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Transitioning Your Front Desk Operation From Academic Year To Conference Services

By Stephanie Marks,
Assistant Director of Residential Living/Resident Director

Transitioning your front desk operation to a "customer service center" may be a small or large task based on how you operate during the academic year. The transition includes training the staff, instituting procedures and obtaining the necessary supplies that will need to be stocked at the desk.

The first step in accomplishing your summer conference goals is to assess your staff to see what your needs are. The staff needs to be able to switch their thought processes from working in a college residence hall, to becoming more of a concierge desk. The main responsibility of the staff is to be a resource for the guests. The conference guests are going to have questions regarding the surrounding area. (Where can I get a good meal? Is it safe to walk alone at night?) They are going to want to know how to get around. (Where is public transportation? How much does it cost?) Depending on the conference group and their purpose, they may want to know about local attractions, as well.

The staff must be trained in the area of customer service. They need to assist the conference guests differently than the students. Because the conference guests may not have telephones in their rooms, the front desk may need to make some phone calls for the guests. For example, if the guest needs a cab or an airport shuttle, the front desk should assist the guest in making that call. There may be situations that come up that require immediate attention. For example, if a light burns out in the room, the front desk will have to take care of it right away. Unlike students, the conference guests have probably not brought extra lamps. Staff should know what amenities exist and what additional resources they can offer to guests to assist them.

Secondly, you will need revised desk procedural manuals or reference guides so that the desk staff understands the procedure for summer conferences. All of your concerns and needs should be addressed in a procedure manual. This manual should be given to the conference assistants as well as the desk staff so that expectations are clear. Your summer conference desk manual needs to address policy changes, provide resources, contact persons, and emergency procedures.

During the academic year, the desk staff may be used to the policies that have been set for the academic year students. An example of this is the lock-out policy. When the students are in the building, you may have them look for someone to let them into their rooms, or you may have the student wait until particular hours. With a summer conference program, the guests deserve immediate attention, if possible. They may not understand that they need to have their key with them at all times or realize that the locks on the doors may automatically lock. There needs to be an understanding on the part of the front desk in getting the situation taken care of in a timely fashion.

Another example is that the procedures for distribution and collection of keys may be different for the summer conference program. You may want the conference guests to check in regularly, like the students do, or you may have different procedures in the summer. Communication to the staff and a clear plan is integral for this to work.

Finally, the third aspect of summer conferences that needs to be revised is the supplies kept at the front desk. Because the summer conference program provides different services than the academic year, the desk area needs to be stocked with different supplies. Again, with the desk serving in more of a concierge function, certain supplies should be on hand, such as toothpaste, toothbrushes, or razors. Other supplies such as maps of the area and menus are also beneficial and can cut down on questions at a busy front desk. Generally, the people staying for a conference will not be familiar with the area or with the campus. Although bulletin boards are a great way to display information, providing information that they can take with them is important. A key point to remember here is that your available budget will affect the supplies, but a smile greatly enhances customer satisfaction.

After the summer conference program is up and running, ongoing assessment of the front desk operations is key to refining and improving your level of customer service. Have your conference groups fill out evaluations before they leave or have a suggestion box available. Ask the conference groups about what else your program could have provided for them that would have made their stay more enjoyable. With all of the feedback that the guests give, in addition to your observations, your summer conference desk operations can be enhanced with each group that passes through your doors!

About the Author

Stephanie Marks received her Master's degree in Higher Education Counseling from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. At West Chester University she was a graduate assistant for Residence Life in Tyson Hall. She has worked at Drexel University for the past four years as an Assistant Director of Residential Living/Resident Director. While at Drexel she was fully responsible for the summer conference program. Stephanie is leaving Drexel University to pursue other interests.