The Institute of Hospitality: Customer Service

Excellence can be defined as a talent or quality which is unusually good, surpassing ordinary standards. It should also be considered the aimed standard of performance for any company operating in the service sector

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Striving for improvements based on putting customers’ needs first should be at the core of any truly committed organisation. These businesses will flourish – even in the down times – because they are constantly raising their game. So what connects contract caterers, hotels (inextricably linked with holiday travel) and public sector catering? In this case it is their willingness to measure how they are progressing in their never-ending search for excellence.

Leaders with vision recognise the importance of putting customers’ requirements at the heart of the services that they offer and do so by using a service that meets the Hospitality Assured standard owned by the Institute of Hospitality. This standard has nine criteria against which an organisation can initially measure itself and, when confident that it meets the standard, can opt to be externally assessed and benchmarked.

A case in point
BaxterStorey, the UK’s leading independent food service operator, is quite clear about its vision. “We don’t want to be the biggest, but we do have to be the best.” BaxterStorey employs 6,000 individuals across an array of client locations, all of whom are committed to delivering an exceptional service to their customers. The strength of the organisation is attributable to an open and enthusiastic management team who provide great team leadership and support.

BaxterStorey, and its predecessor businesses, have always tailored the food service offering to meet clients’ needs and have measured their success at this for almost 12 years through use of the hospitality industry standard (Hospitality Assured). The company’s commitment to client, customer and stakeholders’ interests continues to be illustrated by initiatives designed not only to raise the quality of their offer, but to generate support for the sustainability of the UK’s food sources.

One example of this is BaxterStorey’s pledge to the Sustainable Fish City campaign, which aims to turn London into the world’s first city where businesses, hospitals, universities, schools and citizens all eat sustainable fish. The management team is fiercely competitive in their efforts to satisfy their clients. Jeremy Wood, Regional Managing Director, North and Scotland, believes it is important to be measured against his peers: his region was assessed against the standard this year.

“BaxterStorey is proud of its commitment to delivering excellent customer service but is never complacent. Using a quality standard to check the impact of our service developments on our clients means a third party will assess our clients’ perceptions and provide us with invaluable insights. This is fundamental to helping our success in winning new clients and even more importantly, retaining our existing clientele.”

Measured in the right way
Juggling the need to improve services against reduced resources can mean streamlining some processes to enable resources to be released for prioritised areas of improvement. To do this, businesses may decide to increase investment in IT infrastructure in order to free up staff-time and create a more cost-effective and efficient service.

This is the path being taken by a number of the public sector catering services, including school meal services. The aim is to achieve better control of purchasing and refine the abilities of the service to identify – and thus influence – the offer to the varying and sometimes forgotten stakeholders: the local authority head teachers, parents and not least, consumers.

Achieving this aim has been the task of the Dudley Catering and Client Services Team (DCCS) at Dudley Council, which has successfully improved its IT systems between schools and its head office staff. To support this technical work, the team also nurtures and motivates its members using an internal training team. DCCS delivers a tailored development programme consisting of 10 courses aimed at different levels of catering staff. In the last two years, training has been delivered to more than 600 staff.

To help recognise the dedication of its staff, achievements are formally recognised at an annual presentation held each summer, an event which serves to motivate the team and celebrate its success. Councillor Liz Walker, cabinet member for children’s services at Dudley Council, said: “The continual progress that DCCS makes is credit to a hard-working team. The service continues to find creative ways to encourage children and parents to take up the service, and staff are committed to working as efficiently as possible.”

Keeping employees proactive
Vince Flower is Managing Director of Shearings Hotels, a group of 50 hotels operating under the Bay and Coast and Country Brands, who recognises the challenge of creating a reputation for great service and customer responsiveness. “We have a vision to be the foremost leisure hotel operator and we can only do this by raising our game, taking on board customer feedback and incorporating positive suggestions into our customer offer”

This attitude has led to the proactive use of social media and the capture of feedback both positive and negative that can be used to inform developments to the services that they offer. Like other clients who recognise that excellence can only be achieved with input of the whole team, Shearings happily tests the success of its staff engagement methods using an organisation-wide staff survey that indicates high levels of staff satisfaction within the business.

“We are proud of our hotel teams, their ability to not only deliver to Shearing’s demanding standards but also to adopt initiatives and adapt these within their individual properties.” One example of this is the way in which individual hotels interact in their local communities and offer support in time and/or use of facilities. Shearings are confident enough to maintain the pressure and to submit to a regular measurement of their progress towards excellence with 12 corporate HA accreditations.

No stone unturned
The Residential, Catering and Conference Services (RCCS) department of Brunel University is responsible for providing a variety of services to a wide customer base of students, staff and visitors. The services provided range from managing halls of residences to running catering facilities, food outlets, banqueting and hospitality services, as well as conference facilities for corporate customers and international language schools.

“We’ve worked with the Hospitality Assured standard for many years to create a level of excellence within the department and this was further recognised in September 2011 when we retained Hospitality Assured status for the ninth year,” Tony Davies, RCCS Training and Quality Manager, commented. “Excellence to me is not only achieving and maintaining a high level of service but also being mindful of the need to further develop and improve service levels in line with customer expectations and industry benchmarks.

There’s no resting on our laurels. The Hospitality Assured nine step process allows us to look at all aspects of our business, measure our development and also plan for the future in a clearly defined way. It’s integral to our success that we continue to offer excellence as standard to all our customers.” These are very different organisations linked by the same goal of raising their game; they understand why ‘good’ is never enough.