When Hilton Hotels conceived its Homewood Suites brand, it had a certain kind of customer in mind: the long-term guest. This was someone who had to stay in a room five or more nights due to long-term projects and assignments, an extended vacation or a relocation. Because of its business objectives, Homewood Suites had to furnish a different kind of room—spacious, apartment-style accommodations that include refrigerators, microwaves, stoves and dishwashers. It also required a different kind of hotel employee, one focused on service and problem-solving. The task of shaping such a workforce falls to Bill Duncan, vice president of brand sales and hotel support services at Homewood Suites.
“We have to be very focused on and sensitive to driving that customer satisfaction, because there is really a lot more at stake,” Duncan said. “They’re staying much longer, so their dollar revenue and earnings potential is a lot higher than a typical one-night guest. My position is to actually lead and direct the brand support team and all initiatives that deal directly with operations, brand standards and quality control at our hotels across the country, which also includes training. Our philosophy is to provide impactful training that will help the employees do their job more efficiently and effectively, and produce greater job satisfaction while driving customer satisfaction. It’s worked well for us.
“Primarily, the way we understand how our training is working is through our guest satisfaction tracking and guest loyalty,” he explained. “We’re a franchising organization. Even though we’re responsible for training these employees within the brand, they’re not always our employees. We don’t have metrics like employee turnover, because those are individual (hotel) statistics. We do track it to the extent that we can through surveying, and that is certainly a key, but we really tie what we execute from a training perspective to guest loyalty and guest satisfaction. For instance, we just introduced new culture training on what we call ‘problem resolution’: helping guests solve the normal, everyday problems that might arise while they are staying at a hotel. What we’re able to do is launch that training, then go to our customer satisfaction and loyalty tracking program and see if we were able to improve our effectiveness as problem-solvers for the guests.”
Homewood Suites, which currently has about 30,000 employees, encompasses approximately 150 completed hotels and 95 hotels under development. Because the company is growing so rapidly, learning and development programs have to be relevant for both new and veteran employees in a broad assortment of job roles. “We actually have employees that are going through our training platform, whether they’re in pre-opening or existing hotels,” Duncan said. “Our training has to be able to be used in a variety of different scenarios. Our employee population groups are management, sales, housekeeping, front desk, food and beverage services, and operations. They’re widely diverse groups, which makes for some pretty interesting opportunities from a brand perspective.”
To facilitate education for so many different kinds of employees, Homewood Suites relies on a plethora of modalities, Duncan said. “For our key management and sales positions, we do in-person training. We feel that’s very important. Those are two main leadership positions within our hotels. We believe you’ve got to train, then reinforce—provide opportunities for them to increase their skills, ask questions and continue to move forward.
“We also use conference-call training to reinforce our brand initiatives and culture to help deliver new learning and objectives that we want the hotels to handle with key department heads,” he added. “The heads of suitekeeping, maintenance, food and beverage—they go through additional management training that we support via conference call. We’re able to keep current, and provide that opportunity simultaneously across the brand and all its 150-plus locations.”
Homewood Suites uses DVD learning programs, supplemented with instructor-led idea-sharing and reinforcement exercises, to reach its line-level employees. “The hospitality industry does have a higher-than-normal turnover level, so we have to have something that will work pretty quickly with new employees,” Duncan said. “To be able to get employees ramped up quickly on the brand philosophy, culture and our focus on guest satisfaction is a huge priority.”
Because Homewood Suites’ workforce is getting younger, learning and development programs must increasingly cater to Generations X and Y, Duncan said. Therefore, the company is planning to roll out more educational offerings via the Web and podcasting. “They need to be engaged in very different ways. They expect that, and it drives their job satisfaction when they feel like they’re with an organization that is technically savvy with their training. The younger generation of employees loves it, they’re comfortable with it, they like the bells and whistles, and they’re used to learning that way. We really feel that is a mission-critical initiative for us to focus on that and enhance that.”
–Brian Summerfield, firstname.lastname@example.org