Lessons in crisis leadership for hotels & tech companies - Insights

Lessons in crisis leadership for hotels & tech companies

Micael KesslerWhen I took over as CEO of ReviewPro in December of 2019, little did I know that in a matter of weeks travel around the world would come to a grinding halt.

Like many businesses, ReviewPro had big plans for 2020. The hard work of our founders and team members had finally paid off, and our acquisition by Shiji had just been completed. With China’s leading hospitality tech company behind us and a long-term business strategy in place, ReviewPro was well poised for a breakout year.

Then the Covid-19 pandemic struck, and suddenly, worried colleagues and clients were coming to me for answers and reassurance. How was I supposed to make decisions? It wasn’t like I could look back and say, “Last pandemic, we did this …”

Like other leaders in hospitality and technology, I’ve had to figure things out along the way. As tough as this year has been for all of us, there are valuable lessons we can learn about leadership that will help sustain our businesses through to recovery.

Stay Optimistic, Be Realistic

A few years ago, I read about the Stockdale Paradox, made famous by Jim Collins’ bestselling book From Good to Great. A prisoner of war in Vietnam for over seven years, he somehow managed to come out of prison camp stronger than ever. How?

“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he explained. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Today, I think a lot of us can relate to Stockdale’s determination to find hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. But the paradox is we can’t get by on hope alone.  According to Stockdale, the optimists didn’t fare well in the camps. They always said, “We’re going to be out by Christmas,” but as Christmases came and went, “they died of a broken heart.”

The key to survival, then, is to balance unwavering faith that you will prevail with the discipline to confront the brutal facts. For us at ReviewPro—and for virtually everyone in the hospitality industry today—that means accepting the grim realities we face, focusing on what we can control and never losing faith that travel will eventually resume.

Survive Today, Thrive Tomorrow

So, rather than put our business strategy on hold, make a sharp pivot or engage in mass layoffs, we resolved to stay the course as best we could. We felt a responsibility to our employees who have helped us build ReviewPro to the success it is today. Sure, our revenues had fallen, but should they pay for that?

Moreover, by keeping our staff working, we wouldn’t have to hire and train new employees when business picked up again. We would be well-positioned to be at the forefront of recovery.

When we made the case to our owners, they were fully supportive. We hope to continue along this path through next year. For now, our entire team has rallied around a guiding philosophy that gives us a sense of purpose: survive today and thrive tomorrow.

Be Transparent and Empathetic

At ReviewPro, we’ve always strived to be candid with staff about both our accomplishments and our challenges, and the pandemic hasn’t changed that. People need to know what’s going on, even if the news isn’t great.

Empathy is also important. Our team comprises over 25 nationalities, many of whom are cut off from their families. Most are in Barcelona, where lockdowns have been especially strict. We have single moms, older and high-risk employees, and young people living in tiny rooms and shared flats.

Empathy comes easy to leaders these days, because we all have hardships of our own. My daughter was born just prior to the pandemic and my son was born only two months ago. While these new arrivals have brought my wife and I great joy, it also makes for a hectic WFH environment, and we haven’t seen our parents since last Christmas. 

To keep spirits high within our team, we hold virtual activities like an in-home sports challenge, the coolest home-office setup, introducing our pets to each other, and sharing recipes, tips for staying positive and funny things we see outside our window.

Act as a Partner, not a Vendor

That empathy should also extend to clients. Businesses are closing, people are losing jobs and our industry is losing talent. At ReviewPro, we strive to be a partner rather than just a supplier. So we asked ourselves, how can we help our clients get through this crisis and emerge stronger on the other side?

We’ve offered financial relief and deferred payments, as well training and data analysis to help clients adapt to new market conditions and make critical decisions. But as a tech company, we’ve realized that the best way to help our clients is through our products. So, in addition to helping clients configure our reputation management, guest survey and case management tools to the current situation, we’ve also focused on innovation.

ReviewPro started investing in artificial intelligence and automation well before the pandemic, recognizing that the hotel industry was undergoing a digital transformation. Today, the technology couldn’t come at a better time. Hotels need to provide safe and contactless experiences for guests, answer their questions and resolve their issues quickly and efficiently, all the while reducing costs and improving guest satisfaction.

Automation removes the need for staff to respond to repetitive questions and perform repetitive tasks, freeing them up to focus on creating remarkable guest experiences. Through our Guest Experience Automation platform, our chatbot can instantly answer more than 5,000 questions in 100 languages at every step of the guest journey.

This shift in behavior will continue long past the pandemic. Much like people rarely enter banks now that they can perform most transactions online, travelers will be much less willing to queue at the front desk after experiencing the efficiencies of messaging.

Come Out of the Crisis Stronger, Wiser and Ready to Thrive

Will the pandemic be the defining event of our lives that we will never trade, like Stockdale’s time in prison camp? It’s too early to say. But I can already see a lot of good has come out of the bad.

On a personal level, I would never have been able to spend so much time with my daughter and son, and I will always cherish it. On a professional level, we’ve onboarded hundreds of new clients thanks to a loyal team and the support of Shiji Group. And because we didn’t furlough or lay off staff, we kept our high standards of customer service throughout the pandemic.

As for our clients, we’re proud of how they have brought innovation and creativity to the crisis. I am confident that great companies and great solutions will emerge from this ordeal. Like Admiral Stockdale, those of us who can survive will be stronger, wiser and ready to thrive.

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