Who should the hospitality industry put first; their customer or their team?

For years we were taught to believe that the customer sat at the very top of the hospitality pecking order, they came first and their wellbeing mattered above all else. As the Irish tourism industry tries to find some solid footing after the foundational rattle of 2020, we want to explore a theory that may initially raise some eyebrows, but please, here us out; we think that the hospitality industry needs to stop putting the customer first!

We often believe that the customer is our only stakeholder, and though customer satisfaction is indeed the end-goal, it is not the only piece of the puzzle. We need to start seeing our structures as a whole and not just the end result. This is why we believe that instead of investing all of our efforts into the customer experience, we need to start to truly commit to the employee experience. It’s simple, if you want satisfied customers, you need satisfied staff. The two are inextricably linked, therefore you can’t overlook one in favour of the other and expect good results.  

What is the employee experience?

The employee experience or EX, as a term, is pretty self-explanatory. It covers every interaction and experience that an employee has while working at a business, from the moment your potential candidate sees a job opening, to the moment they leave the business. As companies grow and become more sensitive to the more ‘human’ needs of their business, we’re seeing managers begin to invest more in the experience of their greatest assets; their people. Research carried out by Oxford University found that happy employees are 13% more productive, so it’s tactically better for your business to invest in EX. Even the king of customer service himself, Richard Branson, is firmly on the side of employee-centricity, proudly declaring that the fact that his “employees come first”, is the primary reason for his success. 

Why do we overlook EX in Ireland?

A recent study that explored the cities with the highest tourist-to-local ratio revealed that Dublin sits in the top five in the world with tourists outweighing locals four to one. Ireland is a very outward looking country, we love to travel and we bring a lot to the global stage; it’s one of our best traits. This, however, becomes a stumbling block when we rate the happiness of our locals beneath the experience of overseas tourists. When it comes to tourism, we tend to work very hard for the global gaze and become overly people-pleasing, willing to bend over backwards for tourists at the cost of our own culture and wellbeing.  This outlook can then influence our attitude towards staff, especially within the fast-paced world of hospitality where turnover is extraordinarily high. Staff are often seen as disposable, transitory and not worth investing in. Staff motivation is a very complex issue, but one area we hear being raised again and again is the lack of training and career prospects, despite research showing that 94% of respondents would stay longer at a company who invested in their training.


There are many ways to approach the employee experience, but we want to look at it from the perspective of career development & training, as we think this is an often-overlooked retention tool. That’s why we’ve launched The bē Academy. This will be a custom built training academy hosted on our own bespoke learning management system. It will allow people who are looking to secure a job in the hospitality industry to learn the basic skills to qualify for a job, and is also aimed at those who are already employed within the industry to become aware of the skills they may need to allow them to successfully secure promotions using our Assessment Centre feature. 

Organisations can elect to use our standard training courses to allow their people to develop their skills for the various roles in their business or have a custom branded and designed training course for their organization.  

We’ll explore how we envision bé Academy’s role in the industry unfolding later, but first, we want to talk about why training is so vital to the lifespan of your team.

Closing the talent gap

An article by the Irish Times tells the story of a tourism industry failing to fill the growing talent gaps as it prepares to reopen this summer, specifically in tourist hot-spots like Killarney. Why are staff so reluctant to return to these roles? There are a lot of different factors at play here, such as non competitive salaries at an entry level and a growing aversion to antisocial hours by millennial and Gen Z workers who value a work/life balance. These factors aside, one of the most common perceived pitfalls for young graduates considering a role in tourism is the apparent lack of career pathways and the impression that the job can only be temporary. We see this thinking as the unnecessary plight of the tourism industry and have been working hard to change the culture of how we treat our staff. This is the reason we created the bē family.

bē Academy— How does it work?

bé Academy is an innovative learning platform that empowers hospitality staff to train and upskill on a continuous basis. Training is an integral part of EX, and a vital way to make staff feel valued and engaged. Every organisation is unique, with a distinct culture and way of working, therefore, we’ve designed bē Academy to be as customisable and interactive as possible. Here’s a quick overview of what’s in store:

Custom-created content taken directly from bé founder John Fingleton’s training manuals, along with hands-on knowledge of the last 25 years in the hospitality industry. All content is placed on our user-friendly Learning Management System. This will set us apart from our competitors in the following areas:

Branch Learning – Ability for students to take an introductory test that assesses their skill-level — if they pass, they will move on, but if they fail the test they will be redirected to the training course to complete before moving on.

User-Generated Content -Students can record themselves completing the assessment test on their smartphones/laptop, and then upload it to be evaluated by the course instructor. Clients can then benefit from this content using our “custom option”, where they can incorporate the best student assessments into their own custom-designed training course to be used by future students.

Reward- bé Academy allows our clients to recognize and reward the highest-ranked student based on their assessment and reward them as they choose.

Customization- Clients will have the opportunity to have a fully customized training portal for their teams to access which will be co-branded with bē, using the user’s company logos and brand guidelines.

Personalised Dashboard – All courses, tasks, updates and user-relevant content can be accessed here.

Full Analytics and MI – Reporting to help trainers and users to optimize the learning effectiveness and experience, including course progress, user-journeys, performance tracking, for example: completion statistics, time spent on courses, login details.

Collaborative learning tools – Capabilities for real-time multi-location and instructor-led online training (virtual class) through Web Video Conferencing tools such as Zoom, as well as chat, forums and other shared resources

The bē Academy will be driven by a tried and tested philosophy of developing your people, and overseen by John Fingleton who has successfully operated a range of hospitality businesses that were all built from the ethos of training and developing teams. This way, we not only deliver on guests’ expectations, but we exceed them. 

The key to the success of this school of thought is following the simple belief that people will never embrace learning the ‘what’ if you don’t first get them to understand the ‘why’. If you can communicate the ‘why’, they will not only embrace what to do, but they will work with you to figure out how to do it best. Follow this process and you’ll have a team of people who will actively take ownership of delivering the best to your guests. 

Back with a Bang

As we hopefully say goodbye to Covid restrictions once and for all, remember the staff that return to the hospitality industry will be faced with a public whose expectations are higher than before. This is thanks to higher standards when it comes to hygiene and customer care, and also because customers will want each experience to make up for a lot of lost time, putting greater pressure on staff to deliver. Research carried out by Core Research found that almost 20% of Irish people surveyed don’t plan on taking a holiday this year. Aside from those who are ‘revenge spending’, we will have to remain conscious of those who can’t afford to take a vacation, meaning that expectations for any leisure activities, such as meals out etc., may be higher than before.  

The need for refresher training will be greater than ever and yet we fear that the knee-jerk reaction of the industry will be to blindly put the customer first and churn out staff who aren’t trained to deal with the demand. We understand that the industry has been placed under immense pressure throughout the pandemic, but if we are to build the hospitality industry back and beyond where it was before, we will need to put new structures in place to ensure that we are constantly evolving.

To conclude…

Hospitality is the business of serving others, of crafting an experience and tailoring your services to each person’s specific needs. This mentality needs to apply as much to your team as it does to your guests. We need to stop seeing our employees as mere workers and see them as the organisation’s brand ambassadors. If Ireland is to continue to be seen as a world leader in tourism, we need to seriously invest in the people who act as the living embodiment of the industry. The best way to change how we engage with our staff is to take everything we’ve learned about the consumer experience and begin applying it to the employee experience. Communicate, observe, listen and adapt. Make your staff feel valued, show them that they have a future with your organisation and then help them flourish, because you can’t expect a satisfied customer with an unsatisfied team.