How would you define the DNA of the Dorchester Collection brand?
Dorchester Collection Hotels are places where legends belong. We embrace the artists, the eccentrics and the risk takers. We celebrate those who ignore boundaries and aren’t too keen on average. Our guests tell our stories. And we are honoured to take care of them.
What is your company’s strategic approach towards promoting each individual hotel brand versus the group brand?
Our collection unites based on the emotional benefits we fulfil for our guests, not operating standards. We encourage creativity, embrace the unique culture of each hotel and appreciate their distinctive way of working. We don’t impose standard operating procedures. We value kindness over process and characters over talent. We demand that every hotel places the guest at the heart of everything we do. In the end, our guests forge our legacy, knowing and understanding them is our purpose.
Seasoned traveller and luxury consumers in general are increasingly seeking exceptional experiences. How does the Dorchester Collection anticipate such expectations?
We start with research. Academia has solved many problems for practitioners, however the depth of thought and richness of concepts may be overwhelming, hence many choose not to consult it.
We know that the traditional view of luxury which combines exclusivity, pleasure, prestige, quality and craftsmanship is assumed by today’s luxury traveller. It is the invitation to the party. Our guests want to experience a different dimension of time, an opportunity to escape from everyday routine. They enjoy mobility, exercise power to command and maintain harmony, sometimes wish to impress others and tend to define value in relationship to time. If we fulfil this, our guests will not only RSVP, but thoroughly enjoy the party.
To ensure the delivery on these unique needs of our guests, we strive to teach our employees that every guest has functional (proximate) and emotional (ultimate) needs. The functional needs are the obvious ones – what people presently think, feel or do. For instance, when someone orders a soup from the room service, the proximate reason may indicate that this person is hungry. The ultimate needs are usually not that obvious – a guest ordering that soup may feel a need to get warmer or may be fighting a flu.
We encourage our employees to break from the prescriptive and standard service concepts, teaching them to ask questions to discover a deeper motivation of a certain request or behaviour.
Beyond an exceptional product, the key to the success of a luxury hotel is providing consistent high standards of customer service. Tell us more about achieving and maintaining these standards at the Dorchester Collection properties.
Catering to the needs of our guests requires customization, not standardization. Customer loyalty is a concept with no consensus as a guest can express his or her loyalty in many different ways. Some may choose to increase the frequency of purchases, some may become brand advocates, some may have low patronage but high emotional attachment, and some may have high patronage simply because there is no competition.
In our attempt to discover the key to this complex subject, we have embarked upon a journey of change from five-star luxury standards centric to an exclusively guest centric organization. The journey has taught us that that we can no longer look at our guests as spreadsheets or market segments, but rather as unique individuals with different sets of needs under different circumstances.
The conclusion led us to re-evaluate our organizational design, which in traditional luxury hotels tends to centre around functions performing sets of activities rather than the customer. Sales & marketing sells a room, front desk provides guests with a place to sleep, food & beverage ensures the guest is fed and finance chases the bills. In a functional structure, everyone knows bits about the customer, but no one understands their wholeness.
Recently, your company launched The Dorchester Collection Academy. What motivated this launch and what are the objectives you are seeking to achieve?
We were frequently being asked by our guests, who were also C-Suite business leaders, if we could help them with the training of their own employees. This was because they were very impressed by the service they were experiencing when coming to a Dorchester Collection hotel. We therefore took the opportunity to launch Dorchester Collection Academy in February 2018. We have since trained over 800 people in 27 different companies such as commercial airlines (including British Airways on various selected projects), private jet companies, private members clubs (such as the Farmers Club), Royal households, property management companies (corporate and residential), healthcare, automobile, retail, restaurants… not only delivering our programme within the academy, but also travelling to clients’ sites overseas (Europe, USA, Middle East, India…).
Our focus is on creating the ultimate customer service and provide inspirational leadership. By doing so, we can assist companies in providing exceptional customer experiences. This benefits everyone from the business to the customer, thereby achieving our purpose – to help people to flourish.
How important is trust when it comes to the ‘invisible’ relationship you nurture with each and every guest?
“Trust takes year to build, seconds to break and forever to repair.” Trust, not points or rewards, is a key ingredient of any relationship. Trust can be gained by having confidence that a firm attracts like-minded individuals, cares about one as a person, recognizes what makes someone unique, respects someone’s success and is truthful and reliable.
To understand trust, it is important to recognise the ingredients of a good relationship. The relationship phenomenon can be argued from various standpoints, I like to approach it by identifying the enemy of any relationship, regardless if those are personal, brand or professional types – and that is – boredom. People leave relationships because they become bored, and boredom can quickly spiral into unhappiness.
Our job as hoteliers is not only to provide unique experiences, but to create occasions for our guests that protect them from the mundane and this can be done in various ways. For instance, at Hotel Plaza Athénée, the legendary courtyard transforms into an ice-skating rink during winter, while in summer, it is a place where trail-blazing Parian artists show their work. At the iconic Polo Lounge at The Beverly Hills Hotel, it is the crowd – the eccentrics, creators, stars and artists – that protect our guests from being bored. 45 Park Lane is writing its history by frequently rotating and carefully curating art pieces by some of Britain’s leading contemporary artists.
The key to trust is understanding what breaks the relationship and then reverse engineering your organizational strategy.
Which are the challenges you are already addressing as well as those you are anticipating when it comes to delivering the highest service standards?
Historically, the hotel industry has been one of the major trend setter for luxury services. The biggest opportunity we have as an industry is to separate the truth from the noise and continue to evolve the standards of luxury. Unfortunately, I am seeing evidence of commoditization of luxury at the highest level as many are following the same, prescriptive standards of excellence which tend to focus on efficiency and service quality, rather than on creativity, recognition and relationships.
Let me illustrate this with an example:
According to the Five Star Alliance, there are more than 4,400 luxury four and five-star hotels in the world. The Forbes Travel Guide globally counts 210 five-star hotels. Booking.com lists 69 five-star hotels in Manhattan, and according to Conde Nast Readers’ Choice, 46 hotels made the hot list in New York. The Forbes Travel Guide lists only 11 five-star hotels in Manhattan. One of our guests, a globetrotting millionaire argues that there are only 2 five-star hotels in Manhattan.
Hotel classification systems, issued by governments, agencies and private businesses, have been subject to debate in the world of luxury hoteliers for decades, yet very little is understood on how these ratings impact the decision making of the consumer. Our industry considers travel media and third-party marketing associations as authorities in influencing luxury traveler’s decisions and spends large portions of marketing budgets with these sources. The emergence of online travel agencies and social media review sites started the undeclared war between the disruptors and the hoteliers. Online travel agencies invested in intuitive and easy to use booking engines preferred by the travelers, leaving some hoteliers with no option but to to give their inventories to online booking sites. Review sites made every customer’s opinion count, leaving hoteliers with no option but to embrace the transparent and timely feedback.
Luxury hotel operators found themselves in the game of defence against the rating authorities, travel publications and review platforms, potentially at the expense of taking the time to understand if the core customer even pays attention to those sources.
Our challenge as an industry is to find strength, discipline and resources to focus on what was always the centre of the hospitality industry – our guest – not the standards, opinions or a booking engine. Our legacy depends on it.
Special thanks to Julia Record of The Dorchester Collection
More from LEADERS
What motivated your career choice? Tell us more about your early years. I’m originally from Colombo, Sri Lanka – …
How did your company perform in 2018 and what are your expectations for 2019? Year 2018 was a fruitful one for …
How is Savile Row adapting to the evolution of luxury retail (Exclusive interview with Richard Anderson)
With major international luxury menswear brands shifting towards casual / lifestyle and technology driven fabrics which do no longer necessitate …