Executive Q&A: Hospitality Leaders Need to Offer Their Frontline Employees More Than a Paycheck
June 10, 2019
To most customers, frontline employees represent the face of a hotel –– they’re the ambassadors to a property and have the potential to transform a hospitality experience. Because these employees play such an important role, the hospitality companies they work for should be not only paying attention to, but strongly investing in, their satisfaction, engagement, and performance.
Frontline Performance Group (FPG) is one company that provides luxury and full-service hotels with tools and platforms to energize and enrich the lives of their team members through goal setting, e-learning, and professional coaching, which can help drive engagement, and therefore, higher sales.
SkiftX spoke with Geoffrey Toffetti, president and chief marketing officer of FPG, about the company’s belief that greater engagement of front-desk team members translates to greater guest experience and increased incremental revenue, as well as how FPG makes that happen.
SkiftX: Can you provide a basic summary of what FPG does?
Geoffrey Toffetti: FPG works with frontline employees in a variety of industries to help unlock what we call “discretionary efforts.” We define this as the difference between “average” performance and “top” performance, which, when it comes down to it, is really at the discretion of the individual. Our programs are built to motivate and inspire employees through consulting, training, and coaching. We pair this with a digital platform which provides visibility into what’s actually happening at the individual employee level, allowing training and coaching to be individually customized.
We work with the property to understand their culture, products, and revenue potential and then actually instruct employees in a very traditional approach through classroom-based, leader-guided sessions. We then move into coaching, which is really our main differentiator. We work closely with designated “Property Champions” to understand how to foster a motivated performance culture, including side-by-side coaching with the employees on an individual basis.
SkiftX: Many hotel brands already run similar employee training and management programs internally. What makes FPG different from these internal programs?
Toffetti: Internal program trainings tend to happen only periodically and are often driven by a learning and development or human resource department. While that training might be great, the program usually ends with the training. At the same time, those people running internal training programs usually have many other responsibilities. With FPG, the classroom training is only the first step. You’re also getting ongoing support from professional performance coaches, the experience FPG has gained from the hundreds of hotels we’ve worked with in the past, and security in the fact that we, quite frankly, have never done anything other than work with frontline employees to optimize performance. Where the training ends, we begin.
SkiftX: Some people might see what these incremental revenue programs as basic upselling 101. How would you respond to this?
Toffetti: Training people to do something is much different than actually motivating them to do it. In the case of hospitality, upselling rooms or packages is obvious. But getting people to do it consistently — and with a high degree of professionalism and energy — goes way beyond that kind of 101 strategy. And that’s really where we focus our energy and solutions.
SkiftX: What are some of the other elements beyond pay that hospitality leaders should focus on that contribute to running a strong team?
Toffetti: Leaders have to understand that employment in general is a social contract between an employee and an employer. In order for that contract to work, the relationship has to be mutual. Leaders have to actually live and breathe the culture that they are trying to instill with the employees.
Leaders also need to avoid micromanaging, which essentially tells employees that you don’t trust them. Trust has to be fundamental. Recognition is key as well. Many leaders fail to outwardly thank, or even acknowledge, employee contributions. Putting creative incentive programs in place can also help motivate employees to give their best performance.
SkiftX: How does this directly translate to higher property revenue?
Toffetti: The reality is that you can expect your guests to be treated the way you treat your team. When you have inspired, happy, and motivated people on your team, they are going to communicate that passion and excitement to the guests, who will get a better experience and want to spend more.
SkiftX: FPG puts a lot of emphasis on real-time data and insights to show what’s working and what’s not working. Can you talk about how FPG thinks about data and metrics?
Toffetti: Obviously, analytics are critical in a program such as this. We have implemented best practices in every vertical we work with. In hospitality, they really center around preparing the environment to optimize sales so that they’re frictionless for the employee.
This includes implementing best practices for leaders that allow them to address and recognize employees’ performance successes and challenges. Employees can actually receive feedback and set goals directly through the technology, too. It also means that we give employees real-time access to their own performance, so they know that their sales are being tracked and paid out correctly. We find this really fosters trust in leadership and empowers them with all the information they need to be a successful sales professional.
SkiftX: FPG works with hospitality clients in more than 30 countries. Can you talk about managing programs that drive employee and guest satisfaction on a global scale?
Toffetti: The biggest differences we see come down to how employees naturally interact with their leaders — some cultures are very hierarchical. But what stays the same is how human beings think and feel and how hotels operate. For the most part, the underlying product is very consistent. Generally speaking, talking to employees about their income and growth potential and making sure that they’re getting recognition for doing the right things — and that they’re being paid well — can break through cultural barriers. It really is fundamentally the same thing, no matter where you are.
SkiftX: Can you provide an example of a brand in the hospitality industry you’ve partnered with that achieved higher incremental revenue and employee and guest satisfaction?
Toffetti: We currently work with Hilton, Marriott, and Accor, and we’re optimistic that within the next month or two, InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) will be a formal brand partner. We’ve also worked with Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Trump Hotels, and some other independent brands.
All of our brand partners have attested to the fact that revenue, team satisfaction, and guest satisfaction go up when the program is executed properly. If you look across our entire portfolio of hotels, we average a 421 percent improvement in incremental revenue. It’s really a material improvement, and it can add a significant amount of value, not to mention increase retention and leadership growth of top performers.
We’ve had the longest relationship with Hilton, at over six years. They’ve had phenomenal success with this program. We’ve also seen a correlation to guest satisfaction, though that is a more difficult metric for us to measure because most brand surveys don’t specifically ask guests about their interactions with front-desk agents. But the revenue has consistently increased as employee engagement goes up and its internal culture has strengthened.