Kunal Shah: Empathy plays an important role in such situations

As part of our series of interviews with well-known front office managers, readers will enjoy some intriguing moments with Kunal Shah, front office manager at Crowne Plaza Berlin, in today’s sharing. In an effort to give all readers a variety of vibrant and multifaceted perspectives on the hospitality industry, Wanderlust Tips USA is pleased to share his insightful post.

For those seeking a touch of historic grandeur, the Crowne Plaza Berlin – Potsdamer Platz awaits. Housed within a magnificent 1930s post office, this architectural gem exudes a timeless elegance. Step inside and be transported to an era of refined sophistication, where intricate details and soaring ceilings whisper tales of a bygone era. Yet, beneath this classic veneer lies a vibrant spirit, fueled by the contemporary energy of Potsdamer Platz, a hub of art, design, and innovation.

Under the splendid beauty of Crowne Plaza Berlin, the talented front office manager, Kunal Shah, is extremely dedicated to the journey of nurturing his passion for the hotel reception industry. As you know, a front office manager is the heart and soul of a hotel’s guest experience. They are the maestro of the first impression, the conductor of a symphony of service, and the ultimate problem-solver for guests. With extensive experience and ingenuity in his career of bringing wonderful vacations to tourists, Kunal Shah will bring readers an extremely interesting and useful sharing session about the position of front office manager as well as the standard directions that Crowne Plaza Berlin has been aiming for.

Have a nice day, Kunal Shah. Can you introduce yourself to the readers?

Hello everyone. My name is Kunal and I take care of Front Office Operations at Crowne Plaza Berlin Potsdamer Platz. An avid food lover and passionate about hospitality, also.

How did the Crowne Plaza Berlin attract you and the opportunity to work at this workplace?

I started my journey with Crowne Plaza brand which is a part of IHG hotels and resorts from Doha, Qatar in 2018 where I instantly was attracted to the brand catering to the modern business traveler. When I moved to Berlin in 2022, I was happy to continue my journey with IHG under the Intercontinental brand. Within no time, an opportunity arose at Crowne Plaza Berlin and I came as a task force Front Office Manager. The property is historic and has a great team. I have not looked back since and am enjoying my time here.

Can you tell me about a memorable experience you had while working as a Front Office Manager at Crowne Plaza Berlin? 

There have been many, to be honest. One of the most initial memories was during our internal Christmas party where just the front office colleagues were expected to be. By the end of the party, almost all employees were once a part of the party. It turned out to be such a team event for the hotel and it was great to see colleagues from all departments connecting so well. This was special to see such a closely-knit team. Such situations develop a healthy work relationship with colleagues and make work so much easier and fun.

Tell me about the core components of your management philosophy. In your opinion, what element is most crucial while organizing management at Crowne Plaza Berlin?

I have been grateful to have worked across different brands in India, the Middle East, and now in Germany. This has helped me observe and learn about different people and have developed a work ethic and a management style that works for me. I pay close attention to people. Coaching while showing empathy is key to successful management. It is equally important to understand and know the goals very clearly. When the team understands how important their jobs are in meeting the goals of the hotel, it makes it a little easier to drive results. Along with coaching with empathy, being goal-driven, results and solution-based approach helps to achieve goals eventually. After all, it all comes down to results and we all want to achieve great results.

Could you tell me about your greatest achievements while working at Crowne Plaza Berlin? What criteria would you use to evaluate your work performance?

There has been a tremendous amount of change in the past year since I joined this amazing hotel. Together we have achieved great results for the hotel and there has been a consistent and gradual mindset change within the team. From the guest experience to the back of the house, we strive each day to improvise and get a little better. There has been a consistent effort in training. We have launched several best practices for recognizing our loyal IHG members and some of these practices have led us to reach amongst one of the top-performing hotels in Europe. Over the last year, the team has developed and grown into having a customer-centric approach and a flexible mindset when it comes to guest experience. This change is something I cherish the most. One of the most important criteria to evaluate my work performance is the conversion of guest complaints to their satisfaction. This is where we as a front of the house management team come into play and can have an impact on guest scores. Along with this, handling of our VIP guests, arrival experience for our guests, and development of team members are some of the other important criteria for performance evaluation.

What are the responsibilities of a Front Office Manager in your perspective? One of your tasks may be to periodically inspect and evaluate all activities to improve work efficiency, tell me how you do this best.

Ensuring guest satisfaction, maximizing revenue via upselling and cross-selling, employee satisfaction, training, growth and development of the team, ensuring processes are followed through consistently, financial accuracy, inter-departmental coordination, rostering and planning are some of the responsibilities of a Front Office Manager. I am actively involved in operations which enables me to have a good view of consistency and efficiency. It is important for me to make random checks and audits to ensure processes are followed. I also have regular one-to-one conversations with my team. You will be surprised how often the team can come up with innovative and interesting suggestions to increase productivity and improve work processes. Having an open mind and being creative is crucial for progress.

Would you please share with our readers how you keep motivated to service customers while working at Crowne Plaza Berlin?

I have always been passionate about hotel operations and have enjoyed working with people from different backgrounds throughout my career span. It feels amazing when you can have a positive impact on your guests, hotel results, and team members. I think it is essential to have empathy. I find it as a very underrated ethic which is so important while dealing with guests. Having true empathy makes it easy to connect and feel for guests. Moreover, I love challenges and responsibilities. Added learning and responsibilities helps me stay motivated and keep at it. Achieving great results and reaching goals has a different level of satisfaction. 

German customers seem to be quite sophisticated and cautious in choosing hotel services. In your opinion, what makes Crowne Plaza Berlin unique and why do guests feel at ease using your hotel’s services?

Crowne Plaza Berlin – Potsdamer Platz is a historic building and has a great story to it. Our hotel is quite centrally located. We have an amazing sumptuous buffet breakfast. Guests rate our buffet breakfast very high. The rooms are spacious and clean. At IHG, with the IHG Clean promise, we pay extra attention to cleanliness. We have modern meeting spaces and the food we cater for our guests is beyond special. Layla Restaurant and Bar by celebrity Chef Meir Adoni serves Mediterranean Fusion food and extraordinary cocktails, which is a real delight and guests just love the food and cocktails here! The best part, I would say, is the team here at Crowne Plaza that makes all these services personalized and pleasant. We go out of our way to ensure a guest has a memorable stay with us and is satisfied with the services. We want our guests to come back over and over again!

Have you ever received negative feedback while working at Crowne Plaza Berlin? How will you convince an unsatisfied guest of your hotel?

We do receive negative feedback and we handle them very seriously. We want to ensure that the guests feel they have been heard. As I mentioned previously, empathy plays an important role in such situations. We want to ensure that after the guest is heard, we offer the guest immediate problem resolution and offer appropriate service recovery as a gesture of our apology. We ensure the guest receives an apology whenever there is an inconvenience caused, whatever the reason. We also want to make sure that after the problem resolution is promised, we do a follow-up to ensure complete resolution and satisfaction. We do introspect on the complaints and create action plans for repeated concerns to ensure they are not repeated and other guests do not face similar issues.

A Front Office Manager needs to plan and direct front office operations. What is the future that you want the Front Office Department at Crowne Plaza Berlin to aim for? 

It would be a great accomplishment if the entire team had a goal-oriented and guest centric approach in their ways of working. I would love to see the team reaching for targets and putting in their efforts in upselling and cross-selling. The mindset needs to be clear for the team that we are working to ensure guest satisfaction, but also that we are a business and need to meet certain targets. A well-trained team that can ensure operations run smoothly without having to make a lot of amendments in processes is ideal. 

Can you provide readers with any advice on enhancing the caliber of customer experience with your extensive Front Office Manager expertise?

You have to have people working in front of the house to be happy and motivated. In my opinion this really has a big positive impact on guests. The front line team needs to be trained to work with empathy and a constant reminder helps to have it always fresh in the head about priorities. Finding ways and means to personalize and connect with guests can enhance a guest stay greatly. Celebrating small moments with guests, making those small friendly gestures and being proactive in offering assistance can surprisingly enhance a guest’s stay experience. We must look for opportunities which can enhance the stay and create memories. This lies in detailing and observing small details that affect a guest’s stay experience. 

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