An inspector assigned by the market research company masquerading as a guest made full assessment of the hotel’s services. The 42nd part of a series describing the unknown triumphs and travails of doing international business
The hospitality industry survives on rendering the best of customer service that could be made available at a given location. To this end, competition from the hotel owners is very severe and really, if I may say so, it is cut-throat in approach.
I think this is the most important aspect that keeps everyone on its toes! In our case, we had continuous training programs, and, very often, we had impromptu tests to see if we were up to the mark!
The guest commentary card, which many guests left in their suites, were collected diligently by the housemaids who cleaned the rooms, and these were daily passed on to the housekeeping director the same day, who in turn, would submit them to the GM’s office immediately; generally the person concerned was a lady in charge, as the staff were mostly young women, and she would spend some time making notes from these cards those that relate to the housekeeping department, because she could take prompt action. By the afternoon, all the relevant departments indentified in the comments would be alerted, both for the compliments received and complaints made; if there were suggestions made to improve our services/facilities, these would be subject to further study and investigation by the top brass.
In addition to the commentary cards submitted in the hotel (both directly at the front desk and left in the rooms), the guest may still have the option of filling up the questionnaire that would pop up on their email addresses, as soon as they have checked out. Very often, the comments may be filled in by the guests as they await their flights, or even when they are airborne! In any case, by the end of the month, the data would be processed at the headquarters, and each unit (branch) or location would get its grading, which again will be computed on a national scale. Based on the outcome of these reports, we would still have to meet the boss when they discuss our standing on the national level. This was a continuous process and trainings where we failed to come up to the guests' expectations were brought to our notice and corrective steps taken, so that the negative comments become positive even before the next visit. In effect, as a very large percentage of the guests were ‘repeat’ visitors to the hotel, we had the opportunity to improve ourselves for an enduring happy relationship.
On the top of these natural reactions of the customers, we had unexpected guests, who came and stayed with us and who gave extremely detailed account of every single service they ‘enjoyed’ or found ‘lacking’.
I shall share with you with an incident that took place on one such occasion. I was on duty, when I received a call from the courtesy phone at the airport. “I am Gloria Fernandez at the airport; when is your coach coming to pick the guests?” “Madam, I am Ram at the Suite, welcome to Washington. Right now our coach is at the airport but please tell me your location and if you have collected your baggage?”
“I came on Continental, and I have two in hand, one expected anytime now”. “Madam, you are close to gate No 5 where our coach will stop after which it will go to gate No 9. What I will do is to ask the driver to take a second round to collect you. Please hold on for a moment”. I called Ibrahim on the radio: “Ibrahim, your location, please?” “Approaching gate No 5”; “I have a Ms Gloria Fernandez at gate No 5, but she had to get one more baggage; please take a round and definitely collect her” “Ok will do”. “Madam, thanks for holding, our Ibrahim will collect you in the next five to seven minutes, as he will stop at gate No 5 now and proceed to No 9, collect some guests and then take another round before reaching No 5, by which time, we hope you have the luggage” “ok thanks”. After about 12 minutes, Ms Fernandez arrived at the hotel; she was welcomed at the main door before she came to the front desk. She was checked in by 5.15pm.
While booking, she had asked for a suite near the elevators; she was a Starwood Club member, and I had blocked both 720 and 722, so that she could make a choice, both non-smoking; as I checked her in, seeking her photo ID, payment arrangements, etc. Ibrahim had got the trolley with her baggage, and in a couple of minutes, she was all set to go. Along with her suite keys, I had also given her some hotel leaflets, brief brochures for sightseeing in the area, and a list of restaurants with a wide choice of food.
Ibrahim took her to the suite, explaining other details, and seeking if she wanted any other assistance in terms of cabs for visiting places or if she wanted to hire a vehicle. In the evening, she came down asking for dinner suggestions, and after a brief chat decided to dine at our own restaurant. On her way, she stopped again to reconfirm that she wanted a wake-up call at 7am. She spent a few minutes at the Shoppe before going back to her suite.
Next morning, she came down and enjoyed a well-spread buffet breakfast, and wanted to look around the hotel on her own. She sought assistance to have her laundry done (by using complimentary equipments in the tenth floor), but came to pick up some detergents at the Shoppe. For lunch, she had met an associate at the front desk and took her suggestions for taking a walk on King’s Street, so that she may decide on the spot! She came down again only in the evening to have a brief chat with me, and asked why she was not given a suite in the Club level?
I explained to her that because of the limitation, of 20 suites in that floor, it was generally allocated to Platinum card holders on availability basis, and even there, rotation was done so that all such members had the opportunity to enjoy the benefit. In any case, the major difference was the location of the Club lounge, for which all Platinum Card holders had access keys even if they occupied suites in other floors.
After this chat, she asked for recommendations for supper, choosing Italian food, and I gave her the names and locations of the restaurants nearby. Aamir was on duty and had him drop and pick her up later. Once again, on her way back, she stopped at the front desk, and sought my assistance for booking for her family to arrive a couple of weeks later, and also wanted a list of sightseeing places. I had given the brochure earlier, and as for booking I suggested to her that as soon as she got back to her suite, when she calls us on the phone, we would be able to connect her to the central reservations who were not only qualified but authorized to make the bookings, as at the front desk we were not equipped with all the required information for this purpose. After she confirmed her wake-up call, she went back to her suite.
On the next day, around noon, when she returned back to check out, she was surprised to see me! “Ram, do you stay in the hotel itself? I saw you late yesterday night?” “Yes, Ms Fernandez; a colleague of mine is sick since yesterday, and I came in to assist Robi, this morning”. “Will you be staying the evening as well?” “Yes, but tomorrow is my day off, so there won’t be a problem!”
As Robi progressed with her check out, we continue to have a general chat; as to how she liked her stay and if she was able to make further bookings for her planned return in the next couple of weeks and so on... Once the check-out process was complete and her baggage was down in the lobby, she asked, “Who is your GM?” Robi replied, “John is our GM”. “Is it possible for me to meet him, where is his office?” Robi directed her to Alex’s office, special assistant to GM, and we did not see her for maybe an hour or so. Only when she had left, John came and told us that she was an ‘Inspector’ assigned by the market research company, to visit us ‘incognito’ and make a full assessment of our services!!!
We did have good comments on her card and she had made certain recommendations in regard to rates for suites and the need to increase the number for Platinum and Gold Card holders as more and more guests will be falling in these categories due to frequency of their visits. We were not fully aware of all the recommendations she had made.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts. From being the advisor to exporters, he took over the mantle of a trader, travelled far and wide, and switched over to setting up garment factories and then worked in the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
Governments are enamoured with manipulating the market. The irony is now the market is manipulating them. So the reality is that China’s slowdown is inevitable and it matters little what Wen says
Recently markets have been concerned about slowing growth in China. According to the data coming out of China, there is really nothing to worry about. Although China’s official purchase managers’ index (PMI) fell to 50.4 in May, it is still the sixth consecutive month above the 50 level indicating expansion. Still the trend does not seem encouraging. But not to worry, Premier Wen Jiabao promised that the government would pursue more proactive growth including additional spending on infrastructure and additional “fine tuning” of the economy. Most of the world’s economic experts have an almost religious respect for Chinese economic management and feel that there isn’t any problem. But are they correct?
China is also famous for being the factory to the world. Exports make up 30% of its GDP (gross domestic product). Although China is less exposed to a slowdown in places like Europe than countries like Korea where exports make up over half of the economy, it will be far more affected than the United States which exports only 13% of its products. So with the problems in Europe, it is hardly surprising that it reported exports rose only 4.9% from last year. This was quite a surprise to analysts who were predicting 8.5% growth. Exports actually have been slowing since the end of 2010.
The import numbers were far worse. The forecast was for growth of 10.9%, but China barely grew at all, only 0.3%. The imports are by far the more important indicator since China is supposed to be rebalancing its economy toward domestic consumption. Certainly Chinese consumers are not doing their part. According to a recent survey they were saving more not less.
But it is not just the Chinese numbers which are disturbing. China has been driving most of the growth in the world economy since the beginning of the Great Recession. Many other countries are highly dependent on its demand. Commodities, especially mining companies have been major beneficiaries. But now the boom is over. The price of metals is down more than 20 % from 2011 highs. The companies that mine the metals did even worse. The FTSE All-World mining index has dropped 31.8% from its peak in April 2011.
Copper is often called Dr Copper because the strength of the demand for copper is supposed to reflect the health of the world economy. In February 2011, the expectations about Chinese demand were so great that the price hit a record high, over $10,000 per tonne. It recently dipped below $8,000 a tonne. China imported so much of the stuff that it is re-exporting it.
According to China’s presumptive next president, Li Keqiang, the official GDP numbers were for “reference only”. To determine the real state of the Chinese economy, he relies on electricity consumption, rail cargo volumes and disbursement of bank loans. These indicators show trouble. Last April electrical production increased 11%. This year it increased only 0.7%. Rail cargo is growing but only half the pace of last year.
Real estate construction makes up twice as much of the Chinese economy compared to most countries, but housing prices are falling. Prices in Wenzhou declined by 12.3 %, Beijing declined 1 % and Shanghai declined 1.3%. March also saw a 50% decline in the sales of Chinese bulldozers.
China is supposed to be rebalancing its economy away from investment, by encouraging consumers to spend more, but the consumers didn’t get the message. Retail sales growth for April slowed 14.1% to a 14-month low
But not to worry. This week’s market turmoil has investors around the world predicting and expecting that central banks will step in with more monetary goodies. China is no exception. Even the IMF (International Monetary Fund) said that China “has room for a countervailing fiscal response and should use that space”. Wen’s remarks seemed to confirm this, but there is a problem. The irony is that China is already stimulating its economy and it is not working.
Recently the People's Bank of China delivered a 50 basis point cut in banks’ reserve requirement ratio (RRR), the third cut in six months. This is supposed to pump an additional $63 billion into the system. There is also a wide expectation of an interest rate cut. But it is not helping. The banks were supposed to lend 800 billion yuan in April, but they only managed 681 billion yuan ($108 billion). It is getting worse. Loan growth for the four largest Chinese banks in the first two weeks in May was exactly zero and there was a drop in deposits.
This is a major problem. The fiscal and monetary stimulus that everyone expects China to make has occurred and it is not working. Governments, and especially Chinese government, are enamoured with manipulating the market. The irony is now the market is manipulating them. So the reality is that China’s slowdown is inevitable and it matters little what Wen says.
(William Gamble is president of Emerging Market Strategies. An international lawyer and economist, he developed his theories beginning with his first hand experience and business dealings in the Russia starting in 1993. Mr Gamble holds two graduate law degrees. He was educated at Institute D'Etudes Politique, Trinity College, University of Miami School of Law, and University of Virginia Darden Graduate School of Business Administration. He was a member of the bar in three states, over four different federal courts and has spoken four languages. Mr Gamble can be contacted at [email protected] or [email protected]).
Dissatisfied clients of placement consultants turning to this new form of recruitment
Ashish Kelkar who worked as a business development manager in a well-known MNC (multinational) security firm in Bengaluru smirks at the treatment meted out to him by placement firms. Ramarathnam P, who heads the marketing department of a pharma major in Bengaluru scoffs at the time that he wasted when he tried to source a few candidates from a placement firm in Bangalore. The dissatisfaction of people like Ashish and Ramarathnam is giving way to an emerging discipline of reference checking and screening of candidates. It also works out to be cheaper for the organizations.
Ashish says, “I approached a top placement consulting firm through their director. I met them in November and was promised that they would look at my profile. There was a face-to-face session where I felt the official was more interested in my organization than in me. She asked me to get in touch with her in January 2012. When I contacted her in January, she said that I will have to wait till March as that was the time companies would be looking at new recruitments. In March, she gave me an evasive reply once again. Of course, I was talking to other placement consultants as well. I realised that pursuing such consultants in placement firms such as Mafoi was a sheer waste of time. Luckily, I landed a job in May 2012 thanks to my active networking”.
Mukunda Hegde talks about his experience with another firm. Mukunda sent his resume to the bunch of executives calling themselves as consultants in the placement firm. There was no response. Finally, he decided to pull a fast one of them and masqueraded as an HR consultant from Australia who was looking to source candidates from Bangalore. Within 15 minutes, there were frantic calls from the office and confirmation of the appointment the owner. Mukunda has joined Tesco and no, it was through a referral and not through the services of a placement firm.
Another firm in Jaya Nagar, Bengaluru promises candidates job interviews after collecting a “nominal” amount of Rs.5000 as registration charges. They even claim that this fee is actually a tactic to screen candidates. But they do not assure you a job and there are no refunds in case you are not selected.
R Gnanaprakasam, who works in TVS Logistics, says that placement firms are those who offer you an umbrella when it is not raining and snatch it away when it rains cats and dogs. Neena, a consultant in Talent Mappers agrees that the credibility of placement firms has suffered due to people who are not serious about their profession. However, she says that the onus of getting a candidate a good job remains on the priority list of recruitment consultants. However, Neena is silent when we asked her about the lack of initiative on the part of placement firms to source job opportunities. Why do placement firms always wait for clients to approach them and do not find it necessary to approach clients on a pro-active basis?
Kabir Muthaih, a mechanical engineer feels that it is better to apply to companies directly rather than waste time pursuing such consultants. He does not rule out the nexus between HR managers and such consultants with cash changing hands.
As placement consultants in India have lost their credibility, a new process is slowly and steadily emerging. Some organizations are engaging specialist professionals (not head hunters) who specialize in screening and reference checking of candidates. The charges for such services are nominal. “These are early days, but this sort of service holds lot of promise”, admits Vasumathi Purushottam, a Bengaluru-based recruitment consultant.
HR manager Srinand Narang who is employed with a paint company in Bengaluru is open to such type of services. “Placement firms in Bengaluru have had a bad track record as far as our organization is concerned. If we can get something that is in-between, it is welcome”. So, how does this scheme work?
1. Organizations place an ad in the newspaper
2. Applications are received by the HR department
3. These are forwarded to the screening specialists
4. The specialists screen the candidates based on an agreed methodology with the client
5. The first list of candidates is prepared
6. A random check is done by the client to ensure fair play and justice
7. Once the list is approved, the specialists carry out reference checking and short-list the candidates based on the initial telephonic discussion with the candidate and his interest in the job opportunity
8. The interviews are then directly co-ordinated with the candidates by the HR department
9. A lump sum amount, irrespective of the salary of the selected candidate, is charged to the client for the expenses involved in processing the applications. This amount is nominal.
Durgesh Patil, senior HR Manager in an IT firm in Pune welcomes this fresh approach. “It saves time and is also cost effective. The scheme provides scope for conducting periodic checks to detect any bias. I am sure once there is mutual trust between the client and service providers, such periodic checks may be skipped. But this is much better than dealing with unscrupulous placement firms”, he concurs.
To reiterate, these are early days for such a specialist service, but if firms give this a serious thought, they will realise that this will turn out to be cheaper and more effective because the decision to weed out a candidate’s name from the list is based on a scientific rating methodology and is not dependent on individual bias. This also allows a lean HR structure within the organization.