Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality, innovation, and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across hospitality, aviation, and beyond. You can read all of his columns here.
As hospitality evolves in the luxury sector, so too do systems and processes. While much of the industry is fixated on technology as a salvation for every problem, it’s more often the human touch that matters. That’s why a progressive management system should be examining every standard operating procedure to see what can be better engineered for empathy and guest delight. Those hoteliers who are willing to do this will be the architects creating the best experiences for the future.
One of the historic vestiges of luxury hotels is a strict organizational hierarchy for staff. The general manager sits atop, like a general on the hill. Other senior-level staffers do their jobs, but don’t spend much time, if any, with guests. That face time is largely left to the bellmen, the front desk receptionists, and the concierge team. More junior-level staffers are often not empowered to solve problems.
Jannes Soerensen is the general manager of the Beaumont Hotel, a luxury property in London. Soerensen doesn’t see himself as that general on the hill but as someone who needs to enable the creativity of the frontline staff. That means breaking down the hierarchy between roles and levels at the hotel to create a cohesive tribe, making every part of staff feel he or she plays a vital role in creating the guest experience.
Flattening the Hierarchy
Additionally, Soerensen instituted a kaizen program at the hotel, modeled after the Japanese idea of continuous improvement by small steps. He said that even “[changes] one percent at a time across every department solves hundreds of things across the hotel.” He said the system has led to improvements in everything from planning for guest arrivals and departures to reducing the use of plastic throughout the hotel.
Part of the program is empowering staff, when they notice problems, to address them, even if the issues deal with superiors. Soerensen feels he needs to ensure that every member of the team feel comfortable speaking up.
In addition to flattening the hierarchy, he also suggested that creating paths to success, however unlikely, is also vitally important. For example, his current head of human relations was formerly head of housekeeping, which is not a typical career path in most places. But by offering staff unanticipated opportunities, it pushes people to think bigger about their futures.
Ett Hem in Stockholm provides another vivid example of a new-age luxury management structure. The small boutique hotel has the feel of a stylish friend’s home. But that intimate atmosphere goes beyond the environs. There is no back of house. Everything that the staff does is out in the open, an approach that is far more egalitarian than a typical luxury property.
Certainly, the feeling of not having anything hidden away is interesting: The chefs are preparing food in an open kitchen, the check-in is handled in a living room. It’s all out there to see. Helena Lundqvist, the hotel’s head of operations, noted this approach might surprise guests accustomed to standard luxury properties with formal structures and theatrics of old.
But today’s luxury guest is no longer looking for staged theatrics. They expect a personal experience. And hotels that opt to engineer for that through employee empowerment will allow for a guest-hotel relationship that goes beyond the transactional. As I’ve stated before, the goal is to not only beat what the competition has to offer but go well above and beyond what guests expect.