With the new year comes new possibilities, particularly for four newbies in the Business of Happiness. Iris Chiu Ning aims to get her dream going in 2019 — to train and lead the best guest relations team in the world, and create the best guest experience.
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How long have you been in the hotel industry? I’ve been in the hotel industry for 11 months. Before joining Shangri-La, I served a six-month internship in Grand Hyatt Singapore. So this is my first full-time job after graduating from SHATEC, where I studied Hotel Management and Restaurant Service Skills.
What made you interested in hospitality? It was an experience I had when I was little. My family and I had visited a hotel, and when we first stepped in, I immediately felt very welcomed and I was awed by the service provided by the hotel staff. That experience was so memorable that it sparked an interest in me and made me want to pursue a career in a hotel.
How was your internship experience at Grand Hyatt Singapore?
I spent three months as a Lobby Ambassador and another three months as a Grand Club Lounge Hostess. As Lobby Ambassador, I learned how to create a memorable arrival experience for our guests and VIPs. My managers struck a good balance between showing me how to do things and letting me learn and apply my skills independently.
In the Grand Club Lounge, I was mostly serving food and drinks to the guests, and I learned a few things about working in the Food and Beverage (F&B) department. It also gave me more time to interact with the guests and make them feel at home.
Overall, both roles taught me to be more organised. I had to manage my workload, while still carrying out my duties to the best of my abilities. I also got to sharpen my communication skills, and learn how to make guests feel comfortable and welcomed.
Can you tell us more about your current role and what you do on a daily basis?
I’m currently in the Guest Relations team at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore, and some of our tasks include helping our guests celebrate special occasions, handling group check-ins, and managing VIP arrivals. Because there’s so much to do, my team members and I make sure to work together and support each other, and that has helped us grow closer as a team.
Right now, I’m the Director of Guest Experience in the Guest Relations team, so I also play somewhat of a leadership role. I guide some of the newer members and help familiarise them with their roles and responsibilities.
Are you able to apply any of the lessons you learnt in school or during your internship to what you do now? Back in school, we were taught about Front Office operations, Housekeeping, Human Resources, Sales and Marketing, and how they all relate to one another. Almost all the aspects of a hotel’s operations were covered, and I do apply the lessons I’ve learnt in school to my job, in a sense that I’m able to use my knowledge and understanding of the various departments to my advantage. For example, when a guest requests at the front office for a special set up in the room, I make the necessary arrangements on my end and relay the request to the housekeeping team for their execution.
Have you faced any challenges? If so, can you share what they are and how you managed to overcome them?
A constant challenge I face is fulfilling all the requests from our guests on time. It’s always a race against the clock as some requests may take a longer time to fulfil. So it’s important for us to always be resourceful and prioritise the requests. On the rare occasions when we were unable to meet the request, we do our best to make it up to our guests, and hopefully still delight them.
There was once a guest who had requested for the room to be decorated for his girlfriend’s birthday. We weren’t able to do it before they checked in because the room was not ready yet. We could tell that the guest was a little disappointed, so we surprised them by decorating the room when they went out for dinner. By just putting in a little bit of effort to go the extra mile, we were able to make them really happy.
Have you received any advice from your colleagues? “Slow down.” I tend to get a bit panicky and try to do things very quickly to make sure that things get done. I even walk rather briskly when I’m doing my rounds in the lobby. But my colleagues remind me constantly to relax and slow down. By taking my time, I’ll then be able to ensure that everything is done well, which actually helps to make things a lot smoother.
What do you love most about working in the hotel industry? Seeing my guests return with huge smiles on their faces. It’s something that motivates a lot of us working in the hotel industry. Knowing that we’re able to create such unforgettable memories for our guests is what drives me to do well in this industry. It’s really fulfilling, and it makes me feel like I’ve really accomplished something.
How does it feel to be appointed as a Team Leader so early in your career? I was very surprised at first. In fact, I was appointed to the role after just seven months, in 2018. But I told my supervisors that I will take on the role only in 2019 to allow more time for me to learn and become a better leader. That said, I’m very happy, excited and grateful for the opportunity. Especially because it shows that my supervisors actually took the time to look at what’s going on in the various departments, and reward us for our efforts.
Can you tell us more about your experience at the nation-wide Receptionist of the Year 2018 competition?
It was a good opportunity, even though it was a little intimidating. I was the youngest person there, and I had just worked for three months. Everyone I met had years of experience.
To prepare myself for the competition, I was attached to different areas of the front office team. I was able to learn a lot more about the front office, and it really pushed me out of my comfort zone. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to the final stage, but I’m still very glad that my supervisors had the confidence in me to give me the chance to enter the competition in the first place.
Do you have any career goals or aspirations for 2019? I’m still new, so my focus is to continue growing as much as I can. My aim is to be able to train and lead the best guest relations team in the world. I also hope to create more smiles and more memorable moments for my guests, so that they will return to us in the future.
Would you encourage other young Singaporeans to pursue a career in a hotel? If they are passionate about people, then of course! The hours can get a little long, so they’ll have to really want to be part of the industry. But the hotel industry is where one can enjoy a long and fulfilling career, and where you will learn plenty of skills that help you improve yourself, both personally and professionally.
What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining the hotel industry? Be genuine. Put yourself in the guest’s shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from. That way, they’ll know that you’re sincere in your interactions with them – and that’s how you’ll build lifelong connections.