’s Managing Director, who was also the company’s first hotel client in 2013 when he was with Hilton Worldwide. “When a hotel doesn’t think they have premium accommodations to sell, we refine the selling proposition, so that the front desk team is ultimately selling unsold rooms for a good price and giving a real benefit to the guest.”

Benefit #2 – Elevated Guest Satisfaction Drives Loyalty

Achieving guest satisfaction and cultivating loyalty are the holy grail of hospitality. Guest satisfaction can be extremely broad—as what pleases one guest might not gratify another—but there’s no dispute that guests who receive value that genuinely elevates their stay become more loyal customers who are likely to share their praise with friends and family.

Building a rapport with the guest is the cornerstone of a service-based sales philosophy. “Part of sales as a service is that you must try to understand the circumstances and potential needs of a guest, and you do that by engaging in meaningful conversation with them,” explained Gust. “At a minimum, the process attempts to open up a dialogue that goes beyond the functional check-in interaction, which is what being hospitable is all about. As a result, the guest experience is elevated to a higher orbit. If the guest is interested in the offer and takes advantage of it, another higher orbit is achieved. Higher orbits equate to better guest satisfaction, positive social media reviews, and general overall goodwill for a property.”

“Understand the guest and why they are at your hotel, and then recommend something to them that might enhance their on-property experience. Our program gives hotels the opportunity to earn incremental revenue they never imagined was possible, allowing them to achieve their potential.”
Geoffrey Toffetti
President & CMO of FPG

Guests may be in different mindsets when they get to the front desk as compared to when a room is booked during the planning phase. People are typically more budget-focused as they research and book their lodging accommodations; conversely, upon arrival, they might be more at ease and are receptive to upgraded options that will enhance their stay. Hotels are matching value to guests’ needs at an optimum time. If the upgrade recommendation is not accepted after being presented twice, the staff member moves on with the check-in process.

There is a small window of time at check-in for front desk members to connect with guests, so it’s essential for the approach to seamlessly become part of the check-in process, and that is achieved by effective training, consistent on-site coaching, and confident employees. Regardless of how a guest checks in (at the front desk or via mobile), the front desk team texts them to see how everything is with their room. If guests say something about the view or the space itself, the front desk agent can use that opportunity to offer an upgrade that might better enhance their experience.

“Our front desk team has always been warm and friendly, but we were looking for a new way to elevate guest satisfaction, and value-selling made sense,” said Winsor, whose property has been an FPG customer for the past five years. “We’re now adding more value to a customer’s stay by providing them with a service—offering them premium accommodations, basically our unsold premium accommodations —and we’re seeing the results of this competitive advantage.”

Juan Leyva, General Manager of the LondonHouse Hotel in Chicago, concurs with how the FPG upgrade program has made a positive impact on his property’s bottom line. “After eight months of doing upgrade sales on our own, our team sold $10,000 per month in total revenue. In the first month of implementing FPG’s innovative program, the team sold $56,000. Then, In April 2019, our conversion rate was 17%, and the hotel earned $130,000 in incremental revenue.”

Benefit #3 – Game-Changing Advantages for Employees – Skills, Money, & Enrichment

One of the biggest advantages of a paid upgrade program is the exceptionally positive impact on hotel employees, from their deeper loyalty to the hotel, to increased life-changing income in their pockets and a new-found professional skill set that allows them to re-imagine career goals.

Employees at the front desk are incentivized to offer room upgrades in order to improve the guest stay and boost their own income, and this additional money can enrich their lives. Taking that dream vacation. Sending their children to a better school. Providing better care for aging relatives or the ability to help a struggling family member. This enrichment results in profound engagement and loyalty to a hotel, thereby reducing turnover, which also saves hotels money.

“We never expected to see this type of income improvement for our employees, averaging 20-30% of their salary a month,” stated Winsor.

Extremely engaged and fulfilled employees remain committed to the company that improved their opportunities. “Employee retention has been phenomenal since implementing the FPG program,” remarked Leyva. “We haven’t had a new front desk employee in 18 months, which is noteworthy in a department where there is typically a high turnover rate.” Winsor shares similar statistics with turnover at the front desk having been reduced by 50%.

Front desk staff are transformed from order-takers, where they might feel there is limited job opportunity, to self-assured sales professionals building a long-term career, armed with new skills they can take anywhere. They become true brand ambassadors with the power to substantially impact the guest experience unlike any other hotel employee. This drives a renewed purpose in their role and deeply motivates them to learn the service-based sales strategies and meet and exceed sales goals. Employees are encouraged to reach their potential, making them feel confident and empowered.

“After eight months of doing upgrade sales on our own, our team sold $10,000 per month in total revenue. In the first month of implementing FPG’s innovative program, the team sold $56,000. Then, in April 2019, our conversion rate was 17%, and the hotel earned $130,000 in incremental revenue.”
Juan Leyva
General Manager of the Londonhouse

Front desk employees get to this stage of personal and professional enrichment through specialized instruction and an on-going consultative approach that are the hallmarks of FPG’s program. “The amount of time we stay involved with a hotel team differentiates us from training companies because we train and support properties for the long-term,” said Toffetti. “Our staff provides consistent consultation, training and coaching, so we can build results over time.”

On a daily basis, the front desk team is advised of the available room inventory, plus other offers per individual property, like cabana rentals, spa deals or food and beverage specials. They are coached daily before a shift by either the team leader at the hotel or a representative from FPG. In-person support is provided periodically; an employee’s confidence soars because that in-person support provides the opportunity for them to ask questions about conveying the guest’s value proposition and mastering the sales process.

“The side-by-side coaching that FPG offers in real-time has been extraordinary because employees learn how to tailor the sell that is in front of them,” praised Petrillo. “Having company representatives here to guide the staff during major check-in and practice selling during busy times adds value and drives revenue.”

There is an unwavering focus on people first—on increasing guest satisfaction by offering them something that will benefit them, and raising an employee’s confidence to sell in a hospitable way by modeling the sales strategies. FPG demonstrates onsite by checking in several people if an employee is nervous. When it’s the employee’s turn, FPG stands next to them to provide guidance and support, effortlessly integrating into the hotel team.

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“The side-by-side coaching that FPG offers in real-time has been extraordinary because employees learn how to tailor the sell that is in front of them.”
Thomas Petrillo
General Manager of the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, Florida

“FPG performance leaders and hotel leadership focus on what the associate can control, like sales and service behaviors, and coaches to each associate’s individual motivational drivers,” shared Petrillo. Setting minimum sales thresholds ensures that all associates rise up to perform at expectation.”

Hotel managers are trained, too, as part of the process. “Our goal is to have managers inspire their staff by acting as partners in their success,” said Toffetti. “It’s not about simply telling employees what to do, but pitching in when needed during hectic check-in times, being supportive, and recognizing success. We tell hotel managers to treat employees the way they want their guests treated, which is a powerful way to shift the mindset of senior executives.”

Benefit #4 – Become the Envy of the Industry by Creating an Inspiring Culture

That shift in mindset is essential to cultivating an enviable workplace culture because when employees recognize and  appreciate that hotels are creating an environment that encourages their development, a strong sense of loyalty takes root.

A paid upgrade program that focuses equally on producing financial reward (for both employees and hotels) and believing in the potential of people generates an engaged, respectful culture where gaining a real sense of value, felt by employees and guests, is paramount. The more success an employee experiences, and the more support and motivation they receive, the deeper the confidence that arises, which propels even further professional success.

The combination of an empowered and confident staff, happier guests, higher team morale, and increased earnings ultimately creates a more healthy and wealthy hotel property. Another benefit of this type of culture is that it tends to attract quality talent, the kind of employees hotels are keen to retain.

Motivating employees—such as praising their success, offering advice if goals aren’t being met, encouraging perseverance, even orchestrating sales competitions with  fun rewards—reinforces positive sales behaviors and continuous professional improvement, and goes towards developing an inspiring workplace. Building trust with employees is crucial, and hotel managers can achieve this by assisting during hectic check-in periods or stepping in to offer guidance when dealing with an irate customer. This is grounded in the idea that “we’re all in this together,” and that a large part of hotel success depends on employees who thrive.

“It’s not about simply telling employees what to do, but pitching in when needed during hectic check-in times, being supportive, and recognizing success. We tell hotel managers to treat employees the way they want their guests treated, which is a powerful way to shift the mindset of senior executives.”
Geoffrey Toffetti
President & CMO of FPG

“The FPG program complements our high-performing culture, and as Hilton is embarking on its 100th year in business, we’re proud to have partners like FPG to support our company’s industry-leading performance,” said Winsor.

According to Petrillo, hotels must have the buy-in and commitment from leadership, which is essential in order for a paid upgrade program to deliver results. “A focus on empowering, developing and coaching our associates and recognizing their achievements is very much in line with our hotel culture where the emphasis is on taking great care of our associates, and they in turn take great care of our guests. This allows our associates to realize their full potential, and high-performing associates achieve far beyond what they thought was possible.”

Benefit #5 – Tapping Technology for Operational Efficiency

When it comes to bolstering a hotel’s operating efficiency, leaders often look to technology for assistance, and it is no different for a paid upgrade program. When a technology platform streamlines processes, makes communication easy, allows keen oversight of performance, and helps guide strategy—and when this can all be done on-site or via mobile—the paid upgrade program can reach new heights of efficiency and success.

In order to help execute its program, FPG developed the IN-Gauge software platform, which simplifies the process and allows the hotel to operate smarter on multiple levels. “We’ve gone light years beyond reporting,” said Toffetti. “We’ve built tools within the software to do things like set goals and calculate incentives, and we added an audit tool for the finance team. We’re also directly integrated with several PMS systems and are working on integration with even more of them for optimum, seamless efficiency.”

Through the platform, hotel managers can easily review property performance year over year, individual employee performance to see if they are reaching or exceeding goals, commission payouts, and other crucial data where and when it is convenient for them, with information all in one place instead of complex reports in multiple systems.

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To motivate employees, hotel managers can “like” successes with a thumbs up, send encouraging messages to staff members who are achieving and surpassing goals, offer suggestions to those not hitting their numbers, and make determinations about additional coaching that may be needed. Front desk agents typically check the software on a daily basis to see positive comments and track their own sales/commissions, and this inspires them to improve. The praise proves itself to be extremely powerful. According to Toffetti, their statistics show that for four days after receiving recognition, front desk employee see up to a 400% improvement in their individual sales.

“IN-Gauge is very intuitive and helps us identify opportunities in a very organized way, which improves the way we strategize,” Petrillo said. “We look at targets on a daily, weekly and monthly basis and try to think of how to sell upgrades in different ways that help drive results.”

Winsor agrees. “IN-Gauge is a robust part of the FPG program that allows us to track invaluable metrics, so we can effectively maximize value-selling at our front desk. It’s one of the many tools that allow us to grow revenue incrementally, and it has revamped on-property efficiency and profitability to unprecedented levels.”

“IN-Gauge is very intuitive and helps us identify opportunities in a very organized way, which improves the way we strategize.”
Thomas Petrillo
General Manager of the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, Florida

Leyva relies on IN-Gauge to swiftly validate sales and incentives to ensure a fair and accurate payout. “When higher-ups ask me to confirm if sales are legitimate and commissions correct, especially when they get into the $100,000 range, I can quickly access IN-Gauge either from my desk or phone and respond in a timely manner.”

Built into the IN-Gauge technology is a powerful targeted e-learning component with instructional videos that can be viewed at the workplace or by mobile at one’s convenience. Progressive coursework builds on one another, so staff master sales techniques. Prescriptive learning addresses areas of improvement; FPG features over 1,600 recorded video learning segments between 30 seconds and two minutes long that tackle specific situations (for example, not smiling at the front desk or not making eye contact with a guest). IN-Gauge monitors staff performance and then recommends learning segments for individual employees to watch.

The breadth of technology capabilities is one of FPG’s key distinguishers. “The result is a unique, always-on system that translates front desk agents into sales-as-service practitioners and the front desk team into a high-performing unit with accountability for performance,” remarked Gust.

Conclusion

Not all paid upgrade programs are created equal, but when there’s a significant emphasis on value—from how to effectively sell, to the distinctive benefits enjoyed by guests and employees—hotels gain a huge competitive advantage.

  • Hotels of any room count in any location can earn incremental revenue at record levels, positively impacting profitability and creating a wealthier, sustainable asset.
  • When the perceived difference between service and sales at the front desk is eliminated, employees can deliver unrivaled value to guests with offers that enhance their on-property experience, and that undisputedly boosts satisfaction levels and cultivates loyalty.
  • Targeted training, continued consultation and support, and consistent praise expand associates’ professional capabilities and career opportunities, deepen their commitment to their workplace, improve their performance, and change their lives thanks to boosted income and confidence.
  • An enviable workplace culture emerges when the potential of people is a hotel’s focus, and when managers treat their employees as real partners in a hotel’s longevity and financial success.
  • Operating efficiency thrives when technology fosters easy, seamless implementation of a paid upgrade program.