When Nobody’s In Charge Up Front

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 16, 2009

It was early in the day, just past 7 AM, and most of the people gathered in the lobby appeared to be waiting for a morning meeting. It was impossible, however, for the small gathering not to become interested in the discussion taking place at the hotel’s front desk.

It seemed that a customer was complaining about a discrepancy in the room rate charged to his bill. I began to listen in about the time that the hotel’s desk clerk advised the customer that he had been charged the hotel’s lowest rate for a room with double occupancy.

The customer replied that he had a reservation confirmation with a different rate and that he was the sole occupant of the room. The desk clerk asked if the reservation had made at the hotel or through their national reservation system. The customer inquired what difference would it make where the reservation had been made.

Loud enough for us all to hear, the clerk advised the customer that the usual room rate was much higher than what he had been charged and that he indeed was fortunate to have received the rate he did. The customer advised the clerk that he knew from previous stays that her information was incorrect.

The customer agreed to pay the higher sum but requested to see the hotel’s manager. At that time another clerk slide in and announced that she would take care of the matter. She advised the customer that he would be charged the rate on his confirmation and she was sorry for the inconvenience.

The gentleman thanked her but still requested to speak to the manager. The second clerk replied that the manager was not in as yet.

“May I speak with Mr. Dawson then” asked the customer.

“He’s not here either ” replied the clerk.

The customer called her attention to the attractive sign behind the front desk that read “Manager on Duty: Mark Dawson”. The clerk apologized saying that the sign was left from the previous evening and should have been changed.

The customer then asked to speak to whomever was in charge. Without understanding the full implications of what she was saying, the clerk replied “I’m sorry sir, nobody’s in charge here.”

“Nobody’s in charge here”. That’s the judgment that most of us who had been listening had already concluded. “Nobody’s in charge here” says it all!

The front desk not only makes the first impression on a guest, it often makes the last impression also. In this particular instance, the manager who was late to work, the man who left his name on the “on duty” sign, and the two clerks certainly made a lasting impression on those gathered in the lobby.

Despite the clerk’s response that “nobody’s in charge”, there is always somebody in charge and that person is responsible. In some cases, and this was probably one, you might have to go pretty far up the chain of command to find out who that person is. Ultimately it is the owner or their elected representative.

What happens when the people on the scene think that “nobody is in charge”? Problems, confusion, and frustration for everyone.

What she really meant is that no one here has been given the authority and responsibility to deal with this situation. That’s wrong! But unfortunately it happens all too frequently.

In addition to the obvious discrepancies that took place at the front desk, this incident raises a fundamental question. Who is in charge when the boss is away? In some businesses that may not be important. In others however, particularly where there is ongoing customer contact or other situations that require immediate answers, the answer is extremely important.

“Who is in charge when the boss isn’t around” isn’t always one of the bosses top concerns because he is usually around and when he isn’t, he isn’t. However, “who is in charge when the boss isn’t around” is an important issue to everyone else. Left unanswered, this question can lead to all sorts of unintended problems.

Equally troubling is the practice of asking someone to be in charge without advising the other employees of the appointment. It’s usually done innocently enough. The manager wants someone in charge but doesn’t want to hurt the feelings of those that weren’t asked. This places an unfair burden on everyone.

Because its your business, make sure somebody is in charge when your not there and everybody knows who that is.

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