Kellie Romack of Hilton: Giving Employees the Same Great Technology We Give Our Customers is Key to Our Success

Back from another conference!  This time it was Oracle’s big annual user conference OpenWorld in San Francisco.  And baked into that conference is NetSuite’s (acquired by Oracle a few years ago) SuiteConnect event. There I caught up with a few small business friends including Melinda Emerson (aka Small Biz Lady), Laurie McCabe and Ramon Ray. You can check that chat out here.

The Employee Experience at Hilton

But one of the most interesting conversation I had during the week was with Kellie Romack, Vice President of Digital HR and Strategic Planning for Hilton.  Hilton was recently named the best place to work in the country, and during OpenWorld Kellie was part of a keynote session sharing why the company is gearing up to roll out Oracle’s new digital assistant technology to its workforce.

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I had the pleasure of grabbing a few minutes of her time to ask her a few additional questions.  And even though Hilton is a huge organization with locations all over the world, businesses of any size can learn from one of Kellie’s key themes — employees should have access to the same great tech as guests staying at their hotels do in order to create the best experiences they can for guests and themselves.

Below is an edited transcript of our conversation.  To see the whole interview watch the video or click on the embedded SoundCloud player below.

How to Keep Customers Connected

Brent Leary: Before you went to the HR side, you were on the front end side, right?  Helping the customers get connected with technology and Hilton, and all the innovative stuff you guys are doing.

Kellie Romack: Absolutely. I ran our websites for Hilton. I’ve run our mobile apps for Hilton and ran a lot of the IT functions and frameworks. So really enjoyed the commercial side of it, creating technology for our guests and making that technology seamless and frictionless and easy to use. And we are super excited to start bringing that to team members on the HR side as well.

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Brent Leary: You’ve had all that good stuff going on, on the consumer side, and we had a previous call before we got together here, and one of the things that stood out to me was you said, “Yeah, it’s great to have it on a consumer side, but the employees could use it too.”

Kellie Romack: Absolutely. From a team member perspective, I have the philosophy of we have to make technology just as good for our team members as we do for our guests, because our team members don’t need to be bogged down with administration or things that are complicated to use. They need to be able to simply do what they need to do, from an HR perspective, from a team member perspective, so that get on serving guests like yourself.

Bringing Digital Assistants to HR

Brent Leary: So one of the areas that I really focus in on is this whole thing around digital assistants and being able to speak to devices and have them give quick answers back. And a lot of the focus has always been on the consumer side of the house with that. But you’re looking to bring that to the HR side of it. I’d like you to talk a little bit about that.

Kellie Romack: Our team members have questions every single day. So whether it’s, “What is my paycheck, right? How many absence balances do I have left? How do I go and sign up for a new learning class?” If they have to look up someone in the directory, whatever questions they have, we’re really focused on helping them understand the answers and get real time answers quickly. Typically, what we do, we’ve looked at our service records, team members ask the same questions about 60% of the time. So those are repeatable functions that were very easy to create scripts, create standardization, and then use the Oracle technology to implement the digital assistant on our pages within HCM (human capital management).

Brent Leary: You were up on stage on the keynote and one of the things that stood out to me is, I think you said 95% of the time your folks work on the go. They were using mobile devices.

Kellie Romack: Absolutely, yes.

More Secrets of Good Employee Experience at Hilton

Brent Leary: And so what does the combination of mobility and this digital assistant provide them from an employee experience?

Kellie Romack: Our team members, 95% of them, are deskless. They are working in our rooms, being room attendants, restaurants, banquet facilities, front desk, we are there to serve our guests. We’re in a people serving people business. So what we want to try to do is make everything available on their mobile phone. And that’s no different from the digital assistant. So anything we do, we do mobile first delivery. It’s very, very important. So we look at, what are the features and functionality that they use on their mobile phone and how can we have the digital assistant work with natural language processing to make things happen?

Brent Leary: So you’re about to roll this out to the employees.

Kellie Romack: Yes.

Running Down the Numbers

Brent Leary: Give us some idea of the numbers we’re talking about here.

Kellie Romack: Sure, absolutely. So Hilton, we have 170,000 direct team members and we have 240,000 franchise team members. For a total of 410,000 team members globally. So, for digital assistant, we went and looked at our numbers and we’re going to focus in on our first rollout be about 80,000 of those team members. So we like to do things in a big bang approach, so we’re going to give that a go. And our team members are amazing. We listen to them. They give us feedback, our guests give us feedback. So that’s how we make things better. We hear people try ideas, we’re able to innovate. Innovation’s in our DNA at Hilton.

Brent Leary: You mentioned that you worked on the front end side and improved the customer experience, but what impact does helping the employees get digitally transformed have on the customer experience?

Kellie Romack: Oh, it’s huge. It was a real shift to move from working on customer’s side to the team member side, but I’ve absolutely loved it. Our team members are at the heart of everything we do and they love to serve guests, they enjoy hospitality. So when we provide them a very seamless, frictionless experience with technology and make their jobs easier. They’re appreciative, they’re happy, they’re able to go about their job and have more time to spend with our guests in making the experience great.

How to Share Information with Your Team

Brent Leary: So, from your personal perspective, how does this improve the way that you look at Hilton, being able to bring this information and this technology to other employees?

Kellie Romack: I believe strongly that we have to treat our team members just as good, again, as guest’s technology. And I think it’s very important that our team members feel like we’re paying attention to them, that we’re listening or hearing their feedback. We’re not just asking them to do more, right? So if we roll out things, we can’t just give our team members, “Here, learn this, learn this, learn this.” We have to get it simplified, streamlined, easy access, easy to use.

Brent Leary: And what does success look like once you get this out there and you get people starting to use it? What do you consider to be success?

 Kellie Romack: I believe success comes through people adopting the technology, using the technology, and not necessarily training them on it, but just helping them understand it’s out there, and then adoption comes, right? They start to organically grow and speak to one another. So when we go to hotels, like the one down the street that you’re staying at, we can walk in and say, “Tell us all about it. How do you feel about this piece of technology? What feedback?” And we love it, we think it’s great, and that’s incredibly rewarding.

What Challenges Arise with Innovation

Brent Leary: Are there any challenges you see that you have to be prepared for as you roll this out?

Kellie Romack: Sure, absolutely. I mean, adoption’s always something that we can’t take lightly. We have to make sure we’ve educated people on how to use it or not even how to use it because we want it to be easy to use, but that it’s out there and that it’s available and that they can take advantage of it. And how does it benefit them? How does it make their life easier? So that education and once they use the technology and they see how simple it is, we feel like it’ll speak for itself.

Brent Leary: You mentioned during the presentation earlier that Hilton was what the number one place to work in the U S.

Kellie Romack: We’re the number one place to work in the U.S., and number two in the world.

Summing Up Lessons from Employee Experience at Hilton

Brent Leary: So it seems like the employee base is already pretty happy about being at Hilton. How do you think this kind of technology will impact not just the experience from a customer perspective but just being a happy employee, because it already sounds like there’s a lot of them there already?

Kellie Romack: We’ve worked very hard on our culture. Our CEO Chris Nassetta is amazing and he helps to infuse that culture across the board. And again, we’re a business of people serving people and hospitality is at our core. I believe anything that we do for our team members in their interest, trying to improve their way of working at Hilton, they’re appreciated and they’re able to focus more on our guests. And we can spend time with our guests and doing their job and servicing their job better.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.

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