Blog: How Malmaison's employee incentive scheme 'Wow'-ed customers

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I've long been a fan of the Malmaison brand having had the pleasure of spending considerable time at a number of their facilities during my travels. 

I've always found the employees to be great brand ambassadors and that this positive and empowered behavioural culture worked well with the physical brand trappings.
I featured Malmaison in my second book, Brand Champions (2011), a case-study-based guide to the role that everyday employees play in bringing brands to life from within. It was pleasing therefore, to read Michelle Stevens' article in People Management on 22 May 2012 detailing how the staff recognition scheme had "paid off at Malmaison".
The group received more than 8,000 customer ‘wows’ as part of an engagement plan, largely as a result of empowering and rewarding customer service initiatives. The programme has also reduced staff turnover significantly and increased consumer loyalty at Malmaison and Hotel du Vin.
Kate Underwood, the company’s people development manager announced at a recent HR Forum that the hotel chain had introduced a ‘Wow’ employee incentive scheme to drive customer service in response to the recession.
“Our challenge in 2010 as a boutique brand was to reduce costs like everyone else, but ensure that our customer service did not struggle,” she explained to delegates on the Aurora cruise liner.
As a result the Wow campaign was launched by the firm’s CEO in June 2010, which trained and encouraged staff to provide an extra level of customer service or give away complimentary items at their discretion.
The need to “involve the trust and empowerment of staff” to go the extra mile for special occasions or rectify a complaint situation was key, Underwood added. Employees were then able to report when they had ‘wowed’ a guest, which was signed off and logged by their manager, the audience heard.
How to wow
Employees achieving 10 Wows were rewarded with a free meal in one of the hotel restaurants, while the ‘Wow of the month’ won £150 and personal congratulations from the CEO. Staff recognised as offering the two best customer service examples of the year won a trip abroad.
More than 8,000 Wows have been recorded to date, with 650 occurring in the first two months of the scheme as hotels competed in a weekly league table. Underwood explained that since the introduction of the campaign, the proportion of customer service related complaints had dropped from 69 per cent to 17 per cent.
In 2011, staff turnover dropped 17 per cent and customer loyalty had increased, with repeat business up by 51 per cent. Underwood said that against those improved figures, the total cost of complimentary items had only been £6,500.
She added that Wow training was now included in inductions and some of the special touches instigated by staff – such as those around birthdays and anniversaries – had become standard customer service elements.
Furthermore, recent employee surveys found that 96 per cent of staff now felt that they received excellent customer service training, and the proportion of staff proud to work for Malmaison & Hotel du Vin had increased from 87 per cent to 98 per cent.
“What made the programme innovative was the simplicity of the message,” said Underwood. “We highlighted that service was our top priority.”
More positive reinforcement for the fact that employee engagement initiatives are largely cost negative at least, and at best can be a hugely powerful way of ensuring that employees feel involved and empowered to keep the promises made by the marketing department.
What HRD wouldn't love those stats and what FD worth his salt wouldn't endorse that people development/employee engagement business case, especially during these austere times?

Ian Buckingham is a founding partner of engagement consultancy, Bring Yourself 2 Work.

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