In early 2016 some numbers surfaced at a few of the Dorchester Collection’s luxury hotels that caught leadership’s attention: Complaints about our laundry service were on the rise, as was the cost of compensating guests for damage to their clothes.
One hotel had to replace a fabulously expensive Givenchy evening gown. At another, an Hermès Birkin bag, which is almost impossible to buy unless you’re a celebrity, had to be restored, at great expense, after a waiter spilled wine on it and our laundry made the damage worse while trying to clean it. In another hotel there were 55 laundry-related complaints in January 2016 alone.
Continually measuring performance across a range of indices can let a business see where it’s succeeding and where it can improve. But acting on performance data alone is a sterile exercise that may result in the rote optimization of individual customer touchpoints while the overall service is commoditized — a dangerous trap if you’re a luxury business. Another common mistake is to address customer complaints through incremental improvements. Such complaints could indicate areas that are deeply important to customers. These may be areas where being “good enough” is not good enough. For performance data to have meaning, it must be paired with insight about what customers really want.
To figure out how to act on the laundry issue cropping up in our data, we had to start by better understanding what our guests really wanted from us (beyond clean, undamaged clothes being returned on time). By diving into the data, we were able to dramatically reduce customer dissatisfaction, increase customer loyalty, and develop new, differentiating service offerings.
Figuring Out What Our Customers Wanted
Our innovation team, at 45 Park Lane, in London, started by compiling data about our guests’ clothing behaviors and our hotel laundry processes, getting housekeeping and bell staff involved, as well as searching social media for customer posts.
The team discovered that guests often tag the clothes they wear with designer names when they take selfies at our hotels and post them on Facebook and Instagram. The team interviewed the bell men and discovered that some guests’ clothes were hung on the bell carts in special designer bags. The housekeeping staff tracked and reported on items left unattended in rooms. (Tidying up clothing left outside the closet and leaving it visible to guests is a five-star standard for housekeeping.) Finally, the innovation team picked up the guests’ clothes and examined them before hand-delivering it to the laundry.
This investigation led the team to start thinking about what our guests wear and why they wear it. A cotton polo shirt retails for about $29.95 at The Gap; a guest who wears one may have very different expectations than the guest who shows up in a Brioni cotton-and-silk polo shirt, which retails for about $575. By analyzing our guests’ behaviors, we came to understand that the difference is about far more than material and cost. The guest who wears the Brioni likely sees themself as part of the world of fashion, and their shirt as an investment rather than a consumable. When they hand it to us to be cleaned, the owner trusts us to understand those priorities and the suggestion of status woven into the fabric.
The team also found that our guests pack many more garments than one would think necessary for their length of stay, and went shopping for more when staying at our hotels. Moreover, about 80% of our guests use the laundry service, and they trust us with their most expensive garments more than they trust the dry cleaner down the road.
Fashion and clothing were central to the guest experience — much more so than we had realized. To borrow Clayton Christensen’s phrase, our hotel laundry’s “job to be done” is not cleaning dirty clothes; it is preserving and enhancing our guests’ sense of participation in the world of fashion.
And yet, within the hotel, the team found that our employees saw the laundry service as removed from our guests, physically and psychologically, and as a less-than-desirable career path. This mindset was generating a high risk of us not meeting the high expectations of our guests.
The innovation team concluded that we were neither seeing nor valuing our guests’ clothing as they did. This disconnect inevitably led to errors, rising make-good costs, and, worst of all, disappointed guests.
Delivering on Customer Desires
Our research indicated that we needed to increase the resources we were devoting to this aspect of customer service, so step one was increasing the laundry budget by 30%. We hired an expert craftsperson to run the service, who has rapidly become one of the hotel’s most influential employees. The team designed a PR and social media campaign around her, raising the status and morale of the laundry staff.
Budget also went to education. The innovation team conducted workshops for the staff to familiarize them with fabrics, labels (which can be filled with esoteric, hard-to-understand symbols for clothing care), and designers. A field trip to Bond Street, a high-end fashion destination in London, was aimed at helping staff understand the value of the clothes our guests entrust to them and make informed decisions about which garments could be laundered in-house and which should be sent out to specialists. Feedback we’ve received indicate that these investments in improving our laundry employees’ skill sets have made them feel more essential to our mission and made their jobs more interesting.
Understanding that laundry’s work goes beyond cleaning clothes, our new laundry leader focused on presentation. Now, when a Chanel jacket or Dior gown is returned to a guest, it has tissue paper stuffed into the sleeves and shoulders to preserve the proper drape…and to add a little glamour and ceremony. Laundry staff also include a note with the garment, describing how it was cared for and conveying that we value the guests’ clothing as much as they do.
These service improvements cost very little (for example, tissue paper was already part of the laundry service, used to wrap clothing; now it is being used to add value) and have had great success. Improving the quality and reputation of the laundry enabled the Dorchester, which shares laundry with 45 Park Lane, to offer its services to selected high-end residences in the Mayfair district. This created a side business, with the new revenue going toward defraying the increased laundry budget.
In the luxury sector, rethinking old business processes often can create new opportunities for revenue opportunities and for extending the brand.
Identifying New Areas of Improvement
Appreciating our guests’ relationship to their clothing has encouraged us to improve existing services and create new ones. For example, when we pick up guests at the airport, we clean their luggage so it looks as it did when they embarked on their trip — or better. If their clothing has been disturbed during the flight, we ask their permission to repack it before we take it up to their suite. This white-glove luggage service may eventually become another new source of revenue.
We are rolling out these innovations, and more, to our other hotels. In addition, fashion has become a larger part of our social media outreach. For instance, in Paris, our Hôtel Plaza Athénée is strengthening its connection to haute couture with the motto “It’s not what you wear, but where you wear it.”
If we had simply set out to reduce customer complaints about laundry service, we would not have been able to recognize or act on the market opportunities presented by our guests’ love of fashion. Of course, taking these steps has helped address the problem — the 55 complaints we recorded in one month last year are down to just five in one month this year — but by going beyond the data we’ve gained a much deeper understanding of why our customers come to us.
As a luxury brand, it is not enough to do everything well; that’s table stakes. The key is to figure out what is most important to your customers and do it better than anyone else.