Ciarnán Fahy, managing director, talks about how treating employees as ‘internal customers’ has resulted in outstanding external customer service and an award-winning ‘great place to work’
Key learning points
1. Systematic tailored training for the employee is essential
2. Employ those whose attitude fits with the company values
3. Treat employees as ‘internal customers’
4. Wherever possible, promote from within
Staff happiness and customer service are linked — it takes just one encounter with an unhappy staff member to ruin a guest’s whole experience. A guest who has had a fantastic stay will be left with a negative impression if the last thing they experience is a surly member of reception staff on check-out or a grumpy doorman on the way back to their car. Our vision at The Cavendish is to be the best four-star hotel in London with our own special people creating a special experience. We achieve this vision by focusing on our key values, always keeping in mind we are one team — a family — pulling together.
This attitude means we must be straightforward, have respect for each other, care about the environment and our community. I work closely alongside our dedicated hotel manager, Chris Penn, and HR manager, Sarah Strawbridge, to ensure the whole team buys into our values and are supported in achieving their own personal goals.
Recruit, train, develop No matter what the type of hospitality outlet, staff can only be the best if they are provided with the right equipment for the job and the correct training. We start by hiring the right people in the first place — people with a personality and attitude that fit our values. You can only deliver a good service in the hospitality industry if you want to be there. We always have about a dozen staff on placement from the best catering schools who often stay, then work their way up to become managers. We also hire on staff recommendation and referrals from people who know our business. This way, we secure employees who fit well with the team and our values.
Training Once the right employees are hired, systematic tailored training is fundamental to both staff happiness and great service. This is not about training for training’s sake, but about training that will add value to the whole business and boost the confidence of the employee. When it comes down to it, if staff members are not clear about what their role is and how it is meant to be performed, how can they be expected to do well? And if they are not doing well, how can they be expected to be happy? We identify talent and determine individual needs to develop a bespoke programme of training that mixes in-house sessions with those at college or done by outside trainers. All our senior staff also have access to an executive trainer to help them develop too.
We make sure we promote from within, wherever possible, so that staff can be confident of achieving a progressive and fulfilling career with us. Our front of house manager started as a waitress and also worked in accounts before progressing to management. It is this kind of promotion that inspires others working at the hotel as well. As a forward-thinking business we look outside the box when it comes to training; for example, we often send staff to look at competing hotels and restaurants to give everyone a sense of the standards their rivals are achieving. This creates a buzz about what The Cavendish should be doing as well as gives the team a morale-building day out of the office.
Recognition and reward Once staff are trained and fully up-to speed on what is expected of them it is important to give continuous feedback and recognition when the job is done well. Regular one-to-ones are a formal way of doing this, but I like to reward our staff for great customer comments by presenting them with £10 vouchers and a handwritten letter to say thanks for their work. It is not so much about the voucher, than the fact management is recognising those that go the extra mile to make a guest’s stay memorable.
After all, if a guest has gone to the trouble of finding out the name of the housekeeper who cleaned their room, so we can pass on their thanks, the service must have been pretty special. Healthy and happy staff We ensure our employees are treated as internal customers and receive a professional level of service. For example, we organise health checks and arrange for a chiropodist to come to the hotel. Staff are given a day off to give something back which they can use to volunteer, complete a sponsored run or, like our recent abseil, host an event for a charity close to their heart.
There is also the hotel’s football team, which recently got to the final of the inter-hotel championship. We ensure our staff feel valued by carrying out regular ‘feel good experiences’: ice creams in summer, gifts at Christmas, competitions at Easter, monthly themed lunches and we also reward long service. Results Being a good place to work has not only helped the hotel with recruiting, but has kept turnover down to 17 percent — incredibly low when you consider the average for the hospitality sector is 31 per cent. And feedback from the staff is pretty impressive too.
Eighty-five per cent said they:
- Feel their job role is good for their personal growth;
- Are proud to work for The Cavendish London;
- Feel they are gaining valuable experience for the future;
- Felt the hotel makes a positive difference to the world.
Best Companies, whose staff survey system forms the basis of the Sunday Times list, highlighted our high standards in leadership and the fact we are building great staff morale. Since 2005, the hotel has appeared twice in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies list. The only hotel to appear, we were ranked 35th overall — a leap of 64 places in the last year.