by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | May 20, 2014

doubletree sales teamEvery year Hilton Worldwide presents a Connie Award to the top-performing property in each of its 10 brands. Named for Conrad Hilton, the company's founder, the prestigious Connie is the equivalent of winning the Triple Crown, because it is awarded to the hotel with the highest scores in three key areas — 1) an independent audit measuring brand standards/performance, coupled with customer ratings on 2) service and 3) accommodations.

With customer expectations climbing, and competition among hotels fierce, the Connie is something every general manager in Hilton's portfolio dreams of snagging at least once. Repeat winners, like the Hilton Orlando with bragging rights to three awards, are a rarity. So, when I heard through the industry grapevine that the 101-suite DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Naples this past month became an unprecedented 10-time winner, all under the stewardship of the same general manager, I had to find out what made this Southwest Florida hotel such a consistent, top performer in DoubleTree's global portfolio of 370 properties spanning 29 countries.

To hear general manger Jennifer Robbins Wallace tell it, the key to delivering great customer service is empowering your staff to solve issues for themselves, before the guests storms the front desk with a complaint. "My team has one goal -- to do whatever it takes to make the guest happy and have a problem-free stay," says Wallace. "We push from the preventive side." That means tons of service training, monthly brainstorming sessions on creative ways to thank loyal guests, and lots of employee recognition. "Employees appreciate being recognized for doing a good job, but peer recognition is even more powerful," says Wallace.

Fundamental to the hotel's core service delivery is its Care Committee. Made up of employees from various departments such as housekeeping, food and beverage, and front office, as well as managers, the Care Committee is the hotel's creative genius behind simple but strategic initiatives that keep its guests bestowing those high scores. Most of these ideas are inexpensive and easily rolled out, from a handwritten welcome note to a bottle of wine, an unexpected turn-down service and even a Guest of the Day anointment.

My favorite, though, has to be the bathrobe dilemma. Two years ago, the DoubleTree brand rolled out a new logo and name -- DoubleTree by Hilton. Overnight, housekeeping was stuck with dozens of out-of-date, unused bathrobes. What to do with them? "We determined who our top 100 loyalty guests were, had their names monogrammed on them and gave it to them as an amenity on their next stay," says Wallace. "It costs us nothing, and they were so thrilled with their personalized gift."

And then there are the staff-appreciation moments -- not just the sunset cruises to celebrate those Connies that keep rolling in like clockwork, but the small, everyday acknowledgement of individual successes that add up to that big annual team win. "We like to celebrate everything, all year. It's what keeps the team moving forward," says Wallace. "We have a resident DJ, and every time we want to celebrate a staff member or a moment, we break out the DJ and hit the dance floor." With 10 wins to their name, Wallace and her team have no intention of ceding the top spot to another hotel. "The Connie is really hard to win, and harder to win over and over. We are basically competing against ourselves," says Wallace. "You might say we have a target on our backs." I say, well done.