Sandra Kelly looks at the ways that hospitality businesses are preparing for the big reopening.
As the hospitality sector gets ready to re-open on 4 July, it has been encouraging to see that employers are recognising a skills-led approach is key to their efforts to restore consumer confidence and ensure that staff are ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
Building trust will depend on staff being trained in post-pandemic procedures and best practice, empowered to ensure that these are followed at all times, and sufficiently confident to reassure returning customers that safety and hygiene is a paramount consideration.
To understand the new training and development landscape, we recently carried out research, Covid-19: The impact on skills in hospitality, retail, travel and aviation, which highlighted how important it is that business leaders and managers are able to boost morale and motivate their returning staff over this period.
Other important skills and behaviours identified by almost all employers in these sectors post-Covid-19 include a more proactive approach to customer service (90.8%) and developing new techniques such as active listening (80.8%).
As businesses re-open, line managers will play a critical role in helping staff to dial up or dial down their behaviours so that they do not risk alienating customers.
The general public are also looking for concrete reassurance from these sectors. In a separate poll commissioned in May, more than half (54%) of those questioned said they wanted an assurance (such as a certificate or kite mark) that staff have been trained in the new measures.
For customer-facing staff in hospitality, retail, travel and aviation, the sometimes erratic and inconsistent behaviour of the general public is something they’ve always had to deal with. But in the current environment, this can represent a significantly more serious challenge than it did before, so staff training for the new work environment needs to pay particular attention to this.
Ensuring that staff are better able to think on their feet and react fast is therefore a top priority. If a customer is not following the agreed guidelines or protocols, then staff have a responsibility to resolve the situation.
It’s also essential that staff are well-informed – you only need to glance at the new health and hygiene guidance that we’ll need to follow to see just how much there is to learn. In restaurants, for example, there will be shorter menus with new ingredients as well as completely different service behaviours and constraints.
You won’t even be able to lay tables in the same way. But having knowledge will give staff confidence that they can make it work despite everything. Well-trained staff will also be more confident in calling out colleagues who are not adhering to the new measures and behaviours.
At the same time, hospitality and tourism businesses have to tread a fine line between ensuring that their customer-facing staff are empowered to ensure compliance, but aren’t seen as too bossy or controlling. Prior to Covid-19, ‘the customer is always right’ motto prevailed and staff were trained not to challenge clients.
Things are quite different now and customer-facing teams are being trained to take control of their environments and supervise customers in ways they would never have done before. Similarly, as businesses re-open, line managers will play a critical role in helping staff to dial up or dial down their behaviours so that they do not risk alienating customers.
Another stepping stone on the path to reassuring the general public is making sure that the training that’s delivered can be adapted quickly if the situation changes. That’s why some employers are asking for shorter training and assessment courses, but ones which still guarantee vocational competence or regulatory compliance.
Over and above the importance of training in reassuring customers, employers who have continued to invest in their people will not only recover more quickly, but will also be stronger and more agile moving forward. Hays Travel are a good example of a business that has continued staff training and development in this period.
Over the past few months, they have been able to deliver a remote apprentice programme that meets the criteria for 20% off-job learning, while providing sufficient emotional and educational support to maintain motivation and confidence.
This entailed extensive use of self-learning modules and live video conference sessions, but these were backed up by ‘remote visits’ by L&D coaches to assess the effectiveness of the learning as well as to provide one-on-one practical and emotional support.
The company’s training team has also refreshed and updated existing materials designed for classroom delivery so that it can be adapted for delivery on-line.
Courses being prepared include guidance for managers on how to support their teams during this stressful period, material to help furloughed staff upskill to meet the changing demands of customer expectations post-pandemic and emotional resilience and mental health support.
Another really constructive change that will come about as part of the post-pandemic ‘reset’ is that corporate social responsibility and environmental awareness will become significantly more important as far as customers are concerned, and businesses that are aligned with this new reality will be more likely to win government support in the form of investment and recovery packages.
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has released a set of recommendations calling for support to help the global tourism sector to not only recover, but to ‘grow back better’. So, it’s clear that the pandemic is already changing the status-quo and will act as a catalyst for sweeping changes when it comes to resilience, agility, preparedness, culture change and being competitive.
This means that new skills are essential and that CEOs and CFOs will need to prioritise the recommendations of their HRDs and training and development professionals if they are going to meet the challenges they’ll face in future.
About the author
Sandra Kelly is UK Director of People 1st International