Creatively Connecting with Team Members to Drive Guest Loyalty

Lynn Smith
Director, Brand Culture and Internal Communications

Hilton Worldwide redefined the mid-priced lodging category with the introduction of the Hilton Garden Inn® brand in the mid-90s, offering quality services and amenities for smart, value-conscious business and savvy leisure travelers. Our brand was at the forefront of the industry and had tangible success to show it, ranking “Highest in Guest Satisfaction Among Upscale Hotel Chains in a Tie” by J.D. Power and Associates.

However, the industry started to change, and we realized we needed to change with it. In 2011, there was a noticeable decline in our guest loyalty, and competition was on the rise. What used to be our niche market was becoming populated by additional brands going after the same target customer in similar ways. This was the wake-up call that drove our executive team to refocus our energies and our business strategy.

At the Starting Line

To determine where change needed to occur, we took an intro-spective look at our company, our practices, and our employees. We had to be willing to see the issues and barriers in our way and commit to resolving them and getting back ahead of the competition. We found that two of our biggest opportunities were Problem Resolution and Problem Avoidance.

Our company reputation revolves around people, so it made sense that our efforts needed to focus on our leaders, managers and team members, at both hotels and at the corporate office. In particular, the front line staff was the key to turning things around and getting our brand back on top. We needed to know they were connecting with our guests and providing them the best service experience possible, including resolving problems as soon as they happened. And we needed to send a strong message to our guests that we were serious about this promise.

Rev Your Engines

HGI partnered with Root Inc. to help bring our strategy and culture to life through several tailored, targeted solutions designed to get and keep our teams’ attention. We developed the Hilton Garden Inn Satisfaction Promise to serve as the foundation of our new strategy, acting as the hallmark of our commitment to our guests.

On your mark: We set out to create alignment on the intent and language of the Hilton Garden Inn Satisfaction Promise. The new Guarantee reads: “We promise to do whatever it takes to ensure you’re satisfied, or you don’t pay. You can count on us. Guaranteed.™” It’s not an empty statement. It’s a promise to our guests that relies on leader, manager, and team member engagement. Our goal was total guest satisfaction, empowering every team member, regardless of role, to make it happen. The HGI Brand Leaders completed an alignment process, driving clarity around the intent, the wording, and the operational processes to fully realize the Satisfaction Promise in our daily operations.

Get Set: In August 2011, we rolled out the Satisfaction Promise pilot program at 20 hotels globally. As we collected feedback,we updated and tweaked the program accordingly.

Go: We launched in the United States in January 2012, and globally in February 2012. HGI brand executives, hotel owners, hotel management companies, and hotel teams completed a 120-minute training session. Each team then participated in five “sustain sessions” to ensure the spirit and operational execution were achieving our desired outcomes, held monthly then quarterly after the launch.

Every aspect of our program was designed to engage both the hearts and the minds of employees. The Hilton Garden Inn Satisfaction Promise was realized through a fun, interactive program that utilized paper and video components, experienced in a group setting. All team members experienced the training, from Front Desk personnel, to Food & Beverage employees, to Housekeeping and Maintenance staffs. The manager’s role was to connect everyone to the strategy, to provide coaching on problem avoidance and resolution, and to keep the team updated on the key metrics that measure our success in these areas.

The entire program included:

Video – overview from Adrian Kurre, Global Head
of the brand, containing a message on the importance of the Satisfaction Promise, how it ties to the brand pillars and values, and the role each person nplays in executing the new vision and strategy.

Root Flip BookFlip Book – using Socratic dialogue, we explored the why, the what, and the how of executing the Satisfaction Promise, including a problem resolution process called HEART (Hear, Empathize, Apologize, Resolve, Thank) and problem avoidance.

Root VideoVideo – we watched real team members and managers work with guests to execute the Promise using HEART.

Root Board GameBoard Game – we practiced the how of executing the Satisfaction Promise in a fun and competitive way, including paper and video guest scenarios.

Root SustainingTeam Huddles – managers led “Sustaining the Promise” huddles on a regular basis to continue the team conversation about the most common problems, problem avoidance, and resolution best practices, as well as celebration of great team member/guest connections.

The common theme for each piece was empowerment – each team member, regardless of role or department, is empowered to keep the Satisfaction Promise and resolve guest issues, including offering a free night’s stay if needed. We wanted to give team members the authority and autonomy to take care of guests, meet or exceed their expectations, and resolve problems without needing to involve a manager. We knew this would give guests immediate satisfaction when dealing with a frustrating issue, and help grow our employees’ critical thinking and guest service skills. This is how they really became part of the business process and began to feel they could make an impact on the bottom line.

The sessions bubbled with team spirit and it was obvious that our staff grasped the importance and impact of their role in achieving our end goal of increased loyalty. Every hotel completed the training so they could stand behind and embrace the Satisfaction Promise, and engage guests to drive brand loyalty scores.

Crossing the Finish Line

We knew that by empowering and creatively engaging our employees we would reach our goal for the HGI Satisfaction Promise to drive brand loyalty. Team members became involved in regular discussions led by managers on how the hotel is performing in problem resolution and loyalty. Teams work together to determine the best ways to improve performance and also celebrate great results.

In addition to the engagement program with our employees, we were transparent with our guests regarding our new Satisfaction Promise. The transparency was reflected in collateral, conversations, and other materials geared toward our guests. We wanted them to know that their satisfaction was our top priority and that we were dedicated to delivering the best experience possible.

The Satisfaction And Loyalty Tracking (SALT) survey already shows an increase in loyalty on average across the hotel system. Results from respondents who were aware of the HGI Satisfaction Promise showed, on average, a double-digit positive difference on all key measures, including loyalty scores, which were up 16.6 points (on a 100-point scale). Overall experience scores were up more than 13 points and value of the experience for the price paid was up more than 17 points.

In the nine months the program has been in place, we are seeing an uptick in loyalty numbers and are confident it will continue. While the guest satisfaction piece is shaping up just as we hoped, we also see our employees invested and enjoying being part of the Satisfaction Promise. With the changes we’ve made, everybody is winning – our leadership, our employees, and most of all, our customers.

In 2012 Hilton Garden was ranked by J.D. Power and Associates “Tied for Highest in Guest Satisfaction among Upscale Hotel Chains”* and received a gold Brandon Hall award for Best Employee Engage-ment Model for Satisfaction Promise (brandonhall.com). 

* Hilton Garden Inn received the highest numerical score among upscale hotels in a tie in the proprietary J.D. Power and Associates 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index StudySM. Study based on responses from 61,716 guests measuring 11 upscale hotels and measures opinions of guests who stayed in a hotel June 2011-May 2012. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of consumers surveyed August 2011-May 2012. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.

Lynn ensures that all components of the Hilton Garden Inn brand’s hotel-level training and communications effectively deliver and instill the brand’s key philosophies, values and the Hilton Garden Inn culture through the strategic development and implementation of brand-specific training, communications, follow-up and tracking systems all brand constituents, including hotel-level management, owners, management companies and internal and external brand partners. 

Adrian’s primary focus is unit growth, revenue growth and increasing loyalty while reducing the carbon footprint within the Hilton Garden Inn brand.  He has been with the brand since its re-launch in 1996.  During his tenure, the HGI brand has grown from only four hotels to over 500 hotels operating in 11 countries worldwide.