April 28, 2017

Housekeepers and the Guest Experience

Three Hyatt hotels in Boston have fired all of their housekeepers and have outsourced the duties to a Georgia firm. Unconfirmed reports reported by the Boston Globe suggest that the new housekeepers will be paid about half the hourly rate and will receive none of the benefits received by the current staff. This isn’t a union issue; the fired housekeepers were not union members (but I’m sure they now wish that they were).

Hyatt said that this is a cost-cutting move made as a result of the down economy. The market demands profit and apparently isn’t too fussy about how a company gets it. Hyatt must think that housekeepers are plug-and-play and that there is little or no difference between an experienced staff with a liveable compensation package and the cheap-as-they-come alternative.

Paul Sacco, president of the Massachusetts Lodging Association, agrees. He is quoted in the article: “f you stayed at the Hyatt last night and you bumped into the housekeeper, would you notice a difference?’’

Well, yes Paul, I would. As a frequent business traveler I am sensitive to the service and attitude of front-line employees from the front desk to the bell staff and even, believe it or not, the “lowly” housekeepers. When my room is clean and properly made up, it makes a difference. If I leave a note asking for an extra packet of coffee or some other small request and it is fulfilled, it makes a difference. When I see a friendly face and get a greeting from a housekeeper, it makes a difference. It affects how I perceive the entire property and the brand — and can determine whether I return.

If I have the feeling that the staff that is going to be in my room is paid reasonably enough to earn their loyalty and long-term service, I am going to feel safer about leaving my computer or my Blackberry charging in my room.  I’m going to feel better about the hotel.

I spent five nights in a Hyatt in Washington recently and there wasn’t much to distinguish it from the nearby Marriott or Hilton except for the staff (which was pleasant and helpful). Given the competitive marketplace and cutbacks in business travel, I think Hyatt would be smart to invest in its staff even if it means deploying them in non-traditional roles while the economy works itself out. The staff are who set you apart.

Don’t believe for a moment that this incident with the housekeepers won’t affect the front desk and every other guest touch point. It will change how they feel about the hotel and that can only translate in this case into less willingness to put all of their energy and initiative into their work.

The comments on the Globe web site were running strongly against Hyatt. After the economic slide of the past year people don’t take kindly to seeing others lose their jobs simply to be replaced by cheaper help. Too many of us have been laid off or seen our friends laid off. Tonight there were protests outside the hotels.

Perhaps Hyatt missed the lesson of Circuit City, the consumer electronics retailer that fired its most experienced associates in a drive to cut costs. They found that customers missed the insights that come from seasoned staff and, in case you haven’t noticed, the chain is now out of business.

I most often stay at independent properties unless an event brings me to one of the chains. I won’t, however, be staying at a Hyatt again. I believe in a living wage and benefits for all employees.

What do you think? How does this affect your view of Hyatt? Do you find the housekeeping staff can enhance your guest experience?

Note: the image with this post is not a Hyatt employee. It is a stock image.