Hilton Worldwide Puts Loyalty at the Heart of Its Service Strategy

By focusing on building an exceptional service culture, Hilton Worldwide empowered its employees to go above and beyond customer expectations in an effort to drive loyalty and increase revenue.
Customer Service
Gold: Customer Analytics

Business Boost: Hilton Worldwide's "Loyalty Score" metric saw an average increase of 5.1 points between 2007 and 2012 across all 10 brands, while the Waldorf Astoria received an unprecedented 15.1-point boost.

For Hilton Worldwide (HWW), comfort and loyalty go hand-in-hand. Each of the chain's 10 hotel and resort brands, which include more than 4,000 total properties throughout more than 90 countries, work to ensure every stay satisfies its customers' expectations.

HWW's SALT (Satisfaction and Loyalty Tracking) customer analytics program stands as the foundation for the company's customer-centric culture, empowering the organization through actionable data that enables employees across all levels to drive satisfaction, loyalty, and revenue. However, HWW recognized that said insights often lacked the "so what" element necessary to improve customer experience.

Ultimately, HWW aims to be the first choice among its customers. But, to ensure optimal performance, the Guest Experience team needed to restructure SALT to be brand-oriented, with an emphasis on understanding the key drivers of satisfaction, identifying the root causes of issues, and finding opportunities for improvement. With more than 50,000 users across all Hilton brands and properties, SALT has been in use for 12 years, making the program a critical component of the chain's overall operations. Thus, the Guest Experience team established one single point of contact under its umbrella to ensure the program's loyalty performance metrics align with the company's objectives and drive company-wide change through data-validated practices that are constantly tested and measured for impact.

The core Guest Experience team consists of five members who manage the program on a daily basis to continually drive actionable customer analytics to all parts of the organization, thereby providing employees with access to the information that's relevant to them. The Guest Experience team also brings the "so what" behind each factor to shareholders and leaders as it works to enlist buy-in from the top down through a regular communication cadence for sharing new objectives, actionable insights, and loyalty performance scores.

HWW also implemented the new HEART problem-resolution model: Hear the Guest; Empathize with the Guest; Apologize to the Guest; Resolve the Issue; and Thank the Guest. This five-step program encourages all employees to reduce and resolve customer issues on property.

According to HWW's previous research, guests who experience problems during their stay score 41 points lower on property loyalty, 38 points lower on overall service satisfaction, and 78 points lower on NPS than those who don't encounter any issues. Thus, the HEART model was created to boost each employee's likelihood of meeting or exceeding customer expectations, for those who complete all five steps of the process, as opposed to four, increase the chance of surpassing guest expectations three-fold.

"We found that completing all five steps of HEART led to a much higher problem resolution rate, and a higher rate of satisfaction and loyalty," says Kelly McManus, director of guest experience. "Publicizing these findings with our key brand and property partners helped team members internalize the model, understand its impact, and apply it more effectively."

To increase guest loyalty and likelihood to return, HWW applied collected insights to establish three goals for brand leads. First, employees were tasked with reducing the number of problems and increase the number of problem-free stays because 26 percent of all customers encounter issues. Second, employees must work to increase the problem reporting rate, for 69 percent of all issues remain unresolved because customers neglect to bring these problems to light. Last, employees need to boost the number of resolutions that exceed guest expectations because only 25 percent currently agree that the resolution met or surpassed the desired outcome. In response, HWW enacted the "Make It Right" program, which encourages employees to take ownership of reported problems and do everything in their power to satisfy the guest, proactively look for ways to meet unanticipated needs, and consistently recognize their most loyal guests.

To assess its success, HWW's loyalty score allows the company to ask guests three questions that provide insight into the main predictors of customer satisfaction and retention: overall experience with the property, likelihood to recommend the property, and likelihood to return to the property. Similar to NPS, this three-pronged metric aligns with overall business goals to drive loyalty, repeat business, and revenue. If guests rate each component as 9 or 10 (promoters), the property's loyalty score will be 1, while ratings below 9 (detractors) result in a score of 0. Each property's target percentage of promoters averages 60 percent. Overall, loyalty scores increased an average 5.1 points between 2007 and 2012 across all 10 Hilton Worldwide brands, with the Waldorf Astoria seeing a 15.1-point boost during that time. HWW has also calculated that promoters spend an average of 21 percent more at HWW brands and stay 4.6 nights longer than detractors.