How the UK is raising the bar in customer service

Good service is no longer good enough.

As well-travelled customers become increasingly choosy, the onus is on businesses to deliver world-class service if they are to survive.

In today’s competitive markets, it is often the quality of customer service that determines the winners and losers.

“Customer service training can be the magic ingredient that makes a business or organisation stand out from the crowd” says Sue Gill of Regional Tourist Board Partnerships Ltd.

Businesses and organisations of all kinds are wrestling with the issues involved in improving the quality of their customer service.

One of these is the largest vineyard in the UK, Denbies Wine Estates in Dorking.

Denbies Wine Estates is a major tourism attraction, with around 350,000 visitors each year enjoying the Visitor Centre, vineyard tours, wine tastings, restaurants and other facilities.

The HR Manager, Lorraine Dyer, says “We decided we wanted to inject a fresh approach and create a new culture with customer service at its heart.”

So Lorraine arranged for thirty-one of their key frontline and operational staff to be trained through Welcome to Excellence.

Since launch in 1993, Welcome to Excellence has become the largest customer service training provider in the UK.

Clients range from tiny B&Bs to some of the biggest names in tourism and leisure such as De Vere, English Heritage, Bourne Leisure and the new Wembley Arena..

Lorraine says “The trainer tailored the content to make it really relevant to our company. The training was ideal for both our long serving members of staff and newer members. Motivation levels improved significantly. Within a short period of time, we could measure the impact on our sales figures.”

“We have seen an improvement in the number of repeat customers, especially for the conference, banqueting and restaurant facilities. There has also been a marked improvement in visitor numbers, which have increased by 50% between 2006 and 2007.”

Sue Gill of Regional Tourist Boards Partnership says “Great customer service training makes all the difference to winning repeat business, and acts as a magnet to quality staff as well as improving staff retention rates

“The Welcome to Excellence series currently offers seven interactive one day courses, all of which are frequently updated to reflect changing conditions and legislation.”

‘Welcome Host is the most well known of the seven courses, but the series also includes considerably more for staff at every level. For example, Welcome All focuses on how to provide a top class welcome to people with disabilities, Welcome International provides an insight into how to deal with people from other cultures and Welcome Management is designed especially for managers, showing how to develop a business-wide customer service strategy.”

Another company that has taken up the challenge of maintaining high standards in customer service is Cotswold Inns and Hotels Ltd, a group of six privately owned hotels in the Cotswolds. They have made extensive use of Welcome to Excellence training ever since the company was formed nine years ago.

Heather Hass, who organises the training, says “All our Reception, Housekeeping, Bar and Restaurant staff go through Welcome Host training. The trainer delivers the courses in-house, which is ideal for us. The trainers all have hands-on experience of the hotel business and so their approach is always down to earth and engaging.”

Heather explains “We carry out training every three months so all new staff get the benefit of training soon after they join. Around 20% of our staff are from overseas, especially Poland and South Africa, and with staff from overseas, you see a big improvement in confidence levels. The training helps them know how to communicate with guests and how to handle complaints.”

Jonel Krige is one such member of staff at Cotswold Inns and Hotels Ltd. Originally from South Africa, he works as a receptionist at one of the hotels in the group, The Lamb at Burford. He says ‘Taking part in the Welcome to Excellence training reminded me why I am in the tourism industry! I have been working in hotels for six years and after a while, it can be easy to see it as just a job you get up and do. Welcome to Excellence refreshed the way I see my role. I am now always aware that people are paying a lot of money to come to the hotel and it is up to me to make sure that they get great customer service and want to return.”

Anthony Joseph, who is from Sri Lanka and is the Reception Manager at another of the group’s hotels, The Bear of Rodborough, took the Welcome Management course. He says “Welcome to Excellence has had a big impact on me. I had not worked in the hotel industry before and the course showed me lots of new ways of handling both customers and staff. The training has really boosted my confidence and made a real difference to how well I carry out my job.”

Sue Gill says “Welcome to Excellence is already widely regarded as the gold standard by the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors, but now the series is increasingly sought after by other organisations for which customer service is critical such as local authorities, retail outlets and transport operators.”

One Railway, which provides the rail service in the East of England, is such an organisation.

“Providing great customer service is a central element of what we always aim to deliver” says Victor Fromm, On Board Standards and Training Manager.

“As a rail franchise holder, we are judged on punctuality, but certainly within the catering department, customer service is just as important.”

The catering department run a selection of full restaurant, café bar and trolley services on the trains running between Norwich and London

In summer 2007, more than ninety of the staff attended the one-day course Welcome Host Plus. Victor says: “The impact has been sensational. Welcome to Excellence has become ingrained in what we do, it is now part of our life blood.”

He continues: “Many of our staff already had considerable experience of customer service so we wanted to pitch the training at the right level for them. The Welcome Host Plus course met the bill. The course helped give people a fresh perspective on their role and, in many cases, re-invigorated their enthusiasm for their work.”

“The training on dealing with difficult customers was especially useful, with staff saying they learnt a huge amount about how to use their own body language and what they should and should not say in difficult situations.”

As the department has trained over 50% of its staff, it is now recognized as a Welcome to Excellence accredited organisation.

Victor says: “We had a large scale event to celebrate the accreditation with newspaper photographers and VIP guests. Now, other sections of the company have noticed the uplift in our department and everyone is asking us about Welcome to Excellence.”

Sue Gill of Regional Tourist Board Partnerships Ltd says “The issues confronting training managers are extremely varied, with no two organisations having exactly the same requirements from their training investment. The most common issues reported are the need to improve business competitiveness, the need to motivate staff so they perform at their best and the need to offer staff development opportunities, thus improving staff retention. We are delighted that these three organisations turned to Welcome to Excellence to meet their training needs and we share their pleasure in these great results.”

Sue concludes “With the Olympics and Paralympics Games in London in 2012, the eyes of the world will be on the UK and the event will interface with all parts of the UK’s customer management and service offering. There has never been a more important time for all businesses to raise the bar when it comes to customer service training. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us all to set new world- class standards.”

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