Valter Lima: The warm art of service.


Mr Valter Lima welcomed me with a genuine broad smile. Was that to win me over?  From what we discussed later, it was obvious that his smile mirrored the simple fact that he is a man in love with his job: Guest Service.

What would that entail? So many things, including greeting and helping guests, resolving complaints, answering calls, meeting requests, handling payments, offering recommendations, and so on. I need to be always on top of everything, and try not to get caught unprepared or off-course. Service is more of a way of thinking, a philosophy of behaviour rather than a skill. I feel I need to be two steps ahead and almost take a guest by surprise. I feel a buzz every time  I manage”

And how would he tell that a guest is satisfied? Forty-one-year-old Valter smiled and pointed to his lips. ‘There is always a smile when the guest is satisfied. They always kindle or trigger good energy.’

If you feel or get to know they are not satisfied, what would be your next step? He replied in the simplest of  terms. ‘When a guest is not satisfied, I apologise.’ After a second, he felt he needed to expand. ‘The worst thing is to try to defend or justify oneself in an unsatisfied request. I use that unsatisfaction to learn why and how. Why was the guest unsatisfied? How can I satisfy? So it involves showing active, genuine care and interest, coupled with a drive to gratify.’

Did he think his job was demanding? He was visibly taken by surprise. ‘Demanding? Certainly not! Accommodating a guest is always a pleasure, not demanding. The day I feel it has become demanding, I will ask to change my post or leave the hotel industry.’ 

That was indeed revealing! The centre of attention is not oneself but the guest. ‘When you become the centre of your own attention, your time is out; just leave customer service.’ 

Are the majority of guests easy to accommodate?  ‘I would say every guest  is special in a unique way. I have to adapt to each of them, without losing the warm art of service. They do not have to change one inch. They come here to relax not to adapt. It is we who must adapt and adopt.’

How essential did he feel his work was for the success of the hotel? Mr Lima gently nodded his head sideways. ‘Everybody is essential. No one can see himself or herself as essential except as part of a team. Each one of us needs the support and cooperation of all the team as well as all the outlets support to succeed.Guest service is not a one-man job but a teamwork; otherwise standards fail. Another person’s failure may affect the image which you are striving to establish and retain.’

Was he saying that individuals lose themselves into a team? ‘ I would not use the term ‘lose themselves’ as if each member becomes nothing. I sincerely believe a good colleague is the one that makes the other colleague shine with his or her work.’

At this point it was obvious that Mr Valter Lima had a good background experience, so I asked him about it. ‘I have been 23 years in the hotel industry, working as bellboy, barman, concierge and even as a butler: Palacio da Anunciada,  Lux Lisboa Park Hotel, Hotel Marques de Pombal, A.S Lisboa Hotel, Costa da Caparica Hotel, Lapa Palace Hotel, Radisson May Fair London, butler for the Royal Family in London, and now…Corinthia.’

What made him join Corinthia? ‘It’s an excellent name. It’s international. It’s the biggest 5-star hotel in Lisbon, so it was a challenge for me, which I gladly took. And here I am, completely satisfied and proud to form part of the Corinthia family.’

How correct is to say that advertising attracts new guests, but good guest service retains them? ‘Yes, you need both. You need to show yourself first through advertising, and then prove yourself through service. Each needs the other. We all have to keep in mind that it is only good service which proves the favourable advertising correct. Each one of us, whatever the rank and position, should be a good advert for Corinthia.’

Emphasis on excellent quality is a brand-mark of Corinthia. Quality may need  to be revisited, reframed etc. Do you re-consider and revise practices to achieve better quality? ‘We have an ongoing training programme on customer service. Corinthia refreshes and regenerates itself continuously. In this industry, you cannot stop this improvement and renewal  process. You need to be ahead. In our industry, meeting expectations is good, but not good enough. Exceeding expectations should be our daily aim. So it is not only learning but achieving higher standards, retaining them and persisting to improve them. It’s an ongoing cycle. You stop, you lose! As Lewis Carroll wrote in ‘Alice in Wonderland’: My dear, here we must run as fast as we can, just to stay in place. And if you wish to go anywhere you must run twice as fast as that.’

Is it correct to state that good service exists when no detail is too small and no request is too big if it aims to satisfy a customer? ‘Undoubtedly, the customer is not only king. Customer is the kingdom, the fulcrum. Without customers, all this would be a mere building, empty rooms. We have experienced this in COVID times.’

What was the best lesson he drew from COVID times? ‘Perhaps it was the need to survive and understand the importance of others. We learnt to empathise, not just look. Extend a helping hand. We learnt to appreciate customers more, because we missed them.’

Switching to something personal, I asked how he relaxed after work.  ‘I love going to fine dining restaurants and adore all type of sports. I also love reading a good book; it carries me into another world.

Undoubtedly, Valter Lima is an out-going person, but what else? ‘I can describe myself as very patient. I am also always ready and excited to learn something new everyday, and that makes me keep my attention sharp. I am sure you have noticed that I also love to talk and smile.’

It is obvious that Valter Lima’s smile is not a marketing ploy.  It is an expressive extension of his love for his job.