Her job may seem like a simple matter of making beds, scrubbing toilets and vacuuming carpets, but Liu Fang, a senior chambermaid at Peninsula Excelsior Hotel, believes in a personal connection.
Once, when she saw a guest bedridden with stomach cramps while on her housekeeping rounds, Liu, 47, promptly boiled warm water for her to drink and even prepared towels for her to use as a hot compress.
Another time, a guest returning to the hotel was unable to walk due to cramps in her tired calves. Without hesitation, Liu supported her into her room and gave the elderly woman a massage to soothe the pain.
Speaking to The Pride, she professed to having a soft spot for elderly guests because they reminded her of her own parents. Although soft-spoken, she is fiercely determined to make her guests, especially those who stay on the floor that she is assigned to, feel comfortable.
With a shy smile, Liu said: “I may be a housekeeper in charge of cleaning the rooms, but I don’t mind putting in extra effort if it means my guests feel at home and cared for.”
Since moving from China to Singapore in 2008, Liu has come a long way since her early days on the job, which she first took up nine years ago. For one, her command of English has improved thanks to the language courses the hotel had enrolled her in and the patience of guests who would have conversations with her and teach her new phrases over the years.
As a result, Liu has shed much of her initial timidness, as she explained: “When I first came, I didn’t really dare to speak up because I didn’t know much English. Now, I enjoy approaching our guests and chit-chatting with them.
“I think it makes our guests very happy that I try to converse with them in English. They’ll even give me a high-five and take the initiative to talk to me!” she said with a chuckle.
Among these guests are numerous regulars who put up at the hotel whenever they come to Singapore.
It is a delightful reunion whenever Liu sees them around, as she described the encounters: “In some ways, we have become friends. When they see me, they would say hello, and even ask for a ‘wefie’ with me.”
Just as she now sees her workplace as her home, she hopes that each guest who stays with the hotel comes to feel the same way too.
She told The Pride: “I love what I do because I get to meet people from all over the world. It broadens my horizons, and I get to learn from our guests, and my colleagues, as well.”
“For every guest that stays on my floor, I want them to enjoy their stay and feel happy and contented when they leave Singapore.”
Guest or not, he’ll make sure you enjoy great service
Even before The Warehouse Hotel had opened its doors to guests early this year, operations manager Issac Li was already all about delivering good service.
Amid a heavy downpour last December, Li was working in the hotel lobby when he spotted an elderly couple huddling under a canopy right outside, seeking shelter.
Recounting the incident to The Pride, the 30-year-old said: “Even with the canopy, they were still going to get wet because the rain was so heavy. So I thought, why not invite them into our lobby?”
Despite the couple not being guests of his hotel, Li brought out some towels and helped them to dry themselves.
Brushing aside his caring act as “a small gesture”, he explained: “Whether or not they were our guests, it didn’t really matter. I wanted to get them out of the rain, and also felt it was an opportunity to show them that Singaporeans are kind.”
This instinct of putting guests first and understanding their needs was perhaps finessed from the Singaporean PR’s four years spent studying at one of the world’s top hospitality schools – Switzerland’s Hotel and Tourism Management Institute.
The hospitality line caught Li’s eye very early on, from the time when he was still in secondary school here. He recalled: “My family asked me what I wanted to do, and we went through all the usual suspects, like finance and accountancy. But when the topic of hotels came up, I thought it was really interesting.”
Asked what he loves about his job, Li explained: “It’s a very vibrant industry, not your usual 9 to 5 job that you hear about every day. You get to meet a lot of people from all walks of life.”
At The Warehouse Hotel, Li ensures everything runs smoothly, from restaurants to housekeeping and maintenance, and is involved in a lot of coordination between departments.
While pleasing guests ultimately guides his philosophy, there are still times on the job that require him to placate unhappy customers.
Just recently, a guest had hurt his toe in his room, and was in some distress when Li came to speak to him. The guest appeared to be seeking some sort of compensation from the hotel, but Li listened patiently and the conversation eventually led to more light-hearted topics like the guest’s itinerary in Singapore.
Eventually the guest began to feel better, and when Li asked how the hotel could make it up to him, all he asked for was to have a drink.
Li recalled: “So I brought him a drink on the house, but more than that, I think he appreciated that someone was willing to hear him out on his experience.”
Seeing patience and empathy as the keys to good service, he told The Pride: “Often, when a guest complains, the first reaction is to worry and think that it’s a bad thing. But I think instead of making assumptions about the guests and their requests, we should wait to see how it plays out, be patient and see what we can offer to them. “
And it’s this caring touch that ultimately makes an unforgettable impression, as Li found out in May this year. The elderly couple he had offered shelter to returned to Singapore and sought him out because they remembered his kind gesture.
It was a heartwarming reconnection, as Li said: “I sat them down for coffee and we caught up with each other. We became friends and now keep in touch occasionally through e-mail.”
Recalling the touching encounter, he mused: “That’s when I really felt that in the service line, we can make such a big difference, and for both both guests and staff. Every day is an opportunity to put a smile on their faces from the moment they step into your compound.”
Both Liu Fang and Issac Li are among this year’s winners of the Service Gold Award. A total of 112 hospitality professionals were recognised for their exemplary service on Nov 29 at The National Kindness Award – Service Gold 2017 ceremony, jointly held by Singapore Kindness Movement and Singapore Hotel Association.