Dear colleague, friend, family member… today I have a very simple question for you: when you think about hospitality, what is the first thing that comes to mind? If I am not mistaken, the first word that came to you was most likely service. Am I right?

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There is a very deep and unmistakable connection between the work of hoteliers and the concept of service, which is clear to all who work in the industry, but also to the ones who don’t.

It was a must for me to introduce the subject at some point, however the concept of service is incredibly broad, widely discussed, and approachable in many different ways.

Therefore I wanted to wait until I was sure of which would be the most efficient way to do so and to not forget anything essential. I wanted to engage the best possible experts to address the topic in an exciting and powerful way.

Ask anybody in hospitality what service means, and we will tell you it’s not just part of our industry, it’s not just our job, it is our way of life.

It’s the most significant aspect of our day to day, it’s our theory of everything.

Which is why an article alone will not do, and why I have built an entire section dedicated to this critical and fascinating matter.

When I started contemplating the service excellence segment, I did not have to think twice about the authorities I was going to involve from the very beginning, to guide me through the path in the best way.

Susy Roberts and Lorraine Green are two wonderful, accomplished women I have had the luck and pleasure to meet and work with during the past few years, in several extents.

They are part of a small group of exceptional mentors who have deeply influenced me and my leadership style, and who have shaped the way I develop myself and others.

Susy and Lorraine are part of an international management consulting company based in Cheshire (UK) and recognized worldwide. Hunter Roberts Consulting is a team of outstanding professionals with extensive industry experience, who support businesses through transformational change, and by creating a strong and unique level of partnership with the companies they work with. The group offers coaching and training to organizations with the intent of building strong leaders, maximizing individuals’ and teams’ performances, creating and maintaining a stand-out service culture within the organization.

I am exceptionally fond of the work Hunter Roberts specialists do, they really are capable of delivering their promise and I strongly recommend them to anyone looking to start building or redefining their culture and service DNA. Currently, Hunter Roberts consultants are particularly focused on helping hotel companies reimagining the world of hospitality during and after the pandemic.

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Susy Roberts 
leads the way as Managing Director and co-founder. She is an acknowledged industry expert who develops senior leadership talents, and who drives business performance through coaching. Her recent speaking engagements include European Mentoring and Coaching Counseling Conference, and the
Leading Hotels of the World Conference. Susy is a regular contributor to industry publications and press articles. In addition to delivering executive coaching, she designs coaching, leadership development and customer service programs. Furthermore, she worked with Trent Walsh, co-founder of Leading Quality Assurance to develop the “Emotional Intelligence” part of the LQA Audit.

“I fell into the luxury hospitality world by having done some work for Leading Hotels of the World, when I was asked to assist them in building their strategy. We were approached by the Dorchester collection to work on some projects, at that point I started travelling around all of their properties. I was at the Plaza Athénée in Paris – which is still one of my favorite hotels in the world, I just can’t get over how unbelievable their service is. I sat with the General Manager, Francois Delahaye and he explained he had worked with “Luxury Attitude” (a French consultancy). I also met with Eric Perey – the owner of the company, and we started a successful partnership which enabled him to offer his services to non-french speaking clients. We involved every single department f the hotel and shared best practices of what their brand was going to be. After this collaboration, we became the leadership and training advisors to new openings of Leading Hotels of the World, and I got to travel around the world. I have a particular passion for traveling and for discovering different cultures. That’s how it all started for me”

Lorraine Green is an Executive Coach, Consultant and Leadership Facilitator. She specializes in organizational development and customer service consulting, with an impressive HR/training and development track record. Lorraine’s experience is established in working at all levels and across an enviable range of public, private and charitable organizations. Lorraine’s coaching clients include functional directors and senior managers across a wide range of sectors.

“I started my service career at Marks & Spencer. At the time the company was synonimous with excellent customer service and quality, this was the essence of the business. Working there defined my service mindset, and focused my attention on delivering quality and service excellence in all I did. I actively sought to collaborate with like-minded people such as Susy. I have a passion for surrounding myself with people who want to provide their guests, customers or clients with the most outstanding service experience. My first luxury customer service training experience was with Silversea Cruises. I worked with their leaders and staff to heighten their awareness around: how making a guest feel special is as important as delivering a great product. In spite of the fact that the majority of the team had never been on the receiving end of luxury service, their desire to to want to do the right thing and to really delight the guest was fantastic and inspirational to me. Since then I have had the honour of working with many teams, in luxury properties and businesses around the world.
I work with all departments, but I have to admit my passion is working with the housekeeping teams ensuring the guest rooms and front of house are immaculate, that the teams showcase the property, and that individuals take pride in the little things that make a difference to a guest. I am proud to say the housekeeping teams I’ve worked with always achieved 100% on LQA audits! Working with like-minded people as I said is a joy and a passion”.

In the last few weeks I’ve have had the incredible pleasure of discussing again with Susy and Lorraine their interpretation of service excellence, culture and DNA. I have asked them to share with us what steps they take when coaching an organization on how to create and maintain all of this.

There is certainly a lot to talk about, and so many different angles to approach the subject from. We could talk about service forever, and we will. The service excellence section of My Heart in Hospitality is dedicated to its many different aspects. It includes interviews, discussions, and perspectives of some of the industry experts who have made a difference in their field, and of course, a huge difference for me.

I really wanted Susy and Lorraine to be the ones to introduce the section, so we could go back to the key points and start there.

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Ladies, please explain to us what it takes to create the service DNA in the specific context of a luxury hospitality property. How do we build, enhance, and maintain an exceptional service that not only exceed our guests’ expectations, but also that continues in time?

“In our experience of working with new openings, reopenings, and hotels that want to enhance their service, it has been very clear that there is a top down approach to take in order to be able to develop an exceptional guest experience. No matter how good your product is, and how focused you are on revenue, it’s the people who work for you that make the difference. Every hotel and product is different, what the executive team want their service experience to be is different, and we really want to work with our clients to establish their unique DNA. Over the years we have developed an approach that is proved really successful in creating a service experience which drives commercial results. It’s people first, and second it’s thinking about the journey that people create for the guests, that drives the business results. It’s really important to us to start with the leadership team, and if appropriate to understand the owners’ aspiration. What are the owners’ ambitions from a profitability point of view, or what they want the experience in the hotel to be, that’s what we discover and base our work on.

The approach we have adopted in our assignments has been to work with the leadership team to initially get them thinking about two simple questions: what do we want our guests to be thinking, feeling and saying when they leave the hotel? And, what do we want our associates to be thinking, feeling and saying when they arrive to work and when they leave work?

The steps are to first define the answer to those questions, and then to look at all of the ideas and views that come out of it, in order to create a strawman of the service DNA.

A great example of this is Granduca Hotels, where the owner had an absolute vision of creating italian palaces in the United States. Their properties represent everything about the italian culture, italian gastronomy, and italian experiences, but within the context of the US.

A different case is the Ritz Hotel in London, where ownership had a very clear view of Ritz been differentiated as one of the most renowned hotels in the world, but they were also clear on how that service DNA would deliver exactly what the guests were looking for.

I think the greatest example of service DNA comes from the Plaza Athénée Hotel in Paris, where the leadership team created “L’Esprit de Plaza Athénée'”, and they identified that the key was how people behave both internally with their colleagues and externally with their guests. The spirit of the Plaza Athénée promotes family, elegance (estetique), generosity, innovation, and service.

After having built the strawman, the next important move is to bring it to the department heads and to ask them what they think about it, take a collaborative approach so everybody feels that they have had an opportunity to be involved in the creation process.

Finally looking with every department what that DNA look likes at every service touch point: how do we demonstrate integrity, how do we make people feel part of the family, what does our culture look like at the front of the house and at the back of the house. How do we reflect that culture in our induction program and in our performance management. How do we reward people based on demonstrating the service behavior. How do we integrate the people into all departmental training, so it becomes a completely holistic approach for the whole of the property.

I have experienced that this approach is equally effective with pre-openings, with reopenings, and with culture change processes.

It’s all about communication, inclusivity and collaborative discussions. It’s then about empowering the front line to understand they should think about every opportunity and demonstrate they are capable of translating the DNA into actions”.

What are the main differences between designing a service culture in a traditional luxury property, versus in a modern trendy hotel?

“That’s a really good question, and to answer that I will use the example of the Roccoforte Hotel Collection. Sir Rocco Forte has an amazing focus on the pride and the quality of his properties. They all are different, some traditional, some modern, very unique, but with a very clear service DNA that runs through all of them.

If we look at the Brown’s Hotel in London – which is now 182 years old and the oldest in the city, it’s a fantastic traditional british property in Mayfair with a real balance of tradition and a great degree of modernity. With its afternoon tea and other unmistakably british components, it absolutely reflects London, however it has a trendy modern bar. Adam Byatt as Chef and Director of Food and Beverage, oversees Charlies – a restaurant that celebrates culinary heritage with contemporary and creative flair, supported by an amazing service experience. The Managing Director Stuart Johnson is an excellent example of a leader who sets high expectations for his team, leading from the top whilst empowering all staff to take ownership of their roles.

The Balmoral in Edinburgh is more about the Scottish tradition but still with the same service DNA and experience running through it. Verdura in Sicily is a quintessential Italian resort with a more relaxed service, and in perfect harmony with the surroundings.

All of these properties maintain the clear DNA of Roccoforte through the essence of the brand.

The key is knowing what your core pillars are, and adapting them to the location, to the local culture and to the personality of the hotel itself.

In essence, there is no difference in creating a service culture that is trendy or traditional. It’s all very much about how the staff makes the guest feel. It’s about that wow moment you create for that particular guest who enjoyes your brand and type of service. It’s about the small touches you do for them and how you do it. It’s about the senses you stimulate, and the way they feel when they leave”.

How do we translate service excellence to our internal guests – our team members – in other words, how do we ensure external and internal service cultures are aligned?

“That’s a very important point because I think that’s where hotels go really wrong: when they don’t think about the internal service chain and they don’t help people from the very beginning, from the pre-opening moment or when new people start. It’s easy to only take accountability for external service. Instead, understanding the impact on internal service is what makes the difference. All communication needs to be totally seamless from within. In many cases some members of the staff has never experienced five star service, perhaps they have worked in a five star property, but most likely they have not been on the receiving end. The more management can help them experience what the guest is going to experience, the better chance the employees have to know if that’s where they belong, the more they can embrace it and really engage well with the guest.

When establishing the service DNA and looking at the different touch points it’s extremely important to think about the internal customers: how the employees interact with each other, how the collaboration plays across departments, how the front of the house cooperates with the back of house. Leadership teams need to understand that if the internal customer service is not appropriately developed and cared for, if people within the team don’t see each other as guests, that will significantly impact the external experience. They need to establish from the start the clarity on the fact that what employees do and how the interact with each other impacts other areas, and therefore will eventually impact the guest”.

When it comes to service standards and audits, the technical performance has in recent years been almost overshadowed by the so called “Emotional Intelligence”. What is the emotional intelligence, and why is it such a crucial aspect of our job as service workers?

“It’s really clear that in luxury service there are four key elements: the service is efficient – referred to the technical part; it’s engaging – referred to building relationships; it’s elegant – referred to the ambience and the look; it’s experiential – referred to a real experience that can be created by the people.

I first started defining emotional intelligence when dealing with a project related to Four Seasons. Part of their philosophy is for everybody to have an experience built in a way that, wherever in the world you are, you can always recognize you are in a Four Seasons property, based on certain recurring elements. The company started to think about what makes the difference between one property and the other, when they realized that some people were describing their hotels as cookie cutters, which they absolutely hated. They started thinking about creating an emotional experience for the guests, and they came up with the idea of wanting to audit the emotional intelligence. They went out to the Leading Quality Assuranceteam, and asked them to build that part of the audit. Trent Walsh – Founder and Managing Director – rang me and asked me: “Susy, as you spend a lot of time helping people demonstrating it, can we discuss emotional intelligence?”. So we sat down and talked about it. We looked at every single interaction a guest could have in a hotel, and what feelings those interactions could evoke. We narrowed it down to each case, with the awareness that each case and exchange is of course different depending on the guest and on the circumstances. We looked at every single opportunity and touch point where feelings could be created, and defined those into emotional standards.

That’s really what emotional intelligence is, to be able to read the guest and bring out all those feelings. To create something that makes the guest feel special, but also to know what works for that specific guest or specific situation. You can have everything similar regardless of where you are in the world, but the people and the emotions are always unique. How we make people feel is unique.

Emotional intelligence is described as having a really strong self awareness and self management, which related to others translates into social awareness and relationship management.

The people who are best at delivering service are those who are able to read the guests correctly and appropriately and who know how to adapt their behavior.

The qualities of someone with a compelling emotional intelligence are confidence, adaptability, intuition, personalization, self control and empathy.

Self control and self awareness are key. There is something about having the intelligence of knowing that you know what you are talking about and what you are doing, but at the same time being a blank canvas, because you know it’ not about yourself. It’s not about how good you are, it’s about the message you are bringing along. It’s not about showcasing how much you know, it’s about showcasing the object of your recommendation. That’s the hard part, because there is a very fine line between the two. Emotional intelligence comes in when you recognize that it’s not about you, but about presenting that beauty and that elegance, and you are adaptable to each guest portraying that information or that service.”

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We close the interview with the emotional intelligence, a key point to service and to every successful human exchange, which I want to discuss more in detail in a later article.

As mentioned in the beginning of this piece, this is the introduction of a new section of My Heart in Hospitality. Susy and Lorraine have touched on the most fundamental points of service excellence, and they have given me the inspiration to talk about the topics described above more specifically. Additional articles on service excellence will follow, thanks to their encouragement and influence.

Thank you on behalf of everyone who read their interview – and myself – to these two incredible professionals, who are in my opinion the most extraodinary experts on the subject. And thank you to Hunter Roberts, who continues to offer excellence as far as the people and the service they provide, to push organizations to develop their people’s potential, to build a culture second to none, and to help all of us be the best leaders we can possibly be!

To be continued…..