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  • Writer's pictureAdele Gutman Milne, CHBA, CHDM

A Masterclass in Tripadvisor Success: Sally Beck, GM of the Royal Lancaster, the #3 Hotel in the UK

I am inspired to share again, the story of Sally Beck, so more hoteliers can benefit from her philosophy and discover why she recently was honored with the Julian Star, a global distinguished service award in the hospitality industry presented by the International Hospitality Institute.

What's more, Tripadvisor has just announced their 2022 Best of the Best Travelers Choice Awards. Under Sally's stewardship, the Royal Lancaster London rose from #272 in London, to the #3 Hotel in the entire United Kingdom in the 2022 Tripadvisor Best of the Best Travelers Choice Awards.

Her story is a masterclass in Reputation Cultivation. The process she describes illuminates a philosophy that is very consistent with hoteliers around the world, who like the hotels I personally worked with, have been able to completely break away from the trend of hotels with 75%-85% guest satisfaction if they are lucky, and instead diligently strive every day for their solid gold, five-bubble scores on Tripadvisor.

Hospitality stars, no matter where you are with your reviews now, there is a path to constantly great reviews! Listen and learn, and if you need help, don't hesitate to contact me to help you through it.

Here are some of the highlights of Sally's comments during our conversation, edited for space and ease of reading. Please do listen to the podcast conversation to get every morsel.

On Employee Empowerment: We went through a five-and-a-half-year renovation where we did everything, lifts, air conditioning, plumbing, electric, Wi-Fi, lobby, the whole nine yards. We didn’t close at all within it. So, my team…we never dropped below #272.

I empowered them to make the guests happy. I want us to be the happiest hotel in London. and that means that my staff is the happiest. If my team is already happy, the guests feel it.

I said, 'You have to make the guests happy. They cannot leave this hotel unhappy.' I gave them all sorts of empowerment tools. So, if the lifts didn’t work or the air conditioning didn’t work, they could do stuff. They were able, they were in charge of that. So they were engaged and empowered to make that change.

Emotionally Intelligent Service: And I like emotionally intelligent service, which is quite challenging. We’re 411 bedroomed hotel. Quite controversial... I don’t like my team to work by standard operating procedures.

They’re very important for policies and very important for safeguarding risk. Fire, theft, money, safety, all that sort of stuff.

But when you come to the guest engagement of a problem, I don’t want someone having to look at the standard operating procedure to work out how to function. I want them to be confident and emotionally intelligent individuals that can fix the problem for the guest.

And I think that’s probably been one of the biggest things that have made the difference that every team member is empowered to fix it. They have to fix it their way to make that guest happy.

Freedom From Fear:

If you have fear in your building, your team isn’t comfortable being empowered. So I don’t have fear in the building. So, it is a, for instance, if I’m hosting a meeting, everyone has to do a check-in. They each have to say how they are feeling.

If I’ve got a problem that we’re trying to solve, I’ll put the problem in the middle of the table. And I won’t say what I think. And the reason for me not saying what I think is if I say what I think everyone will then do what I think.

So I say, here’s the problem, and then we go around the table and we talk about the problem. Then at the end of the day, we will discuss what the problem is. And then we’ll come up with the right way. Then I’ll say, okay, let’s go that way.

If I come up with all the ideas and all the plans, and it’s always been this way, then that is disempowering. If I give my opinion don’t get creativity. You don’t get buy-in, you don’t listen to all the best ideas that are in the room. I have a great brain, but everybody around my table has a great brain. And I think you need to create a culture where those people can talk and they can say, and they can then do.

A Confident Workforce:

So I think there are many, many things that give a confident workforce.

I have an inverted hierarchy. I sit at the bottom of the pyramid and the most important people are the people that see the guests. My job is to make the guest easy and for them to have whatever they need to make the guests happy. That’s my job.

Their happiness piece is really important. It’s not just a byline, you know, to run the happiest hotel in London. My team has to be empowered, thanked, praised, valued, cared for, trained, and respected. It’s all of that. It’s not a case of saying it and walking away, They (your staff) have to be listened to and part of the solution.

Making Teams Happy:

My responsibility isn’t to make them happy. My responsibility is to allow a culture that allows them to be happy. Their happiness is their responsibility, but if I can make it there, no bullying, no shouting.

You know, if we’ve got a problem, we think, okay, why did that happen? What happened to create that? No one gets up in the morning to do a bad day’s work. It just doesn’t happen. They get up in the morning to do a great day’s work and stuff gets in the way. My job is to find out what got in the way. Let’s remove that. If it’s something process-driven, let’s change the process.

On Upskilling the team from a 4-Star to a 5-Star hotel.

(people said) You need to change your staff. I don’t believe that. I believe if you treat people like adults, they behave like adults. we did a lot of work on what’s the difference between four-star and what do we need to do? We came up with a whole bunch of things we had to do, but basically, it’s behaviors.

I’m a massive believer in apprenticeships and coaching and mentoring. I’m a huge believer in this say this inverted hierarchy and everybody working as a team. It is harder. Believe me, it is hard. It’s much easier to be directive and say do it that way and don’t think, but it’s, it doesn’t give the right results.

I’ve been working with a book called, Time To Think, by Nancy Klein. I’ve got 13 book clubs in the hotel, and everybody’s in a book club. It talks about creating a culture of empowerment and shows all the behaviors that you need.

So, we recruit on behaviors. So I will always see the I’m always the last interview. So everybody, and if they come to me, it means the team wants them. So I’m not there looking at them as to whether they can do whatever the job role is. I’m looking at them thinking, should you be here? Do you have the right attitude?

I believe it’s attitude and enthusiasm. We can train the rest.

Sometimes they’re so scared to see the general manager. It’s ridiculous. And it takes me a while to warm up before I see that spark of beautiful energy that I’m looking for. But if I don’t see it, I, I say, keep looking because you know, you, you, you’ve got to find that heart to want to in hospitality and that desire to look after people and make them happy.

On Technology:

I don’t want to remove people from the process. We are in a people industry. And it’s the people that make the difference. There are tons of beautiful hotels around the world, but they’re just beautiful hotels unless the people in them are beautiful too.

You can’t wrap an experience around a lovely lobby. It’s, it’s the people that make the experience. So I don’t want to drive out people to the exclusion of the feelings, the whole hospitality piece. So we definitely innovated with technology, but not with a goal to cutting people. It was more about adding service and choice.

The Impact on the Employee Experience:

I’ve got a really loyal, lovely team, so we keep the team at the Royal Lancaster.

I think they will be really proud to have shifted as we’ve done to the fabulous five-star, taking our place in London as one of the best hotels. I think they’re delighted and I think we have a really good reputation as being an employer of choice in the city and I think that’s, that’s part of it.

Their happiness piece is really important. It’s not just a byline, you know, to run the happiest hotel in London. My team has to be empowered, thanked, praised, valued, cared for, trained, and respected. It’s, it’s not a case of saying it and walking away, They (employees) have to be listened to and part of the solution.

We have all of the issues go on to Norcross, and then they also go onto the nightly report.

Every day there’s a meeting where we discuss everything. Sometimes it might be that (a guest) didn’t know whether the breakfast was inclusive or not. And so that ends up with a problem at breakfast. Well, that problem actually might come right back to the reservation stage. Because I come from a sales and marketing background, I’ve had to deal with all that. It’s not the food waiters' issue. It’s probably not even the front desks issue. (the root cause) is way back in the booking process. It’s about systems thinking that you have to employ to correct it. So it doesn’t get onto the manager's report.

By consistently logging everything, you can then see, and bring it (the solution) through. But by having a no-blame culture and a no-fear culture, it’s easier. And I find the team fixes it themselves.

What can I do to make your job easier?

Every two months I have a meeting with supervisors and team leaders, like a tea. This is one of the things in Time to Think. What do you know that I should know? Or what should I be doing to make your job easier? And the amount of stuff the team has come up with to improve is amazing, different processes, things that will speed up service, things that stop wastage.

And it’s just allowing a forum. And the inverted hierarchy. This, this supportive position that I choose to take allows discussion. And it allows, people to think about problem-solving. And, it’s really beneficial. So it’s harder, but it’s much more fruitful and gets a lot once it’s genuine, gets a hell of a lot of traction.

What's the financial payoff to all that time and effort?

Actually, my life is much easier because I’ve got a ton of people that want to fix stuff before I have to fix it.

I think if you look at your staff turnover as a general manager, my staff turnover is about 31 -32% In London it would normally sit at 50% or in some cases I’ve heard, properties that are at 70% turnover. If you look at the cost of that turnover, that’s huge. And I look at that turnover monthly, I look at who’s left and why they’ve left and how long they were with us and all the rest of it. And so that recruitment piece is really important because if they leave in the first three to six months, we’ve all stuffed it up.

Then all expectations are not met at all. And it’s been a real waste of time. Is there something going wrong somewhere for them in terms of their development or engagement. Sometimes you can run the risk of ignoring people that have been with you a long time and just taking them for granted all of that sort of stuff. But the turnover, the turnover running a good coach.

(A great reputation)...brings definite profits to the bottom line. And when you are recruiting in the industry around you, everyone hears if you’re a good recruiter, and they think, I want to go to the Lancaster. If you get a good reputation as an employer who cares, then people are going to be queuing up for you and your staff.

I think investing in TripAdvisor, and understanding and looking at those comments is your best advertising tool. We’ve noticed that perhaps further we’ve gone up our rate has gone up with it. -Sally Beck

And we are meeting new clients, higher-end leisure clients, and a broader base of clients because of the positioning on TripAdvisor. so if you’re a General Manager that hasn’t come through, the sales and marketing route, find time to invest in it, get someone who gets it to respond, follow it through, and listen to the feedback.

You need to look at (complaints) because they will keep going wrong unless you fix them and find the root cause. And if it’s brilliant, you want to know why it’s brilliant and you want to praise those people who made it brilliant and remember to try and do that again.

(Reputation) is important and it does make a difference on the bottom line.

Thank you, so much to Sally Beck for sharing these amazing insights on the road to Tripadvisor success which of course, leads to revenue success.

If your hotel is a Best of the Best Winner from the 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers Choice Awards, I want to interview you!

If you want to support your General Managers with expert guidance and support as they implement a reputation cultivation program like this, let's chat! You can set up a free appointment here:


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