You don't become the leading hotel chain in the world without knowing how to create successful customer experiences. And successful customer experiences start with exceptional employee experiences, which often come down to one simple thing—great internal communication. The sharing of knowledge among hospitality professionals—no matter their specific role or location—can make or break a hotel's ability to cultivate a culture of engagement and innovation, all in the pursuit of making their guests feel at home. In that regard, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, with more than 550 hotels in 85 countries, is clearly doing something right, and that includes their ability to recognize that there's always room for improvement.
Complete Accessibility for Every Employee
Norbert B. Lessing, Director General of Hilton Austria—with one location in Innsbruck and three in Vienna (Danube Waterfront, Vienna, and Vienna Plaza)—oversees a total of almost 1,300 rooms and more than 650 employees, very few of whom sit at desks. Given such a vast and dispersed workforce, he faced a problem. Until recently, Hilton Austria operated their internal communication via email, but not every one of the hotel's staff had their own email account. Lessing wanted to be able to reach employees across all of the hotel's departments and locations with the same general information, but he also wanted to create new opportunities for his staff to communicate with one another. Ultimately the goal was to find a quick and effective way for everyone to share the information they needed.
Adding to the hotel cluster's logistical complexity was the fact that the organization is made up of several different departments with a wide array of responsibilities. From the front desk to housekeeping to food and beverage administration, internal communication is required to meet a host of diverse workforce demands. What the hotel needed was a complete set of solutions for reaching its entire staff with news, information, and services. The answer, they concluded, was an employee app from Staffbase.
"All Our Hotels Are Talking with Each Other"
With Hilton Austria's "HFEX" app, which every employee can access, communication among the hotel staff immediately improved. Patrick Schalk, an assistant front desk manager, says approvingly that, "the app is definitely our new communications channel. We now communicate with each other throughout the hotel, but also all over the cluster, which means that our hotels are talking with each other. What used to be done with cumbersome emails is now easy over the app."
This flow of information quickly extended well beyond simple texts to include the distribution of different kinds of media. For instance, users are now able to share pictures and videos, providing a very effective way of not only fostering engagement, but acting as a means for training and informing staff. Says Lessing, "This is often easier than having to explain something and struggling to find the right words or the full meaning of what might be an important lesson."
"A Single Portal Where Employees Can Get All the Information They Need"
At the moment, 65% of Hilton Austria's employees actively use the app. Achieving 100% is the goal, at which point its use will not only include publishing department-specific news and information, but also running training sessions over the app. Says Lessing, "We want to communicate more than just the service plan or the lunch menu" (although the latter is an employee favorite). "But whatever we communicate, we want to do be able to do it very specifically."
In the hospitality industry, this ability to share specific knowledge is essential for creating a harmonious blend of products and services. Unless employees know exactly what their guests want, it's impossible to deliver satisfactory experiences. Building effective peer-to-peer internal communication and collaboration between employees and departments lies at the crux of developing organizational knowledge. Waltraud Hendle, Training Coordinator at Hilton Vienna, knows firsthand the importance of providing a unified message. "Communication was always a mix of email, grapevine conversations, and blackboard notices. We had so many tools [for training]; now there's a single portal where employees can get all the information they need."
Engaging with a New Generation of Employees
Glenn Schreiber, Hilton Vienna's IT Manager, believes that the app recognizes another enterprising concern, "We wanted to address our future employees. Generation Y in particular is more interested in working with an app than over email." This is of particular importance when it comes to creating dialogues among the hotel's younger staff members, all of whom use social networking apps in their daily lives. Where communication was traditionally very one-sided, Lessing is convinced that the app has immediately generated more open dialogues. "This will certainly increase the satisfaction of our customers," says Lessing, who is a firm believer in the direct link between employee satisfaction and the satisfaction of his hotel's guests.
I believe there's already a higher amount of transparency since we now all have a better understanding of what our colleagues are doing.
—Norbert B. Lessing, Director General, Hilton Hotels Austria
And Lessing—for one—says he's always looking at the app. "I see all of the content and I always see how interactive the exchange is and where it leads. I'm doing my part, too. I'm often writing comments and thanking the staff." Nonetheless, he'll be the first to admit that the company still has homework to do. "We want to have full use, but first we have to understand what's possible. We're growing and we'll work out the benefits as we go. And then surely a phase will come in which we say, "How about this or that?"
It's the little things make a big difference to the hotel experience—that elusive mix of comfort, service, and gratification that when blended perfectly create what's commonly known as "hospitality." Lessing is convinced that the app has made Hilton Austria a more hospitable environment with its positive impact on workplace culture and increased employee loyalty. "I believe there's already a higher amount of transparency since we now all have a better understanding of what our colleagues are doing . . . and that's exactly the point!"
Sina Kaye Lockley