December 04.2018, 10.24am

Hospitality and engagement: Treating employees like customers is the key to success

The word hospitality originally comes from the Latin word “hospes,” which can mean both “host” and “guest.” That might seem confusing but the host and guest experience are simply two sides of the same coin in the hospitality industry.

To get good customers, you need good employees. To attract and retain good employees, you need to treat them as a good customer. As with any customer service industry, your employees are the face of your brand. They’re the people who will make or break a guest’s experience so it’s vital to have the right people in the right roles if you want to succeed.

Yet 82 percent of hospitality professionals now find it harder than ever to hire suitable staff. That’s perhaps unsurprising in an industry that’s often associated with antisocial hours and low pay, even if hourly rates have been on the rise in recent years.

The first challenge facing employers in the hospitality industry is attracting quality employees. The next challenge is getting them to stay. So how can you keep your workforce motivated, engaged and invested in an industry that’s often associated with employee churn and low retention rates?

Engaged employees will result in business success

Everyone knows the importance of an engaged workforce but it’s even more important in a customer-facing industry. A recent survey found that 70 percent of engaged workers say they have a good understanding of their customer needs, compared to just 17 percent of unengaged workers. A Harvard study has also found a strong correlation between employee engagement and customer loyalty.

One way to engage your workforce is to empower them, allowing them to take a proactive response to their customers’ needs. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company allows even hourly employees to spend up to $2,000 per guest to solve any problem that may arise, without having to ask a manager. This allows employees to use their initiative to find a resolution, demonstrates trust and also keeps their customers happy.

There is a clear link between employee recognition and engagement and something as simple as offering an employee praise can boost engagement. Walmart and McDonald’s both saw positive business results when they raised their wages to improve customer service and retain their best workers. And Amazon recently announced plans to raise its minimum wage to compete with Walmart for seasonal staff.

Poor staff retention is an ongoing issue in hospitality, with low pay and unsociable hours cited as the biggest reasons for leaving in YouGov research. It found that the hospitality industry’s annual staff retention level is just 70 percent, compared to the UK average of 85 percent.

In an industry that relies on people skills and experience, staff retention is critical to avoid the loss of expertise and the resulting cost of hiring/training replacement staff. Engagement helps to improve retention and boost productivity so it’s an obvious way to tackle one of the industry’s biggest challenges.

Creating a culture and driving retention

Richard Branson famously banned “Stepford customer service” in his hotels, by which he meant joyless service or scripted interactions with customers. The best way to avoid this is to develop a clear company culture that inspires motivated employees to really engage with customers.

Establish core organisational values, treat your staff as your primary customers and work to align their individual objectives with your organisational objectives. Look at establishing reward programmes, open up lines of communication with workers, and introduce development opportunities where possible.

Hiring for cultural fit is vital but it can be a challenge in an industry with seasonal workers and a high rate of churn. Just Hospitality introduced referral programmes to help them hire for cultural fit. Referees get financial rewards when a referral passes probation; it creates a sense of inclusivity and it helps to perpetuate the existing culture.

A high turnover is to be expected with entry-level jobs so you need to evaluate a candidate’s commitment and long-term plans. Cycas Hospitality managed to achieve an 86 percent retention rate by hiring for personality instead of skills. One novel approach was to hire workers over 50 who often had no industry experience and then offer them training. They found older workers to be very reliable and “some of the friendliest, most gregarious and engaging” employees in the company.

Offering flexible hours or shifts can also make the work more attractive while giving new recruits development opportunities can make low paid jobs more attractive. BaxterStorey famously introduced award-winning training academies and bespoke training programmes for their employees as a career development initiative.

In CoreHR’s Smart Talent Expects report, only 31 percent of top performers believed their organisation was able to help them reach their full potential. It found that more than half of employers had not delivered on employees’ expectations and that 57 percent of top talent would actually apply for another job where they had to take a pay cut if it meant more opportunities to control the direction of their work. That shows the importance of talent development if you want to hang on to your best performers.

How technology can help

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Having a workforce management system will let you track employee trends, measure productivity, track retention data and connect employee engagement to business outcomes. CoreHR’s Talent Analytics also lets you formulate a career progression plan for employees so that you can offer professional development to your best performers.

The likes of Valor Hospitality Europe measure employee engagement four times a year as they see it as crucial to the organisation’s success in staff retention. CoreHR’s Smart Talent Expects report found that 74 percent of high performers defined an attractive organisation as one that listens to its employees. Modern workforce management software makes it easier than ever to carry out surveys and gives employees a forum in which to highlight any issues or concerns.

A recent survey found that 55 percent of hospitality workers want more control over their work life and shift patterns. Workforce management systems offer mobile, self-service technology so employees can easily access real-time information, submit roster preferences and make leave requests. Using a responsive, automated system makes it easier to track late changes and to offer more flexibility around work schedules.

This software also offers demand-based rostering, which will reinvent the way you plan your weekly or monthly schedule. It uses predictive analytics to ensure you have the right people with the right skills on the ground on any given day. This avoids staffing inefficiencies, automates the rostering process to free up managers, and improves employee morale by allocating enough staff to deal with customer demands.

When Cineworld swapped its manual, paper-based Time and Attendance system for CoreHR’s fully-integrated Workforce Management System, it instantly noticed the difference.

With 75 percent of employees under 25, the mobile-first technology helped to communicate with these digital natives via a medium that they understood – their phone. That improved the employee experience, automated holiday requests and shift swaps, and it reduced the time spent on rostering from six hours to just 60 minutes. The cloud-based system also handled 8,500 shift swaps without the need to bother a manager.

Workforce management technology enables better strategic planning, improved people management, and the creation of a working environment in which the individuality of every employee is recognised. Employee experience inevitably informs customer experience. So cultivating a happy, engaged workforce who want to stay with you will ultimately lead to happy, satisfied customers who’ll also want to stay with you.

Mark SextonBy Mark Sexton