What I learned from the Masters of USA Hospitality: A case for ‘how’
If you happened to catch any of the videos that I put out while in the USA last month, you will have spotted two things.
First, it was cold out there.
Secondly, I’m on a mission to highlight what we call the triumvirate of the ‘What’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’ of hospitality innovation.
And after speaking with some of the very best operators in the business over the last few weeks, I’m more convinced than ever that the ‘How’ is the missing ingredient for our industry.
What? Why? How?
I covered this a little in my last post, but here’s a quick recap of what we mean by ‘What’, ‘Why’, and ‘How’:
? ‘What’: new innovations themselves. For example, new EPOS systems, delivery methods, custom menu items, etc.
? ‘Why’: the customer insights that justify why we need these innovations. For example, data that suggests demand for bespoke orders, quicker payments, vegan options, etc.
? ‘How’: the way in which the ‘What’ is delivered to customers in the best possible fashion.
Here in the UK, every single hospitality operator I know is actively discussing the use of technology in their business. Go to any conference and there will be sections dedicated to the ‘What’ and the ‘Why’, with a few events now dedicated solely to innovation.
But I can count on one hand the number of operators who are actively using innovation to improve the training and development of their staff.
AKA (you guessed it), the ‘How’.
The focus is all on making customers’ lives easier, service quicker, and understanding what the customer will do next before they even know. But any technology around staffing tends to be socially focused, connective, and not developmental.
Imagine my surprise then when I hit US shores to find a very different picture indeed.
‘People First’ in the USA
It struck me immediately, both when talking to operators and when visiting sites, that there is very little technology on show for customer convenience. I thought I would be in a sea of gadgets, ordering kiosks, and quick payment solutions.
Instead, I encountered warm, friendly, knowledgeable staff.
And this isn’t limited to individual players.
To give you a feel for the mix, these include the likes of Itsu, Bagel Brands, Union Square Cafe, Walmart, Starbucks, and The Preacher’s Son, to name a few.
Across every state I dropped in. Both national and local operators. The laser focus is the same:
‘How can we deploy cutting edge technology to train, engage and develop staff, consistently, at scale?’
Person–to–person customer service for these brands in the US is vital. They see their people as the single biggest factor in both differentiating the brand and creating a great customer experience.
Long term technology aimed at customer convenience is there. But it just isn’t top of the list. People come first, followed by people second, and people third.
It’s Time to Ask ‘How?’
We are entering a phase of hospitality evolution where the ‘How’ is going to be the absolute key for businesses to grow.
There are many well-publicized challenges facing our industry. Some of them have arisen over time, like rising wages. Others have been thrown at us more recently, such as hospitality workers being wrongly classed as ‘low skilled’ by the UK government, or coping with the fallout from COVID-19.
This means that engaging, growing, and developing your number one asset – people – is not a luxury. It is the only way to thrive, and for some, to survive.
Is understanding customers’ needs important? Of course it is. But the same innovation must be shown to the ‘How’.
The majority of hospitality operators still just accept that extraordinarily high staff turnover is a fact of life for our industry. But we have to look at the reasons why that is the case.
That simply does not have to be the case.
Through my work at Attensi, I see time and time again the impact true innovation has on staff engagement and retention.
And if there’s one lesson our industry here in the UK can take from our US cousins, it’s to remember to put our people first.