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Maintaining Employee Engagement and Customer Excellence During COVID-19

It’s difficult to envision life going back to “normal” after the global COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. It has affected every economy, country, and industry – the hospitality industry being no exception. Clearly, the main focus is and should be on containing and mitigating the disease. I deeply admire the courageous efforts of those on the frontlines working to deliver care and ensure the safety of their communities (especially densely populated ones like mine, right outside of New York City). Yet as a customer loyalty and guest experience expert, I can’t help but look at this situation through a “guest-centric” lens.

COVID-19 is having a deep effect on jobs today, and hospitality organizations have specific staffing issues to worry about. Many need to scale back staff as travel plans come to a halt while keeping their top performers level-headed, productive and engaged during a time of fear and uncertainty. On the other end of the spectrum, some companies are needing to rapidly expand staff to meet new workforce needs. Wherever your organization stands, you should always be focused on creating world-class employee experiences to deliver the best possible guest experience--even when things aren’t “business as usual.”

Here are my best recommendations for doing so:

Focus on employee retention. Take care of your top employees so they don’t defect. Basic ways to start are by improving working conditions.

- Don’t pressure employees to take overtime (especially at a time of crisis such as now)

- Don’t cultivate an environment that prizes overwork

- If employees must wear multiple hats, provide incentives for going outside their initial job description

- Invest in the right tools for employees to communicate efficiently the way they want and need to--anywhere, using different interaction channels and devices

- Consider a mentor-mentee structure where new hires get designated mentors to help them through their onboarding and beyond

Reevaluate hiring techniques. The U.S. Department of Labor reported that the average cost for each bad hire can equal 30% of that individual’s annual earnings. Hiring the right people off the bat is crucial for maintaining profitable labor. Before putting the ad out there, take time with your team to redefine what makes someone successful in that particular role.

A common mistake I see in this industry is hiring based on experience and certifications alone. There are plenty of hirable folks out there with excellent work ethics and great attitudes who may not have the certifications you once deemed necessary (now more than ever). Remember that skills sets can be taught but not accountability, drive and commitment. Find people who you feel you can trust, who are eager to learn, and who would fit well within your organization’s culture.

Fight to create top-down change. The only way real change occurs is if the organization has buy-in from above. This isn’t to say that managers and executives should mandate change, but they should embrace it and empower employees to get on the same page. The Harvard Business Review puts it best: “Every large-scale change requires both leadership at the top and the widening and deepening of connections through wooing — not coercing — an ecosystem of stakeholders.”

To drive positive change and garner top talent, you’ll have to be open to embracing new perspectives and projecting others’ voices to upper management. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being flexible, adaptable and open to new ways of thinking and working. Keep this in mind as your business navigates the ever-changing developments surrounding this global health crisis.

Explore remote opportunities. Does your organization have any back-office functions that you can transition to a remote worker? If so, any of those open positions can be more easily and quickly filled by top talent ready at the wait (if already filled, you have hopefully transitioned these positions to a virtual work model in compliance with government orders). Administrative roles such as billing and accounting can easily fall into this category.

Any challenges you may have with your workforce can be solved with a willingness to think outside the box and explore new avenues for employee (and subsequently, customer) satisfaction. This fact remains regardless of how COVID-19 has temporarily changed business. Take these suggestions as just the tip of the iceberg for maintaining employee engagement and customer excellence during this unprecedented time.

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