Kris Leszczynski leads service operations at Edwardian Hotels, where his responsibilities include aligning tools, processes, and people to deliver operational excellence. In our conversation, he shared his definition of exceptional hospitality, how he achieves this through listening, and leadership lessons he’s learned.
Defining exceptional hospitality
“If I am a billionaire, buying an expensive car is insignificant for me, but two hours with my son might be unobtainable.”
That’s why Kris believes exceptional hospitality is bespoke. “Luxury always means different things to different people.”
Edwardian Hotels hosts guests across generations, age groups, and lifestyles so it is imperative each guest is treated uniquely.
“Exceptional hospitality creates an emotional bond, and that comes from the moment you think about traveling to the time you remember that great holiday five years later.”
Hospitality is a holistic experience from the moment you are inspired to plan your trip.
“You never say, I want to go on holiday to the May Fair Hotel. You say, ‘I want to go on holiday to London, and there I have my favorite hotel, the May Fair.’ Why is it my favorite hotel? Because of what matters to me, and that might be being recognized, feeling valued, receiving a room upgrade, or something else.”
According to Kris, guests want to feel a sense of belonging and security. They also want to express themselves and feel a sense of thrill. This is how memories and brand loyalty are created.
Leading through listening
Listening to people plays a critical role in Edwardian Hotels’ pursuit of growth and improvement.
“The voice of the guests is critical in our strategic planning. Guests will tell you what they expect. You just need to know how to capture that data.”
Technology plays a role here, and Kris and his team use ReviewPro to aggregate all feedback in one place. “The team can anticipate only so much, so we must know how to properly capture the data and understand how to work with it.”
Capturing the data is just the first step in listening to guests and their needs. To really listen to their needs and improve hotel operations we must quantify the data and develop a set plan of actions based on that feedback.
Some of the most valuable feedback can come from negative comments. Kris’s perspective on negative feedback is to rise above it to get perspective. “Just take it, see if there is anything to it.” The key to really listening to the voice of the customer is to remain open to it. Not dismissing the negative is essential to improving.
When reviewing a simple guest comment such as “the room is too small,” Kris digs deeper to truly understand its meaning: “What makes you feel like that? Is there anything I can change that perception? Maybe I need to add more value to your arrival process. Maybe I need to add an amenity in the room, or maybe my room management practices are inadequate, and the person who is actually managing my inventory needs some more training.”
Building an emotional connection
Research suggests that building an emotional connection with a person makes them far more loyal and likely to return and spend more money. The challenge is, how do we measure such an emotional connection? Can we quantify it?
This kind of understanding requires a different approach to processing guest reviews.
“You can ask me how satisfied I was with your check-in on the scale of from zero to 10, or you can ask me how the check-in made me feel.” The latter is more powerful as it aims to understand emotional motivators for doing the things we do.
From Kris’s experience, this work to quantify and understand emotions benefits the company financially by empowering the guest-facing teams to make decisions.
The mindset for great service
Exceptional hospitality can only exist if the people tasked with delivering it are fully prepared to do so.
“For me, great customer service is not only a set of skills, but it’s also a mindset that one needs to represent. You’re going to be quite relentless and obsessive about it. If you don’t feel like giving great service, you aren’t going to.”
Ensuring that every guest has their own unique experience we must understand that everyone is different. “Our role in hospitality is to somehow find the common language every person, every culture, every generation shares – so we can speak to each of these guests.”
Kris digs into his own journey to hotel operations leadership to do this.
The path to a career in hotel operations
As a kid, Kris was very interested in biology and sports. “From the very early stages of my life, I have always surrounded myself with a lot of people. I was very fortunate to have a very happy childhood surrounded with lots of love and friendship.”
By the time it came to choosing a study path, Kris developed an interest in travel, which led him to choose Tourism as a study field. But it was a rather negative hotel experience that actually caused him to become interested in hospitality. “I just hated my stay at this one hotel so much, and what really stood out to me was how much difference I think I could have brought by doing simple things. I could see so much opportunity for improvement, so I decided to study hospitality.”
After graduation, Kris came to London looking for work. “I said to myself that if I was to get pub work, I would’ve stayed in the UK for three months, made some pocket money, and then left. But if I was to be given a chance in a hotel, I would try to develop a career.”
Luckily, he got hired as a luggage porter just two days after arriving in London. “I stepped into the Radisson Edwardian, at the time, the Vanderbilt Hotel. Handed my CV over to the duty manager, who took my CV, looked at me, invited me for an interview, and said that I was strong enough to carry bags. So that got me in the door.”
From there, Kris quickly rose through the ranks. Within the first three months, he got promoted to reception and there had his first ‘aha’ moment where everything clicked.
“I found it very rewarding to be thanked for how much impact I made on someone’s stay. That feeling of fulfillment and joy stuck with me.”
Kris set a goal for himself of becoming a General Manager by the age of 30. “After a year and a half, I got my first supervisory role. Then over the next few years, I built my career through being a team leader – from the Luggage Porter to my first junior management role as a reception manager for Bloomsbury and Kenworth Hotels, then promoted to be the Front Office Manager.”
He was 24 at the time and had a team of 20 people to lead for the first time in his life. “I was probably not ready to be a leader at the time,” he admits. “I did not really grasp the concept of leadership. I could make my guests very happy.” But while he knew everything about the systems and the Front of House, he had never experienced great leadership before and didn’t know how to provide it himself.
It was evident that he needed to find someone to help guide him. Luckily, Kris soon met that person at the Hampshire Hotel. “Simon Wong really took me on the side and made it quite clear to me that if I don’t change my way, I would not grow in my career in hospitality.”
Finding his passion for people
As he learned more about leadership, people and development, he found his true passion: the people.
“I found it so incredibly rewarding and empowering to see my team grow. People became my priority. It was quite a breakthrough in my career when I understood that it’s a team sport and it’s all about the people that you work with.”
This realization played a big role in the rest of his career and the impact that he has been able to have through his teams. As a first-time GM at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Berkshire Hotel, he had a profitable year, but more importantly, dropped employee turnover to just 15%.
Kris ended up just missing his goal of becoming a GM by 30, but by 31 he was appointed to lead the Berkshire property followed by the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, “That was always my dream come true to become a General Manager there, and I had two hotels by the age of 31. That felt great.”
He credits his success to being able to stay grounded and not forget how he started. “I know what it is like on the floor, and I’ve always kept it my priority to stay relevant.”
The role (and importance) of service operations
After a few years as a GM at the Mercer Street Hotel, Kris took an opportunity to join Edwardian Hotels as Head of Service Operations.
In this capacity, he is responsible for overseeing all elements of operations across the group’s 12 hotels and working with other departments to align tools, processes, and people together to deliver on operational targets and goals.
“A hotel is a business just like any other, with financial goals and objectives to deliver, retain and repeat the business, in the process, capitalizing on opportunities.”
Kris and his team does this at Edwardian by “being absolutely obsessive about guests and our teams, by being compliant with our standards, and most importantly capturing every single opportunity to make memories for our guests.”
From their perspective, without exceptional operations, there is no commercial success. That is why Edwardian Hotels focuses on its people as the core of its business.
A culture of humble leadership at Edwardian Hotels
A big part of the success of Edwardian Hotels is the leadership of the family business. Established in 1977 by Jasminder Singh OBE, the company is now run and managed by the founders’ son, Inderneel Singh.
“Inderneel Singh is one of the most modest, open, understanding, fair leaders I have ever come across,” says Kris. “He is so approachable and open to discussion that if I go and have a rant at Inde, none of it will be taken against me.”
Despite being a young leader and of affluent background, Indie is grounded and has an uncanny ability to gather people behind him. “He is never in the shadow. He’s always at the forefront taking responsibility and being visible to the whole company.”
This kind of open and welcoming approach to leadership really makes Edwardian Hotels stand out, as they put a heavy emphasis on staff retention and internal growth. This stems from the importance of the company values and mission: “We are here to light up every person’s experience” – and that includes its staff.
When it comes to leadership, it’s important to Kris to always remember what it’s like to be working on the front lines and the challenges of those roles. Then, to take advantage of everyone’s differences in personalities and working styles to the benefit of the whole team.
“This is the first time in history that four or five generations are working together. It’s uniquely challenging to accommodate everyone’s needs, as there simply is no one to do anything. Everyone’s different and a good leader can capture all of these little differences and can make the most of them.”
“I think leaders are brave and not afraid to be challenged. I think that leaders can relate and be related to. Leaders can set the direction and unite their teams behind it. Leaders are not afraid to admit that they were wrong. Leaders have the capacity to accept that they may not know the best. I think that great leadership is honest and transparent.”
It’s not an easy feat to be a people leader these days. Generational differences, cultural differences, and industry changes require hospitality leaders to always be learning and developing themselves.
The best part of working in hospitality
For Kris, the best part of hospitality is that it is a team sport – you really cannot achieve anything on your own.
And it’s constantly changing. “I cannot remember the same two days, even in the last year and a half,” Kris says. The pressure is high, the goals are high and there are challenges you did not anticipate everywhere.
“I thrive on pressure,” says Kris as he fondly recalls being part of winning teams on property. Situations like these create the memories that Kris loves to share when recruiting the next generation of hoteliers and inspiring them to become first-class leaders themselves.
Building the next generation of hoteliers
Ever since Kris discovered his passion for people, leadership, and development, he enjoys helping young people to find their paths in hospitality.
“I think that leaders are not born, leaders are made. I’m a prime example of it.” Having received mentoring at the most impactful time of his career, he is grateful for having had this support. Kris now gives back by sharing his passion for the hospitality industry with the young recruits.
“I love working with young people. I like to be challenged. I like to come to understand what the next generation can bring to us.”
One of the ways that Edwardian Hotels builds a people-first culture and achieves such low turnover rates is by only hiring externally at the entry-level positions and then promoting internally from there. Kris is a prime example, having worked his way up from a Luggage Porter to Head of Service Operations.
“Our recruitment strategy predominantly revolves around hiring the frontline, the entry-level. Then we try to upscale them to grow to that very specific leadership and management seniority that the business requires.”
Today hiring and recruitment is the hardest challenge in hospitality and Kris believes compensation is one area the hospitality industry needs to revisit. “You really should not pay people the minimum wage and expect them to provide incredible, five-star customer service.”
Expanding the recruiting process
Previously, Edwardian Hotels would recruit from Swiss hospitality schools, but having come through the recent COVID crisis, they’ve taken a different route this past year. They’ve joined the UK Kickstarter program, an organization that works with young people from London, from less privileged backgrounds, and are working with the Prince’s Trust (a charity supported by the crown) to go out to high schools and colleges to acquire young talent.
They are already starting to see success. “We’ve just hired a 19-year-old who was a great guy but a very difficult character – very opinionated, outspoken – but very talented. He came from a rough area, and most of his friends are drug dealers. I wanted to know what motivated him. He joined Kickstarter because he didn’t know what to do with his life. He started working in our flagship Hotel, the Londoner. For a few weeks, he was very much in his shell, but when he opened up he exploded with so much talent that now everyone is talking about him.”
This story was contributed by Maria Malaniia, who is a freelance brand manager – which means she is a bit of a jack of all trades. She is a creator of documents, presentations, blogs, and even spreadsheets that are purposeful and on-brand, making your target audience look twice.