Happy staff, happy guests: Award-winners Dorchester Collection talk employee engagement

Dorchester Collection collect their award for employee engagement at the 2015 awards.

Luxury hotel chain Dorchester Collection won the employee engagement top prize at last year’s Personnel Today Awards. What has the company done to stand out in this hard fought category, and what is next?

Staff engagement goes hand in hand with guest engagement at luxury hotel operator Dorchester Collection. The chain of 10 luxury hotels caught the eye of judges in the employee engagement category (for employers with more than 1000 staff) last year at the Personnel Today Awards for its “powerful brand” and for “driving excellent customer experience through a holistic strategy”.

HR director Eugenio Pirri believes the company’s choice to pursue engagement within (rather than as a separate entity to) overall business strategy is what made it stand out. He says: “We’ve been on this journey for five years and I’m still amazed by how new the idea of employee engagement is for some companies. It’s not a ‘thing’ for us, it’s a way of life.”

Some of the initiatives launched by the hotel operator are nothing new, such as annual executive forums to look at the culture and direction of the company, and internal awards for employees who demonstrate the values well, refining its internal employer brand.

However, it’s the way these actions have come together, and crucially what Dorchester Collection has done with the data it produces, that has produced results.

Overall, employee engagement at the chain is now consistently above 90%, and it has saved £1.7 million in attrition costs. Labour turnover has decreased from 29% to 20% in two years, proving that more satisfied staff tend to stick around for longer.

The number of “actively disengaged” guests has gone down by 9%, saving more than £11 million – driven in no small part by “PROMisses” (short for problems and missed expectations), a framework for solving guest complaints. The data gleaned from this feeds into the company’s learning and development programmes so they are actively targeted at areas that customers feel need to be improved.

Before this was introduced, there was a sense that employees were not fully engaged in complaint handling – guest engagement scores highlighted a mismatch between guest complaints and employee responses.

To back up the link between “happy guests and happy staff”, a director for global guest experience and innovation visits each of the hotels four times a year to present an action plan to teams on how they can improve guest engagement.

“PROMisses allowed us to look at how much empowerment we gave employees, and how guests reacted to how they solved problems,” adds Pirri. Guests are asked to rate how well the staff member solved their issue, and whether or not they would use the hotel or one of its affiliated establishments again.

This exercise alone creates a host of valuable data that can be used to establish whether or not staff understand certain aspects of customer service, and whether or not they have the right tools or equipment, or can suggest alternative answers to recurring issues. The response process can then be refined accordingly.

Since winning the award, Dorchester Collection has embarked on a more scientific way of looking at feedback and ensuring staff and guests are engaged. It has partnered with San Francisco-based technology company RicheyTX, which has developed an artificial intelligence platform that can tap into and make sense of unsolicited or unstructured feedback, such as comments on sites such as TripAdvisor. “The information you can get without asking can be fascinating,” says Pirri, and this data can also be used to refine how staff respond.

In addition, the company has simplified its employee engagement survey, which used to have 90 questions and now has just 16. “We felt that those questions were the ones that really drive the values, and 16 is a lot easier to action than 90,” he adds. “Leaders aren’t running around wondering where to start. They can concentrate on one or two areas and that will have an effect on more.”

Future surveys will also include more opportunities to pass on unstructured feedback so managers can get a more rounded view of the employee experience at the company. Pirri describes how staff at Dorchester Collection are part of a “story”, and how that story must be a 360-degree one rather than a brand that is preached about and employees feel they must “follow”.

This applies whether you’re just working there for the summer, or you have a decade-long career in hospitality. Pirri concludes: “Gone are the days when you had an employee for life – whether they’re with you for six months or 20 years, they’re still your brand ambassador. It’s all about the experience they have while working for you.”

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