HOTELS Interview: Creating a service culture for Embassy Suites

Charles Gremillion, director of brand culture and internal communications, Embassy Suites Hotels, wrote the book on the brand’s guest service philosophy, and we don’t mean that as a figure of speech. It’s called “Make Their Day: The Power to Make Guests Happy,” and it’s available on Since implementing its “Make a Difference” initiative in 2007, Hilton Worldwide’s Embassy Suites brand has seen a three-point increase in its post-stay service scores and a six-point rise in its loyalty index scores. HOTELS Magazine caught up with Gremillion to get the details.

HOTELS Magazine: What’s your favorite story from the field that illustrates the “Make a Difference” culture?

Charles Gremillion: We have a hotel in a part of the country that receives snowfall, but not in a place that you would get snow all the time. This gentleman came to work early and noticed that everyone’s cars in the parking lot had been blanketed with snow. Knowing that none of these guests, or very few, would have the tools to deal with the snow, he went out and he cleared the snow off of probably 50 cars. He did it without making a big deal of it, he didn’t announce it to the guests, but the guests went out, one by one, and found their car had been cleared. That’s the kind of intuitive service that we really are so proud of our team members for.

HOTELS: What would you say is the key to successful implementation?

Gremillion: The primary key for me is that it has to be consistent on every level of the organization. It has to be practiced and believed in everywhere. It really has to permeate all levels of the organization.

HOTELS: How do you reinforce the message while keeping it fresh?

Gremillion: The main vehicle of our reinforcement effort, our education, and our rehearsal is a daily huddle: a short, stand-up, pre-shift meeting with a clear service-based message. Our hotels, department by department, hotel by hotel, have those meetings every day and the brand has some huddle topics ready-made. We’re constantly doing our own research about expanding the vocabulary of Make a Difference and expanding the vocabulary of our service culture.

General managers are not obligated to use specifically designated huddle material. Our whole leadership team across the brand gets the exact same culture message that they can be sharing with their culture team for that day and I think that’s incredibly powerful.

One of my favorites was generosity. So, it’s a Monday afternoon, and the general manager receives an email that says, “Here’s a great idea: Get a big soup ladle from the kitchen and talk about the difference between a soup ladle and a teaspoon.” The conversations that came out of that exercise were really fun. You had people talking about guest service like serving soup. You don’t give service with your pinky extended in a little teaspoon. You give good service by stirring up that pot and going all the way to the bottom, a big spoonful coming up over the sides. You give it whole-heartedly. You give everything you have. That’s what good service is. It’s not something given selfishly or small.

On the recognition side, the thing that’s resonated the most is our Make a Difference Medallion. Every hotel in our brand has at least one medallion. Most of our hotels have many more than one. It’s passed from team member to team member at huddles. This brings it back to the employees helping each other first so they feel really great and then they go out and help guests.

Everybody loves getting it, but when it is your turn to give it and you tell that story about something that is really meaningful to you, that is when you see grown men cry. Everybody loves to get it, but the real power is in the giving it away and that is happening every day in all of our hotels. I think it’s a daily reminder and a daily thank you to people who rise above and go beyond. It is very special.

HOTELS: How do you create buy-in and understanding?

Gremillion: For us, when I first identified what we wanted our culture to be, you start out with all kinds of research and customer surveys and you are looking at the public’s perception of you and your own perception of yourself and the things that you want to maintain as attributes and those things that you want to eliminate by changing behavior.

We held a meeting. We called it a boot camp and we invited two line-level employees from every hotel in the brand. These heart-of-the-house folks, many of whom had never been out of their state or traveled on an airplane.

We gave no criteria other than we asked that it not be a manager or director and that it be someone who has a history of displaying the most spirit and pride for their hotel. In some cases, the general manager hand-selected and in other cases they held a contest at a hotel. People were nominated and voted for. But the people who came were just on fire in love with the brand and their jobs and wanting to be part of this.

I think it was incredibly empowering for so many people to know that not only were their voices heard but that they were playing a very critical role in the implementation of this game changer for our brand. So having that stakeholder buy-in right at the very start made it a bottom-up rollout instead of something being mandated from up top.

HOTELS: Who is the audience for this book: team members, management, both?

Gremillion: It is both, but if I were to exactly pinpoint it for you, my audience is our middle management team. I really think of them as the connective tissue. We do a lot of high-level training and a lot of very basic training, and we rely very heavily on this middle group to make things happen and communicate.