Hilton sums it up: human capital plus technology equals happy customers
Managing talent and training staff is an internal matter, but how technology impacts the guests’ experience is something a hotel cannot always control. So in this fragmented world, it is imperative for hotel staff to be prepared – and this means making customer satisfaction the end game. EyeforTravel’s Ritesh Gupta investigates
How hotel chains manage organisational changes as they expand their operations while embracing new technology is worth a closer look. If we look at how some of the big chains are approaching new territories, then the Asia-Pacific region definitely stands out. Take Hilton Worldwide. The group has over 100 properties in Asia Pacific today, and another 170 in the pipeline over the next few years. To staff these will require over than 200 hotel general managers and in excess of 100,000 staff in the region.
On another tack, consider what the group is doing on the technology front by breaking barriers in the customer experience arena. Last year, the team at Hilton came up with Conrad Concierge, which has been termed the first service-enabled technology to be wholly integrated with hotel management systems across the brand’s portfolio. In essence this means that customers are now able to tailor and share the particulars of their booking before, during and after each visit via a smartphone or tablet.
Whether the guest intends to interact with staff at the property or not, hotel companies have to ensure that the flow of information reaches the relevant team who will be ready deliver.
Let’s take a look at how Hilton is nurturing the team and how the guest is throwing up new challenges for personalisation and meeting the demands of multi-channel shopping behaviour.
When Dominic Sherry, head of sales, Asia Pacific, Hilton Worldwide, says that making sure the group has the human capital infrastructure in place to attract, train and retain talented team members is probably his most challenging, yet exciting responsibility today, it doesn’t come as a surprise.
In fact the group counts on its e-learning facility available across the world, and the numerous other training programmes which has paved the way for talented team members to develop their skills and careers within the company.
At the same time, it is crucial that Hilton looks through the customers’ lens to ensure it is servicing them from both a sales and marketing perspective. “Staying close to our customers to ensure that we remain relevant and stay ahead of the curve is another exciting aspect of my responsibility,” says Sherry.
A big focus for Hilton is to encourage staff to operate as a team. However, employees are also encouraged to take ownership of their actions and decisions, and operate with a sense of urgency and discipline etc. “During times of organisational change, it is key for each and every team member to fully understand the reasons for, as well as the long-term impact of the changes, so it is crucial for management to practice clear and transparent communication,” says Sherry. “As we continue to grow, it is crucial that we have the right structure and strategies in place to support our business needs throughout Asia Pacific.”
Preparing for external forces
Meeting guests’ expectations in today’s competitive environment is tougher than ever. “It is obviously challenging, because of the number of influences a guest may have before eventually choosing to stay or hold their event at one of our hotels,” says Sherry. For example, guests may obtain pre-travel or pre-booking information from a variety of sources that may be beyond a hotel company’s control.
To address this, the group takes following initiatives:
• We pay a lot of attention to our e-commerce strategies and platforms to strive to enhance the online experience when booking directly via our websites.
• We maintain a consistent information and communication flow with third-party intermediaries.
• On site, our team members also undergo rigorous service training to enable them to deliver a memorable guest experience at our hotels.
• We act on feedback after their stay.
Don’t forget the human touch
Rather than wasting energy on the channels they cannot control, hotel companies should look at their own upcoming offerings that have the ability to improve a guest’s experience at the property.
Enter an app like Conrad Concierge which allows guests to easily reserve an airport pick up or schedule a wake-up call without even getting in touch with the staff.
“Technology is a certainly a powerful change agent in our industry today,” admits Sherry. “We pay a lot of attention to maintaining the multiple facets of our online presence, as well as our e-commerce strategies to enhance the online guest experience.” Available for both Apple and Android devices, Sherry believes the Conrad Concierge application gives guests freedom and power to design and customise the details of their stay at any of the 22 Conrad hotel locations worldwide before and during a visit.
But new touch points like these obviously call for action. “We are in the business of providing a service to our guests, so customer-centricity has to be absolutely top of mind,” says Sherry. “Any issues with delivering on the service promise to our customers, be it fragmented customer data, non-alignment across functions and so on should be investigated immediately and resolved to the best of our abilities.”
Even relatively smaller groups or properties understand the importance of the human touch. In fact, the more technology comes into play, the stronger the call for revisiting the way staff serves guests, says Erich Steinbock, Regional Vice President for Rosewood Hotels in Saudi Arabia, and Managing Director of Al Faisaliah and Al Khozama Hotels.
So if an order is being sent via mobile app, then the key is to retain the human ability to charm and delight a customer at the right time.
On the commercial front, the sales, marketing and revenue functions of the hotel trade should be inextricably linked in order to deliver strong business value to the enterprise, and ultimately all key stakeholders of the business.
At the same time, it is important to always see the customers’ perspective so that “we service their requirements and offer quality services across all disciplines,” says Sherry.