Recap: Where We Are At
If you took part in the previous conversation you will have a good grasp of the work context that led to the receptionists running to-fro from the front desks to the problem rooms, seeking to keep rooms in reserve so that they were in a position to placate angry customers by moving them to a different-better room, and using their newly acquired guest engagement skills to negotiate with customers – offering them refunds, room rate reductions and/or vouchers.
What Is The Core Challenge Here?
So I ask you what needs to happen for InterLodge to generate its desired outcomes: higher occupancy rates, higher price points per room, higher levels of customer satisfaction, and ultimately a higher share price? Let’s make this question simpler, what is the challenge here? Have a go, formulate an answer to that question.
Isn’t the challenge to shift the work context so that it calls forth, naturally and by default, the kind of behaviour that will result in guest rooms being fit for guests, leading to happy customers, leading to less rooms being kept aside by receptionists and no need for the receptionists to offer discounts-refunds on the room rates?
Now look further-deeper, go into the heart of the matter. Venture into territory that few venture into: think! Keep peeling the onion.
What is the core challenge when it comes to doing that which needs to be done in order to craft-deliver the kind of customer experience (end to end) that causes happy customers? Isn’t it cooperation? Cooperation between all the organisational actors who directly-indirectly influence the customer experience. Is it not your experience that the bigger the organisation, the higher the importance of cooperation, and the lower the likelihood of finding genuine cooperation?
What Steps Did InterLodge Take To Shift-Shape The Work Context?
According to the authors of the Six Simple Rules, InterLodge took the following three steps:
- Did away with the organisational elements that were useless and/or counterproductive. For example, they did away with the financial incentives which were supposed to motivate the receptionists to improve room occupancy. And they stopped the soft skills “guest engagement” training program.
Made managerial promotion dependent on having worked in multiple functions. Why? To encourage and ensure that managers had a lived-experiential understanding of the work of each function and how it related to the work of other functions.
Changed the work context so that cooperation was called forth between Housekeeping, Maintenance and the Front Desk (receptionists).
Let’s dive into point 3 shifting the work context to cause cooperation as the default behaviour. Imagine that is your challenge. What specific action/s would you take to shift the work context and call forth cooperation between Housekeeping, Maintenance, and the Front Desk (receptionists)?
What Actions Did InterLodge Take To Generate Cooperation Between The Multiple Actors?
Before I share the answer with you, I invite you to listen to the authors of Six Simple Rules:
Their [receptionists] work put them in the closest contact with customers, and they were the most directly penalised when customers were unhappy. They had an interest in cooperation but had not way to influence the behaviour of other groups – specifically, the housekeeping and maintenance staff.
So the clue is there: find a way to directly expose the housekeepers and maintenance staff to the wrath of unhappy customer/s. Did management pursue this option? No. Why? Because the did not find a practical way to expose these folks to the wrath of the customer. The customer was most likely to be angry in the evening when s/her checked into or returned to her room. And this is exactly when the housekeepers and maintenance were not at work.
What did InterLodge do? Management give the receptionists a say in the performance evaluation of the folks in housekeeping and maintenance. Did it work? Yes. Why? Because the Receptionists had a say and their say mattered. This is how the authors put it (bolding is my work):
In the past, it had always been enough for these employees [housekeeping, maintenance] to fulfill the criteria and meet the targets of their individual function. Now, people in the the two back office functions were also being evaluated on how effectively they cooperated with each other and with the receptionists, and it was the opinion of the receptionists themselves that carried special weight…. After all, their careers and the possibility of promotion were on the line.
Was it as simple as that. Not quite, this change had to work in conjunction with the other big change:
When this change in how personnel in back-office functions were evaluated was combined with the new cross-functional rotation of managers (which gave managers more of an appreciation for the interdependencies among the various functions), the nature of work changed rapidly at the hotel.
How exactly did the nature of the work change? By this expression the authors are pointing out, in particular, how the way the folks in housekeeping and maintenance ‘showed up and travelled’. Let’s listen once more to the authors:
The housekeepers checked the equipment in the rooms when they cleaned and let the maintenance groups know immediately when something needed attention. What’s more, the two back office functions were a lot more responsive when someone from reception would call asking for help to resolve a customer problem.
What Results Showed Up At InterLodge?
According to the authors:
… InterLodge hotel business unit’s gross margin increased by 20 percent within eighteen months. The rapid improvement in margins allowed the company to … nearly triple it [stock price] in just two years.
If you want to understand the logic behind this then I recommend buying-reading the Six Simple Rules.
What Is The Core Insight-Lesson For Those Working On Customer Experience And Customer-Centricity?
The core insight-lesson is spelt out rather pithily and it is one with which I am in full agreement. The lesson is so obvious and yet neglected. Why? Because it involves taking the “road less travelled”. What is this central insight-lesson:
To achieve customer-centricity make the organisation listen to those who listen to customers. Changing interaction patterns among functions is much more powerful than creating a dedicated customer-centricity function.
There you have it. The challenge of customer-centricity is that of disrupting, shifting, and shaping interaction patters so that transformed work context calls forth the requisite degree of co-operation from-across-amongst all organisational actors which directly and/or indirectly affect the customer experience. And the authors have shared how this was done at InterLodge. And they give other examples in their book, which is well worth reading.
Enough for today. In the next and last part of this conversation I will lay out for you (and comment upon) the sociological theory behind tools for shaping the work context. And why it is that the standard-commonplace approaches (hard, soft, hard+soft) to organisational change and customer-centricity do not work. Like they did not work for InterLodge.
Thanks for listening, I hope you got value out of the conversation.