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Colin Nagy, head of strategy at FFNY, a global advertising agency, writes this opinion column for Skift on hospitality and business travel. On Experience dissects customer-centric experiences and innovation across the luxury sector, hotels, aviation, and beyond. He also covers the convergence of conservation and hospitality. You can read all of his writing here.
The successful orchestration of teams, systems, and details is required to pull off the best luxury hospitality experiences. Teams have to be empowered with clear direction, every small detail must be looked after, and a huge premium is placed on being able to replicate this day in and day out. However, there’s one overlooked element: instilling pride in employees.
And as employees return to work during the pandemic, this is more important than ever. There’s a lot of “we are here for you” promises coming from top-down corporate marketing, but if the front line doesn’t feel motivated, recognized, and ready to over deliver on some significant new asks, then none of it will ring true.
To do this, thought must be given to employee environments, the interactions, and digital experiences they need to work in day-to-day, and also clear performance-based incentives for over-delivering. This is even more challenging with new emphasis on contactless operations that are part of Covid-19 protocols.
First, spacial and environmental considerations can have a big effect on morale. How employees feel when they are in the spotlight of the main public spaces of a hotel should be consistent with their private “behind the scenes” areas in a hotel.
I spoke to Edward Mady, regional director and general manager of the Beverly Hills Hotel. He told me, “A CEO’s main job should be to build a culture that gives employees peace of mind and that makes them feel safe. Creating a culture of welcome — and a culture of “welcome home” is the DNA of effective workplace leadership. A culture of welcome also has to be free-flowing, because effective employees need to feel nimble, empowered and creative. They deserve that freedom.”
To manifest this in physical form, Mady realized that the previously bland employee entrance of the hotel represented an opportunity for employees to feel like stars themselves, and recognized in turn.
“We all know that the arrival experience is crucial and has the potential to set the tone for a guest’s stay,” said Mady. “It’s no different for our employees. The look and feel of the environment that they utilize to enter the hotel and start their day can also impact their day. To not see the benefit of implementing an innovative initiative to enhance the employee entrance is to not understand what drives engagement. You must create experiences through service.”
Complete with a 170-foot red carpet, a “Step and Repeat,” as a playful wink to the paparazzi culture of Los Angeles, along with curated music and the hotel’s signature green and white striped ceiling, pink walls, and banana leaf plants, the area closely mirrors the entrance of the hotel, home to the most celebrated A-listers and Hollywood stars. On the wall, employees who have worked for the hotel for over 25 years are recognized in the same way stars are at the main entrance.
Mady also started a “Welcome to Work” program with hotel team members greeting staff on arrival with a hot and cold refreshment bar that mirrors the hospitality shown to guests staying at the hotel.
The idea is meaningful: it is one thing to talk about empowerment and instill Harvard Business School theories of management. But it is another to frame a physical experience for employees that conveys respect, that they aren’t second-class citizens having to sneak around the side entrance because they are below using the main. It is a gesture of extreme hospitality and also suggests that it is not just every touch point of the guest experience that should be examined, but also every touch point of the employee experience.
Another expression of this can be seen with Xigera, a new safari camp being opened later this year in Botswana. They’ve focused intently on improving the state of staff accommodations, which even in some of the best lodges are bare-bones and military feeling. Instead, they created one of the most extensive and unique staff villages in Africa. Every member of the team has an en suite bathroom and a private room, literally unheard of in the bush. There’s also a primary health care provider who provides both physical and mental health support to staff and a canteen with nutritious meals, and two lounges.
Another realm where innovation is sorely needed is ensuring that the range of digital interfaces that employees have to use every day in their day-to-day jobs are as smooth and user-friendly as the apps and websites the consumers use. How often have you seen an airline employee having to tap in 10,000 keystrokes to do a basic task, or peered over the desk during check-in to see a terrible, Windows 98 style interface that the employees have to use day in and day out?
This is also particularly important as more and more people need to adhere to standard operating procedures ushered in by Covid. How pleasant is it in terms of interface and how intuitive is it to use?
If your consumer-facing experience is cutting edge Mac, but your backend is a dusty PC, you have a problem. The best hospitality brands need to be mindful that to create the best experiences, employees need to be empowered by tools that expedite and remove friction. And these experiences can also have built-in incentives and ways for teams to quantify performance across a slew of new mandated metrics.
Thinking of employees in the same way as customers will improve both key business results and the employees’ experience. And if happiness and retention is the goal, this is mandatory.