For 50 years, the Groupe Pénélope, a now established player in the fields of visitor and telephone reception, event management, and field marketing has been evolving in line with the changes in its markets. Groupe Pénélope President Christophe Thomas shares the lessons he has learned from the pandemic.
Since its creation in 1971, the Groupe Pénélope has become a key player in the hospitality and phone reception industry. Your teams stayed on the front line throughout the pandemic. What were the main difficulties you’ve faced?
CT: They have been mainly operational. Everything changed in the blink of an eye, including the physical flows in companies. This lead to deep, lasting transformations in the nature of all hospitality jobs. Many offices closed, be it in whole or in part, be it in the short or the longer term… As we have faced all these major changes we must, first of all, acknowledge the loyalty, the commitment, and the ability to adapt quickly our team demonstrated. Also, we must highlight the governmental measures which have helped to temper down the brutality of the situation. The latest changes include requests of our clients with a special focus on the area of health vigilance. The great flexibility of our field teams has once again been impressive.T
How would you explain the Groupe Pénélope’s coping ability?
CT: The group’s resilience is linked to its activities being extremely diversified first. Then, I would put it on the breadth of our client portfolio. Another key element is the strength of our internal staff, who has had to deal with maximum urgency while getting used to working remotely at the same time. Our teams have been remarkable in every way. Stable middle and senior management, high-level business expertise, and in-depth knowledge of the issues at stake on-site (more than half of the management teams were promoted internally) were all key factors in our success. As an SME, the very strong feeling of belonging to a bigger entity has been a crucial element. I would like to emphasize the loyalty of our customers, too. Some of them have been putting their trust in us for over 30 years. The vast majority of them have helped us to support the remainder of the cost of paying our teams on short-time working. This is quite an amazing reality we must thank them for.
The crisis is bringing its share of economic and societal changes. What is your take on the transformations to come for the Groupe Pénélope?
CT: The market is slowly but surely moving. As a company, we are expecting different outcomes for each of the Groupe Pénélope’s activities. In the short term, we are likely to see a rebound in in-store events. In the hospitality business, our clients’ demands will undoubtedly tend towards headquarters events in the broadest sense of the term. Either way, we believe that this will pave the way for extending the scope of receptionists’ activities. Finally, companies might keep on outsourcing their hospitality needs as SMEs want to focus on their core business in the face of an economic recovery.
What role will digitalization play in these transformations?
CT: We pay close attention to digitalization and innovation in the hospitality industry. We recently partnered with a start-up to deploy new terminals to supplement the physical reception. Besides, we support our on-site teams with a training program on how to use digital tools and platforms, as well as on managing incoming emails.
What will you remember about this hectic year 2020?
CT :We have experienced moments of truth that genuinely reveal the DNA of a company. Pénélope has always been defined by its efficiency, its responsiveness, and great sense of service. These core qualities served us well during the crisis. I have been struck by our internal ability to establish quick, precise diagnoses to help make decisions in absolute uncertainty. We have been able to rely on collective intelligence. Said intelligence has been like a “business instinct”, quite similar to a survival instinct. The crisis is leading us to rethink and diversify our activities faster than we had planned. Our strong relationships with our clients along with the trust that binds us together will be our building ground for our diversification and our resilience.