Working in the hotel industry is no easy feat. From horror stories of bad behaviour of guests to many thinking that the customer is always right, it takes real passion and humility for service staff to juggle these demands, and do so with a smile.
It is in recognition of these special people that the Singapore Kindness Movement and the Singapore Hotel Association organises the annual National Kindness Award – Service Gold. The Pride sounds out two of this year’s winners to hear of their hospitality tales.
Retirement? She loves her job too much
With a sprained ankle, an elderly guest had little choice but to stay back in the hotel alone as her family continued with their sightseeing tour.
Her day would have taken a much gloomier turn if not for senior room attendant Zaiton Bte Ismail. Meeting the guest on her usual housekeeping rounds, Zaiton could not bear to leave her alone and in pain, and offered to give her a massage and an ice pack to relieve the discomfort.
Asked what motivated her to so do, she put it simply: “The lady was old and I felt for her.”
This heartfelt gesture of care is one that exemplifies Zaiton’s dedication to her guests in the 17 years she has worked at the Peninsula Excelsior Hotel.
While many would jump at the opportunity to retire, the mother of two feels bored on her off days, and would much rather be at work. Although Zaiton’s sons provide for her, she loves her job too much to simply let it go.
“I love my job. Even though I am already 67, I don’t have any health problems and people always tell me I look young,” she said.
The senior room attendant means business when it comes to ensuring housekeeping standards are kept high. Her motivation to keep the rooms in tip-top condition comes from the compassion she feels for her guests.
“The guests are jetlagged and when they check-in, they are tired. I make sure the room is clean so that they are comfortable to rest.”
A senior staff member today, Zaiton remembers having to build her confidence from scratch. Laughing, she said, “When I first started work at the hotel, I was afraid to talk to guests because my English wasn’t good. Now, my English is excellent!”
Her experience and affable nature has made her a natural choice to train the hotel’s newbies and hospitality students, who affectionately call her “cikgu” (meaning ‘teacher’ in Malay).
Guests who return to the hotel after several years still remember Zaiton. Recalling these encounters, she said, “The guests come up to me and ask, do you remember me?”
While this has happened on more than one occasion, Zaiton is always pleasantly surprised whenever people remember her. It is moments like these that make her feel that her dedication to going the extra mile is worth it.
He lends guests his spare suit and takes them on bike tours
From greeting his guests with a big smile to speaking with confidence and ease to his team members, one can easily tell that Helmi Bin Zainal is passionate about his job.
With 14 years of experience working at Conrad Centennial Singapore, the 36-year-old guest services manager has seen his fair share of interesting situations.
On one occasion, a guest who had flown in all the way from Canada had forgotten to pack a suit for his son’s wedding and enquired if there were tailors in the area. Noticing that the guest was about the same size as him, Helmi offered to lend his extra suit to the guest.
“Initially, he didn’t tell me it was for his son’s wedding. He didn’t want to embarrass himself for forgetting to bring an important set of clothes for such as occasion. But he told me it was a perfect fit,” recalled Helmi.
For Helmi, the nature of his job places him in a position where he has to think on his feet constantly to attend to guest requests. Sometimes, it can be a challenge to please everyone.
“Guest expectations are very high and the tendency to compare services with other hotels will always be present. While their expectations can sometimes be extreme, we have to do our best,” he said.
He recalled one such incident when a guest from America flew into town for an urgent business meeting, the single mother had no choice but to bring her infant along with her. With tears in her eyes, she requested for a babysitter to help her look after her child. Despite the extraordinary nature of the request, Mr Helmi felt he had to help her out.
“Although we could not arrange for a babysitter, we agreed to look after her child. Our team came together and agreed to took turns looking after her child in half an hour intervals. Till today, I still remember this incident.”
Helmi’s can-do attitude has earned him praise from his supervisor Ila Cho Lyons. She said that he has always showed initiative in helping his guests, even going to the extent “of showing guests around Singapore on bike off work hours.”
An avid cyclist, Helmi dedicates some of his weekend mornings to bringing his guests around. “Some of them love to cycle but don’t know where to do so in Singapore. So I bring them to places like East Coast, Changi and Sentosa where they can cycle and sightsee,” he said.
Helmi cited passion, humility and having an open mind as essential traits in coping with the challenges of his job. It helps that his passion for travelling can be explored through interacting with guests from all around the world.
“The best part about talking to the guests is that I have this sense that I am travelling with them as they share about the interesting places in their country.”
Service Gold 2016 is an initiative by the Singapore Kindness Movement and Singapore Hotel Association to celebrate hotel service staff who have gone beyond their call of duty for their guests. Close to 100 staff from 54 hotels were awarded this year.