Choice Hotels Canada “Nudges” its employees

Brendan Gibney, Choice Hotels Canada.

TORONTO — Take a worldwide pandemic that has crippled the hospitality industry and add new, stricter than ever before, cleaning protocols that are mandatory for open and re-opening properties and what do you have? An epic communications challenge.

As a 100 per cent franchised company, Choice Hotels Canada, like many hospitality companies, is heavily reliant on traditional communications methods, whether communication is in-person, or via telephone or email, to convey vital operational content to its owners and general managers. From hotel-level initiatives to new brand guidelines, when an individualized approach was not feasible, Choice was previously dependent on using email-first technology that can have a limited open rate due to busy schedules and clogged inboxes.

The only way to communicate with front line staff was to deliver an email to the hotel manager and rely on that manager to be the catalyst who would motivate the employees, said Brendan Gibney, senior director, franchise services, for Choice Hotels Canada. “Needless to say, the process was inefficient and ineffective. There was so much change involved in planning the program to help better support staff, to help them execute the program and inspire confidence in guests.”

But how was Choice Canada to reach and engage with the front-line workers directly?

The solution came in the way of an app, developed by Toronto-based Nudge Rewards. What is unique to the mobile app is its ability to reach and engage with front-line hotel workers – whether they are on the front desk, in maintenance, in housekeeping or another role. Front-line staff can be updated directly on important operational details, while allowing GMs to continue focusing on all the other important tasks they have to juggle. There is even a chat function which allows the sharing of best practices, photos – and yes, even frustrations.

“A few years ago, we were looking for new ways to engage our franchisees, in particular our front line associates,” said Gibney. “We were trying to get things to them via the owners and general managers using tools such as email, Choice University and the Intranet. We saw Nudge as a way to communicate with them. Nudge enabled us to communicate directly using text, video and images, and took the burden off of owners and general managers.

“Smartphones are so ingrained in the day to day life of most people today. Prior to Smartphones, people tended to work nine to five, without personal time and work overlapping. Nudge gave us the ability to engage on their personal smart phone. There was an appetite for it — people are used to getting messages from CBC, news or sports programs. We have banner notifications across the top of the phone — it’s a platform they have already embraced.

“There are a lot of false perceptions regarding demographics,” said Gibney, when asked about the appeal of using Nudge for older employees. “My parents are in their early 70s and they love their Apple devices. We don’t run into much resistance in terms of demographics, although we did talk about that at first.”

Choice Canada has used the Nudge platform very successfully since 2016, with almost 700 employees using the app and 86 per cent of them saying they enjoy using it.

Choice initially used Nudge to boost its Choice Privileges program, educating staff on how to deliver a great experience, how to upsell and upgrade guests to a higher-price room. “We were building a culture where people love where they work, in order to improve retention,” said Gibney. “Nudge enables them to climb up the leaderboard, get peer to peer recognition and give cheers — a badge on their profile. Nudge helps brands better recognize their teams.”

Nudge employee app facilitates conversation.

The Choice Privileges campaign, was extremely successful. Each hotel nominated an Ambassador who was in charge of all things CP-related and increasing guest satisfaction.

In light of COVID-19 and its health repercussions, as Choice Canada starts to see signals that consumers are considering returning to travel, it has launched Commitment to Clean. The Commitment to Clean initiative builds on Choice Hotels’ long-standing cleanliness protocols and enhances the existing program with guidance developed in response to the pandemic, including industry-leading protocols related to deep cleaning, disinfecting, hygiene, and social distancing best practices. The initiative touches all operations of a hotel, including tasks not normally undertaken by the GMs, who are busy overseeing the entire operation. This includes the front-line staff, who will ultimately be those following through on the Commitment to Clean promise.

Choice used Nudge to communicate regarding its Commitment to Clean program, Gibney explained. Eighty-three per cent of Choice Hotels out of 330 properties are using the Nudge program. “They identified ambassadors who would make sure the cleaning program was coming to life,” said Gibney. “The ‘ambassador’ or ‘lead’ could be the front desk agent. We could share the information with them and then they could share with the others. Ambassadors can also share information with each other. Nudge enables the establishment of private groups — they can segment and do subgroups.”

Jordan Ekers, Nudge Rewards.

Jordan Ekers, co-founder and chief customer officer of Nudge, said he founded the company seven years ago. He started it after working in retail and customer loyalty with Air Miles, learning how to design attractive customer offers and direct them to the right person. He had found that while the customer offers were great, the in-store execution was always variable — there was no way to communicate directly with staff. Then Ekers came up with the idea of harnessing smartphones to deliver the messages.

“The premise was to more effectively communicate with and engage front line employees.” At Choice, the idea was to empower franchisees empower with knowledge and to pass on the inspiration needed to deliver exceptional guest service.

“It’s a cultural tool as well,” said Ekers. “It’s helping the brand capture hearts and minds of their associates so they are inspired to make the most of every interaction with guests.”