During the height of the pandemic, Mélody Lardin of Le Saint-Sulpice Hotel in Montreal found herself in a position many other hoteliers can relate to: she was doing everything. Or at least it felt like it.
With most of her hotel’s employees and managers laid off, Lardin was taking on more responsibilities every day. “I went from being the hotel’s director of sales and marketing to also being the general manager, director of revenue, director of housekeeping, director of rooms, and head of human resources,” she said during ReviewPro’s recent webinar. “Everything but the controller and head of maintenance, thankfully—please don’t let me touch a hammer!”
On a typical day, Lardin would check in a guest, inspect a room, go out to buy local wines for the minibar, manage a guest complaint, and meet with a staff member who needed to talk. It’s a scenario experienced by hoteliers around the world these days.
With 108 spacious suites, Le Saint-Sulpice is a four-star, independent boutique hotel located in historic Old Montreal in Quebec, Canada. “What really makes us unique really is our connection with guests,” Lardin said. “We’re all here to serve them with excellence, but we’re also like professional friends and family. We want them to see Montreal through our own eyes and experience.”
A Tight Labor Market
In 2021, after travel restrictions eased and people began traveling again, hotels around the world discovered that many of the employees they had laid off or furloughed had found jobs in other industries. With a tight labor market, finding new candidates was also difficult.
“For us in Montreal, things went from one extreme to the other, from being really lean with staff to having to hire for tomorrow,” Lardin said. “But the appeal to join the hotel industry was low because of government programs, the uncertainty of the situation and the lure of jobs in other industries. For those of us who stayed, it meant more pressure, longer hours, being more versatile, and lots of teamwork and flexibility.”
Keeping a Close Eye on Guest Feedback
With so few staff around, hiring new employees didn’t always go smoothly for the hotel. “We had to onboard them quite quickly because we needed them to work right away, so they didn’t get as much training time as they needed and deserved,” Lardin said.
Despite the challenges, Lardin made it a priority to keep a close eye on guest feedback. A client of ReviewPro since 2019, Le Saint-Sulpice uses ReviewPro’s Online Reputation Management (ORM) and Guest Satisfaction Surveys (GSS) solutions to monitor guest feedback, benchmark guest satisfaction, and find areas for improvement.
“Our situation was reflected in our online reviews in both good and bad ways,” Lardin said. “When we received a bad review, it helped us become more aware of areas where we were falling short. For example, I hired a new housekeeping supervisor while occupancy was still very low, so she had to clean rooms. We didn’t have much time to hold one-on-one meetings with staff to see how things were going. In one week, we received three bad reviews about the cleanliness of rooms. Obviously, I used that as a sign to have a conversation with that employee and bring our standards back up.”
But most reviews were positive, and that helped to keep her team motivated. “As at any time, employees like to see great reviews, especially with their name on them,” Lardin said. “But because we were so short in staffing and resources, we needed to prioritize the areas where guests appreciated our efforts most. For example, we knew that guests really appreciated our warm welcome and our attentiveness to their comfort and security. And restaurant recommendations were important too because nobody knew what was open anymore. So we focused on these areas.”
Fortunately, most guests were understanding of the situation. “When it’s the same employee who checks you in and brings you fresh towels in the evening and new coffee pods in the morning, you know the team is working hard to get your experience right,” Lardin said.
Retaining & Attracting the Best Team Members
For Le Saint-Sulpice, one of the biggest challenges was balancing the needs of guests with the needs of employees. “Guests needed our attention, but we didn’t want staff to burn out either,” Lardin said. In the face of labor shortages, she quickly realized that boosting employee morale and ensuring staff retention needed to be a top focus. So it became her personal mission as interim general manager.
Drawing from her experiences, Lardin shared her personal tips for attracting and retaining the best team members during the staffing crisis:
- Clarify your company culture. Something I’m very proud of is we co-created, redefined and anchored our company culture as a team. We all sat down together to discuss our vision, how we want to act with each other, how we want to be, and the feelings we want to experience. We also redefined the hotel’s vision, mission and values. We needed something clear, compelling and fun to identify with and something to hold on to looking forward. And this was really motivating for all of us.
- Give employees time and space to talk. Sometimes employees need to vent—to speak about what they are experiencing. We make sure they feel seen and heard because it’s one thing to talk, but the person to whom you’re speaking also needs to be present and to really listen. We also take action when necessary because it shows that we really care and that our team members have a voice.
- Generate engagement. People protect what they create. So make sure you hear them, see them, take action and involve them. It’s about keeping that spark alive because we’re in this for the passion, even more so now for people who are still with us today. And so generating that staff engagement is huge.
- Communicate. Communication is so important because uncertain times mean uncertain people. That may mean that people smile less and there is less excellence in service because motivation is down. For staff, being in the know means trust, and trust is huge in these times in order to survive. We communicate as much as possible because that’s the first thing our team told us they needed. They need to know what’s happening, whether it was good or bad.
- Be accommodating and flexible. Our leadership team also tries to accommodate staff requests as much as possible. For example, we accepted everybody’s vacation requests over the summer even though we didn’t even do that before the pandemic. But they needed that mental break, and this was really important to everyone. It put more pressure on the others, but it was about finding the right balance.
Leaner but Stronger, and Ready to Face the Future
The outcome of these initiatives? “For us, all of this meant we were able to retain most of our team members,” Lardin said. “But we also hired some amazing new candidates, mostly because of referrals. Our team is happy working at the hotel, they feel good, and the ambience is great, so they help spread the word to others.”
As for Lardin, she decided to return to her role as director of sales and marketing. “It’s where I prefer to be,” she said. “We now have a new general manager who is amazing. He has a similar vibe with the team, so I’m very content where I am today.”