EyeforTravel’s Digital Strategy Summit

May 2019, London

Europe's biggest event for commercial and digital travel execs

Emotional intelligence is the key to CX in 2019, says Crowne Plaza

Forget artificial intelligence, could 'EI' be this year's hospitality industry buzzword? Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, which is implementing a new EI-led training programme, seems to think so

Business travel is an important segment for Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts, a brand under the IHG umbrella, and in order to understand what modern working travellers want it recently conducted extensive research. The result of this led them to invest in a partnership with The School of Life, ‘a global organisation dedicated to developing emotional intelligence, to develop a training programme across the brands’ 98 hotels in Europe. EyeforTravel interviewed Mike Greenup, the firm’s VP for Marketing to find out why.

EFT: What sort of issues do business travellers face that propelled you to invest in a training programme like this? 

MG: Our partnership with The School of Life has come out of extensive research around what modern business travellers want. Travelling for business can be extremely demanding emotionally. We often find ourselves vulnerable to anxieties about how the trip might play out, we could be anxious to succeed in delivering our task; there is pressure to communicate effectively (even though we are likely to be very tired from travel!); and there might even be pressure to land a deal. Normally we have limited time to relax or disconnect; I definitely remember times when I’ve been up all night finishing a presentation, and then there’s the fact you might also miss seeing your partner or family.

This is where the need for ‘emotional intelligence’ comes in to play. The best kind of service alleviates anxiety by responding to and anticipating the particular ache we feel when we’re far from home, furnishing us with the emotional connection we’re missing. It can be a simple gesture or a short conversation - something extra that speaks to our needs and allows us to feel properly understood and attended to while we’re away. That human connection is what we hope to deliver thanks to our partnership with The School of Life and the training they’ve helped us develop for our Crowne Plaza hotel team members.

EFT: Presumably there are some commercial drivers behind this investment in training - what are they, and what are your key performance indicators? 

MG: The key commercial driver behind the ‘Dare to Connect’ service training is to enhance our guest experience. Between June and September 2018, we piloted the training at four of our hotels in the UK & Ireland and the results have been really encouraging. Compared with previous years, overall service scores grew by at least four percentage points, and overall guest experience scores rose by up to five per cent. On top of that, the hotels saw an influx of positive guest reviews. During the pilot, at Crowne Plaza Leeds, there was a key focus on service at breakfast, and the impressive result was that at breakfast satisfaction scores rose by over 20 points.

The assumption is that business travellers want an efficient, functional service, but the reality is that they want an emotional service with real connection

We believe that training can also drive strong customer loyalty. Often, the assumption is that business travellers want an efficient, functional service, but the reality is that they want an emotional service with real connection. We're more likely to return to the same cafe every morning, for example, if the barista remembers our name rather than because they serve the best coffee – although, of course, both would be good! When you travel and stay at a hotel, the same theory applies. A comfortable bed and fine bed linen is, of course, important but it might not make your stay memorable or make you loyal to that hotel for future trips. However, our view is that if our guests have a great connection with the team and feel understood and taken care of, we believe they’re more likely to return. 

*For more inisights into the evolving world of business travel check out a free EyeforTravel white paper which features a case study with design-led Dutch brand Zoku which is innovativing in the extended stay space*

EFT: There is an argument that empathy can't be taught - you either have it or you don't and if you don't, then you are in the wrong business. Any thoughts? 

MG: We’ve been working closely with The School of Life to develop the training modules for all six ‘life skills’ which we’re training our hotels teams on - vulnerability, self-belief, connection, anticipation, authenticity, and perseverance.

Based on The School of Life’s extensive experience and research, empathy (along with all the other skills) is absolutely something that is teachable and learnable. Empathy is not just a feeling but a learnable process and way of behaving; for example you can regularly imagine what another person might be feeling and try to put yourself in to their shoes. By training yourself to think about what others might feel, you can strengthen your own empathy.

EFT: Why, in your view, should firms invest in training like this? 

MG: Emotional intelligence is so important at work and in life, and according to The School of Life it’s particularly important nowadays because the way we work today is very new. To do our jobs well in the modern working world, we don’t need big muscles or to be supremely obedient; we need to be happy, engaged and properly understood.

The biggest enemy of productivity in companies nowadays is not a lack of technical skills, or the wrong IT systems. It is a lack of emotional skills

We are now doing psychological work, and psychological work is incredibly vulnerable to emotional disturbance. So, we need to sharpen these skills to do our best work, and in order to be able to lead others in doing their best work. In other words, the biggest enemy of productivity in companies nowadays is not a lack of technical skills, or the wrong IT systems. It is a lack of emotional skills.

EFT: That’s interesting. There is also an argument that hotel design is increasingly important part of business travel experience – especially as travellers are increasingly merging business with leisure. How are you challenging preconceptions of a ‘boring’ business hotel?

MG: Absolutely. In fact, earlier this year we unveiled the new designs for Crowne Plaza that are set to feature in flagships hotels across Europe. The designs were created in partnership with Conran and Partners and are part of a global Crowne Plaza programme to ensure the brand is first choice for modern business travellers and more profitable for hotel owners. In our flagship hotels, we have what has been coined ‘The Plaza Workspace’, a casual, buzzing space, where guests and local businesses can switch between work and downtime throughout the day. We’ve also redefined the guest room experience; the WorkLife Room aims to be a calming environment designed with three distinct zones to support work, relaxation and a better night’s sleep. Earlier this year the design for our WorkLife room was granted a patent in the US, which illustrates the novelty and validity of the concept and we’re excited to bring this to Europe in 2019, where we will be opening our first flagship hotels in Paris, Hamburg and London.

EyeforTravel recently produced a free CX whitepaper, which features an interview with Hans Meyer, the co-founder of Zoku, a design-led Dutch brand that is also innovating in the business travel space. Meyer will be also speaking in London at The Travel CX and Acquisition Summit 2019 (May 21-22) 

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