In conversation with Ana Brant, director of guest experience innovation with Dorchester Collection Hotels.
Ana Brant is a leading global expert in the science of luxury service. She calls it the ethos of experience. Her purpose is making it happen. Ana enables luxury industry leaders to deliver the ethos of experience in ways that are authentic to each brand. That’s why she fits right in as the Director, Global Guest Experience Innovation at Dorchester Collection (DC), a luxury brand of iconic hotels in iconic places. With her 10+ years luxury brand experience and leadership, the DCs guest experience index increased by 22% worldwide.
A strategist by trade, Ana starts with the relentless pursuit of relevant customer insights validates them with the brand promise to determine fit then builds the organizational requirements, talent engagement plan and implementation strategy. Unafraid to ruffle feathers, she routinely disrupts incremental change, engaging risk-takers, outsiders and rising stars in a swift journey from egocentric to customer-centric cultures.
Her innovations in customer experience have led to articles in the Harvard Business Review and speaking engagements at Harvard University, SciencesPo de Lausanne, The Malcolm Baldrige Awards Forum and the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit.
Ana holds a Bachelor of Science in Hotel Resort Management and a Master of Science in Service Leadership Innovation, both from the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. At Cornell University she earned executive certifications in Strategic Leadership, Customer-Focused Product Service Design, and Project Leadership and is currently pursuing an Innovation Entrepreneurship Certificate from Stanford University.
She holds dual US/EU citizenship. Based in Los Angeles, she splits her time between North America and Europe. No matter where she is, her strategy for turning discerning customers into raving fans springs from this: Service without context is nothing; context is what turns service into an experience!
What does luxury mean to todays travelers ?
Luxury can only be defined by the moment you are in. As Dr Seuss says, you never understand the value of a moment until it becomes a memory. That is the essence of luxury. Deeply understanding the circumstances and the context surrounding today’s traveler is the only way to deliver the luxury experience. For instance, luxury can mean a non-intrusive service in the restaurant during a power lunch, or it can mean extremely attentive and anticipatory experience during a special occasion dinner such as birthday or anniversary. Luxury means discrete and protective service to a popular celebrity and over-the-top recognition to someone who wants to make an impression.
What are the biggest challenges that you’re facing today to improve the guest experience ?
The real distinction is between what we feel is important and what the customer thinks is important. To become a customer-centric organization, companies have to let go of their ego. And that is difficult as in the luxury world where the glamour of the offering or products often bedazzles us The opportunities to improve often go unrecognized, causing luxury business to miss chances to gain competitive advantage.
Take breakfast for instance; we learned that this is extremely important to our customers, yet our main focus ends up being on dinner experience. The breakfast experience alone won’t earn you a Michelin star. So everyone focuses on dinner. When was the last time you saw a Chef meeting the guests during breakfast?
What are some of the major shifts that youre seeing in guest expectations or demands ?
The overwhelming need for discretion, privacy and relaxation. Doesnt matter if you are you are running a hotel or a resort, the pursuit for calming and relaxing experiences is in high demand. The days when relaxation meant sipping on a cocktail under the sunny skies are no longer enough. Our guests want that particular feeling to be replicated in a city environment where luxury hotels provide an oasis from hustle and bustle. There are many ingredients we need to have just right to enable our luxury travelers to relax – from the room layout and noise isolation and healthy dining options to non-intrusive, seamless and many times invisible housekeeping service.
What role does staff play in improving the guest experience ?
Our employees play a remarkable role in creating guest experiences. They are the curators of their individual craftsmanship, and craftsmanship is what defines luxury. We strongly believe, and live by the motto, that the guest experience can never become what the employee experience is already not. For instance, in our hotels the employee entrance is equally important as the guest entrance. At The Beverly Hills Hotel they went a step further and replicated the hotel’s iconic red carpet with a green and white striped ceiling, step and repeat banner and banana leaf plants at the employee entrance. At hotel Eden which is currently undergoing restoration, the plan is to replicate the food & beverage concept of the main restaurant in the staff canteen Employees give our hotels a personality and soul without them we only have a building.
What role does technology play in improving the guest experience at your hotels?
Technology is simply an enabler and not the end goal. Just because something exists, doesnt mean it fits your brand, or that your organization is capable of adopting it or your customer would value it. In my position I am privileged to see many demonstrations of cutting-edge technology solutions aimed to enhance the guest experience. Actually, very few can serve all three of the above goals simultaneously. Any new technology introduced must be seamless and effortless. Otherwise it is just an annoyance. If we can’t make it seamless and effortless, we will not introduce it at all, no matter how attractive it may be — because it will cause irritation and dissatisfaction to both our customers and our employees.
What insights do you have about the future of the luxury sector given customers changing expectation?
The key for keeping up with the luxury sectors changing customer expectations is our ability to learn and lead with interdisciplinary skill sets while enhancing front line employees craftsmanship to curate and deliver a unique experience. It is no longer enough to be an expert in sales and marketing only; one needs to understand the psychology behind human insight and the basics of human capital and then connect it to service design. It is no longer important how deep you go in a certain discipline. it matters how widely you can connect the dots. Only in this way can we push the boundaries and anticipate the future of luxury.