Going the extra mile to ensure a happy client

Hospitality was once perceived as being delivered in the home or restaurants, but today many businesses recognise that they need to exceed expectations

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Raising the standards of service excellence and thereby enhancing customer satisfaction can only have one result and that is business improvement. Today, more than ever, this is an ongoing requirement for any customer facing service supplier. It doesn’t matter whether the services being consumed are purchased, or are free at the point of delivery, consumers are becoming more sophisticated and therefore more critical.

Ten years ago the Institute of Hospitality, a membership body and educational charity, based in the UK but serving hospitality professionals worldwide, identified the need to raise service standards within smaller hospitality businesses, and as a result, the Hospitality Assured twelve step standard was born. The standard has been refined over the years and it has become the business tool of choice for both small and large businesses.

Organisations as diverse as banks and hospitals see the benefits of enhancing the service they offer to their clients, while for the more traditional hospitality businesses such as hotels, resorts or food provision, the standard provides the mechanisms for challenging them to continually raise their game.

The standard requires businesses to look at their operations from the perspective of customer requirements and to examine all areas of the business to establish that the customers’ needs and expectations are incorporated into the planning and delivery of the services that are, or may be, on offer. The business, if it feels it meets the standard, puts itself forward for an independent and rigorous assessment process which delivers both a set of scores that are benchmarked against both the relevant sector and against all other Hospitality Assured accredited businesses, as well as a report highlighting best practice issues.

Updated for 2011, the new nine step standard still maintains its key criteria based on the European Foundation for Quality Management business excellence model. It is a standard approved by the British Quality Foundation, and supported by the British Hospitality Association. The nine steps used by Hospitality Assured clients form a virtuous circle which moves from customer research to the customer promise and through business planning to operational planning and standards of performance. From there the client may consider resource planning, training and development, service delivery and service recovery as well as customer service improvement.

The process is fine but does it work? The clients seem to think so and cite the journey towards accreditation as the most valuable part of the process as it requires the business to involve its people in the process of giving detailed consideration to its purpose, and how best to deliver to its customers. As a result of the exercise clients report improved staff morale leading to staff turnover reduction, increased market share, improved quality standards, improved leadership and management skills and increased customer loyalty.

The value and tangible benefits of the standard were recognised by PRO€INVEST, a programme of the Group of ACP States and the European Commission for the promotion of investment and technology transfers in ACP countries, who this year are investing around  €900,000 to enable eighty Caribbean travel and tourism enterprises, in eight Caribbean Tourism Organisation member countries, to participate in a certification project designed to promote a culture of service excellence and strengthen the business performance and overall competitiveness of tourism enterprises in the region.

The project will use the Hospitality Assured Standard to enable businesses to raise their game in a highly competitive market for tourist revenue. Bonita Morgan, the CTO’s director of human resources who will oversee the 15-month project said: “This project will go a long way towards improving service quality levels across the Caribbean, leading to greater customer confidence and satisfaction and loyalty”.

Hamad Medical Corporation, the premier non-profit health care provider in Doha, Qatar manages highly specialised hospitals: Hamad General, Rumailah, Al Amal, the Women’s and the Psychiatric Hospital as well as the Paedatric Walk In Centers throughout the country. Through the years, Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has fulfilled its mandate of providing the best quality care for all patients irrespective of nationality, and played its role in providing “Health for All” as pledged by the State of Qatar.

Since its establishment in October 1979, HMC has rapidly developed highly specialised medical facilities capable of providing state of the art diagnosis and treatment of diseases that previously could only be managed in overseas medical centres. Earlier this year, HMC with the full support of the MD, far-sighted Dr Hanan Al Kuwari, who has supported the Hospitality Team within Hamad to raise the profile and impact of the Hospitality services within the Corporation and to put “hospitality back into hospitals” was accredited as meeting the Hospitality Assured Standard.

The Hospitality services, employing some 1,800 people, cover functions as diverse as transport and catering, security and housekeeping as well as other key support activities including patient and visitor services. Feedback from patients and visitors is informing the planning and delivery practices and creating a culture of continuous improvement. The team at HAMAD set themselves the ambitious target of achieving the Hospitality Assured accreditation in a demandingly short timescale, and in an environment of rapid development, they achieved accreditation to what is undoubtedly a very demanding standard. They now have internal benchmarks to measure their improvement against as well as international comparators.

Now not only is the quality of medical attention monitored by the JCI inspection, but the standard of patient support seen as vital to the recovery process is also being qualitatively checked and as such HAMAD stakeholders including patients, relatives, government as well as employees can be reassured that HAMAD is striving for, and achieving, continuous improvement in all its services.

In the traditional hospitality arena, Thistle Hotels initially carried out assessments in their hotels in Aberdeen and in Inverness Scotland. They now have 31 UK hotels accredited. Heiko Figge FIH, Managing Director of Guoman & Thistle hotels, stated: “We are 100 percent committed to our guests’ wellbeing with both passion and dedication. Working in close partnership with Hospitality Assured, Thistle has been able to measure its customer offering more effectively and efficiently than ever before; having a solid industry benchmark to evaluate quality in each of our hotels, across all of our departments.

From these guidelines, our colleagues have achieved full Hospitality Assured status across our entire portfolio – meaning we have the utmost confidence we’re providing a consistent, high-quality Thistle experience. These industry-recognised measures give hoteliers a real stamp of approval for consumers to seek out and believe in. For Thistle, this is our candid promise to our guests; our guarantee, we are committed to going above and beyond industry standards and continually challenge ourselves to surpass guests’ expectations.”
In this current economic climate, those companies investing in their future by continuously scanning the horizon to ensure that they are anticipating customer requirements are those exhibiting enlightened self interest and are to be commended.