Luxury brands and service aren’t about revolution, they’re about evolution, says Paul Jackson, general manager of Claridge’s.
We spoke to him about his career journey, what makes good service, and understanding the guest journey
Tell us a bit about your career history?
I actually come from a family of lawyers but, after spending a summer in a law firm, it was clear to me that a legal career wasn’t for me.
I was fortunate that I had an incredibly supportive father who told me to find a job that I wouldn’t truly enjoy every day.
I’ve had an incredibly fulfilling career, ranging from my first stint at Claridge’s a long time ago as a night manager, as well as time at the Royal Household and the Ritz London.
These are some of the best hotels in the UK and the world.
I briefly left the industry after moving to Australia with my wife to run a rose farm which was quite the experience. I went from wearing starched collar and tails to shorts and T-shirt, learning very different disciplines running a very different business model to anything I’d done before.
After heading there, I then spent some time in Melbourne running restaurants for Gary Mehigan before going back into hotels and spent a decade with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group at properties in China, Hong Kong and Bangkok, before returning to Claridge’s as general manager in 2016.
Did you have a plan for what you wanted to achieve professionally?
There was no formal plan for my career. Lots of doors open during your life and you have the choice to walk through them or not.
I liked walking through doors.
I just knew I always wanted things that would challenge me. There always needs to be opportunities for growth and self-development.
Whenever I’m presented with a new challenge, be it in my career or a project I’m working on, my key driver is asking, ‘what is the opportunity here?’
Luxury brands are about evolution rather than revolution – they must stay relevant.
It’s the same with careers. You need to constantly evolve and learn.
How has service at Claridge’s remained relevant?
We’ve moved with the times. The moment you are complacent and think you’ve ‘got it’, you will no longer be competitive. You must constantly assess how you can do better while also creating an environment where people feel valued and have autonomy and direction.
What worked yesterday may not work tomorrow in a different context. We have to continue to review and reassess every day.
Service at Claridge’s is quintessentially British hospitality with a family feel to it. The kind of hospitality we offer is purposely very warm and that’s because we know our guests, many of them are regulars and are part of the Claridge’s family.
People feel less nervous coming into the hotel these days and I think that’s because we’ve been able to create a great service that doesn’t feel stuffy. This has partly come from encouraging our people to be themselves and express their personalities.
What makes good service?
We all have a different perception of what makes good service, but it’s not rocket science.
At it’s core, we need to smile, be engaged and empathise.
If you treat people how you’d like to be treated, even if you make a mistake, 99% of guests will still be happy.
We spend a lot of time trying to understand every element of the guest journey but ultimately, the service needs are very different for every guest, and we have to understand, listen and empathise, and act accordingly to ensure we’re delivering a service that adds to their experience. It’s just about putting yourself in the guest’s shoes.
Where do you find service inspiration for luxury service?
Great service can happen at any level, it’s not just luxury – I take inspiration from my local coffee shop.
At our level, there is an expectation of service, but it’s the personality of the individuals on our team that makes the service really stand out.
Is service something that can be taught?
People say you can’t teach attitude and engagement and I don’t think that’s necessarily true.
You must have some aptitude for learning. It’s not for everybody, but some people can be coached to empathise. Some may not have it in them, but I firmly believe many do and they just need the support to flourish.
Why do you support the Gold Service Scholarship?
It’s a wonderful initiative for developing young talent. The more we can do to help young people in this industry develop and progress, the better for the whole sector in terms of standards as well as attraction and retention.
The Gold Service Scholarship helps to facilitate the development of young stars, from mentoring to the competition experience and the trips and educational support, supporting their knowledge, experience, and career prospects.
Seeing the scholars and candidates come through the ranks, it always gives me comfort and confidence to know that the future of the industry is in safe hands.