One of the things that stood out to me when I first interviewed Stan Kennedy, Chief Operating Officer at Remington Hotels, was a brand performance team they assembled in the early days of the pandemic recovery to help turn around hotels that were struggling or in transition.
I recently spoke with Stan again to understand more about how the team was formed, how they structured it, what the results have been, and where they’re going from here.
What inspired the Remington brand performance team
There were several reasons for building a brand performance team in the beginning, Stan shared.
“Historically, the service elements of a lot of hotel management companies like ours rely heavily on corporate oversight. It’s typically a divisional Vice President of Operations working with the general manager and maybe the regional directors to execute all training and service initiatives on the property, but they have multiple duties. For them to zero in on one element of service such as guest satisfaction can be challenging. At times, other priorities might pull attention away from a dedicated focus on service.
“We saw that even before the pandemic, and then during the pandemic, reducing costs became the priority. It was a matter of financial survival. A lot of things were reduced or stopped and that included training. As we rolled those back, we wanted to be sure to not only reintroduce all the services we offer but also take the opportunity to come back out with a very strong effort that would generate a much higher level of guest satisfaction.
“While most companies were reducing expenses, we invested early in boosting guest satisfaction. When we did this, we heard from Marriott corporate and Hilton corporate that no other companies were doing this in the early days of the pandemic recovery. No other company had developed a team with a sole focus on the service element of their hotels.”
The first brand performance hires
“We started our brand performance program by hiring two directors who built the process for operating this team. Joe Masi, our Senior Vice President of Operations, had previously worked with two excellent candidates who we brought on as directors for the important initiative. We shared the vision of what we wanted, and the team immediately put together an organizational chart and roadmap for how the team could operate and grow.”
Why Remington invested in service when others were cutting back
“We knew that business would come back around eventually, and wanted to grab market share while everyone is operating very lean. The only differentiator you have is your service levels and we wanted to start the process early of gaining more market share, which ended up happening.
“After seeing early results, we reinvested in the program knowing that long-term it would put us in the best possible position to continue to gain market share.
Putting this team together was financially driven, but it was also about providing the service that we owed our fellow associates. When you dedicate time to improve things it means that you’re cutting down on the volume of complaints that are coming to the front desk.
“During Covid, a lot of complaints were coming through the front desk of our hotels, and that wasn’t fair to our front desk staff to deal with things they didn’t have control over.”
How the Remington brand performance team operates
Stan and his operations leadership team had a few requirements for how the team operated.
“We needed a system that was sustainable. We also needed to have a way to triage requests. For example, you may have a hotel faltering or you may have a turnover with key leadership and this team needed to be able to go in, put out fires, and handle the situation.
“What we found is this team typically goes to properties and spends a couple of weeks at each location not only coming in observing and telling people what they’re doing wrong but guiding them to make sure they understand exactly what they’re supposed to do and how to do it. Our brand performance team is very hands-on and actually works the shifts beside our team members as part of their training efforts.”
Examples of changes the brand performance team made
“The biggest thing is going back to review operating checklists. Whether it be at the front desk or in housekeeping, during Covid the checklists were very brief and short. Unfortunately, the industry was taking way too many shortcuts, which comes back to haunt you over time.
We wanted to look back at the key fundamentals of what’s important to us. We took the opportunity to rewrite what best practices are. It was a chance to recognize just because the industry has been doing something for years doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do or the best thing to do moving forward.
“We reevaluated every single best practice and made modifications to those best practices that we wanted to put in place at each of our properties.
“Our brand performance team is there to help our property teams and guide the adoption of these best practices. They are in a position to listen to our property team members and solicit ideas that also become part of our best practices.
“We want to earn guest reviews by doing things right, not trying to ‘buy’ positive reviews. Most customers are pretty smart. They’ll take what you give them but they’re not going to give you the score you want. Trying to bribe people for reviews is a foolish use of money. We didn’t want to get caught up in those games. We wanted to use our money to go out and invest in initiatives that would sustain themselves and help grow the business.”
Initial positive results
Stan saw the first positive results of the brand performance team’s work in their guest satisfaction scores.
“Brand scores are a little bit different than social responses you get, so we look at both of them very carefully because we do have independent properties, too.
“Early on, we saw overall both our guest satisfaction scores and market share improving for the entire portfolio. It got to the point where, in the Marriott system, we were recognized by David Marriott for our improvement in our guest service at all of our hotels. All of our Marriott-branded hotels exceeded the brand threshold during our first wave of work.
“While most companies experience some hotels falling beneath the minimum brand service standards on occasion, we had zero hotels fall below brand service standards during the first wave of our program.”
Training for sustainable change
“Our goal with this program wasn’t just about triage and fixing problems. It’s equally about setting a standard for sustainable efforts in all our different service touchpoints in the hotel. That’s why our next evolution of this work is the increase in both the frequency and the subject matter of training.
“We’re very heavily invested in ongoing training, so all of our brand service team members are not only great at understanding how to locate a problem and correct it – but they’re great trainers too because they all have operating experience. They’ve either been a general manager or a department head. They understand the business and they’re quite effective in going into the hotels and providing the support that’s needed.”
Continuing to invest in performance
Stan and his teams have continued to hire and invest in this brand performance team even through the pandemic recovery. “Today, we’re up to nine people on the team due to the success we’re seeing.”
This wasn’t just a Covid initiative for us. It was always our objective to invest in guest experience. When Sloan Dean moved into the CEO role at Remington Hotels, he wanted us to be a trendsetter in this area – and invest time, money, and resources to achieve that.
“This team exists for our continued growth. As we continue to grow our portfolio and increase our number of hotels, we also make the brand performance team part of our transition team. They go in and set new standards in these hotels as we take them over, which sets us apart from a lot of our competitors.”
Winning the recognition of guests – and brands
“We’re very proud of what we’ve accomplished with our brand performance teams,” Stan told me in closing.
“We had a meeting this week with both Marriott and Hilton corporate teams, and they were very impressed with what we have done with our brand performance team. They called out our directors as being excellent, and say they use us as an example when they talk to our peers.
“We like to think that we’re ahead of most other hotel operators in this area and we’ll continue this process forever, as we’re very much committed to this strategy long term.”
If you liked this story, you may enjoy our feature profile of Stan Kennedy: