Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Visitor Economy learning from the Royal Wedding

Learning from the Royal Wedding
Even the most ardent of cynics will accept that the organisation and execution of the royal wedding was a resounding success. An estimated 2 billion watched enthralled as the British Royal Family demonstrated pageantry at its very best, exuding the fine qualities for organisation, precision, occasion, spectacle set in unique historic buildings with huge orderly public support and safe clean streets associated with our nation for generations.
For our tourism businesses these positive images are a timely reminder to the world of the reasons to visit Great Britain and Northern Ireland, next years Olympics and Queens Jubilee providing yet more reasons to come and see first hand our unique mix of modernity and history.
We are all aware of the need to meet customer expectations through delivering quality and value for money. Anyone involve with the visitor economy needs to pay special attention to the recent imagery broadcasted throughout the world in recent weeks as indicators of what our customers are going to expect from us.
Lets all work a little bit harder to ensure we do at least meet these expectations but hopefully in many cases exceed expectations of international and indigenous visitors especially in the following areas:
·         Be smart, tidy up those uniforms and clean, clean, clean
·         Be organised, ensure everyone fully understands your product range and up sell
·         Spend time practicing and refining service and products, pay your staff for training and “dry runs”
·         Ensure it is British, regional and good value by learning sense of place
·         Promote the whole of the UK
·         Design and create great aftercare print, include customer feedback and referral programmes
·         Get a smile, be confident but modest, professional and welcoming
·         Act like ambassadors of the UK
Finally make it fun and rewarding for customers, employees, suppliers and colleagues!

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Are colleges meeting the needs of rural enterprises?

Are colleges fulfilling their role for businesses located in rural regions?
Further education and life long learning are both crucial components of continuous improvement in business and personal development. Over time provision of post school learning has evolved into a complex myriad of competing organisations including; 6th form, technical colleges, polytechnics, universities, unions, trade bodies and businesses.
Cities and large conurbations have a distinct advantage over rural areas in providing international standards, ease and mobility of employees to gain a multitude of experiences, skills and opportunities aligned to the international dimension of all strands of commerce. This mobility and flexibility is a major benefit to most enterprises as the competition for employment and customers becomes a virtuous cycle constantly improving standards; companies become better employees, employees become more productive, customers expect more. Compare the availability of investment, international benchmarks, employee mobility and choice with rural areas and the gap is staggering.
If we develop this further and examine the opportunity for learning provided to individuals of similar abilities and interest say with a privately owned 3 / 4 star hotel located in a provincial town or village with that offered to someone working in an international chain of 3 / 4 star hotels based in a city once again the difference between range of experiences offered is staggering.  
Availability and flexibility of employees is harming the potential of rural areas with many businesses forced to accept “Hobson’s choice” when recruiting and it is this lack of choice available to employees which is potentially the greatest underlying reason as to why so many enterprises remain marginal with minimum investment.
Colleges provide the environment in which many people will receive further education after leaving school and they provide a natural partner to business, as such should they play a greater role in providing the environment in which privately owned businesses located in rural areas can compete with urban employers with regards to the range of experience, mobility and opportunities? As publically funded bodies surely colleges should be tasked with correcting systemic failures especially those identified as being of strategic consequence.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Does practice make it more fun?

Are you lucky ?
I think it was Gary Player who during a winning streak in the 1970’s when asked by a reporter if he felt he had been lucky to have won a tournament replied with; “the harder I practice, the luckier I get!” Famous for his nonchalance this response was in-part a brilliant put down as well as a revealing insight into his psychology. It is easy to mistake confidence for arrogance, nonchalance for complacency however in a place of work where your every move and decision is under close scrutiny such qualities are only achievable after reaching a state of self confidence born from practice, practice and practice.  
Most of us working in the hospitality and leisure sector are, by definition in public view our actions constantly being evaluated against customer expectations. A confident demeanour, easy smile and pride in the place of work and region are all qualities we are expected to exude. Key to being able to appear as such is understanding and anticipating customer needs and “being lucky” to know what the soup of the day is or what time the last bus departs. Of course it is not always our fault if we don’t know but we will be accused of not caring or being tardy and lazy if we don’t find out.
We can take responsibility for being lucky by working to the maxim; “no one should be in a position to reply I don’t know to a question from a customer or colleague”
A simple enough premise but one that takes time and practice to deliver, steps to consider taking to help gain a reputation for being lucky include;
·         Recruit for attitude
·         Ensure effective and interactive induction
·         Inspire professionalism and encourage time for listening
·         Keep rewarding good practice
·         Anticipate customer and colleague needs
·         Train, retrain and train again
·         Gain feedback but remember you are the quality controller, not the customer
·         Foster trust and confidence
·         Create an environment that  customers and employees want to be part of
Good Luck and have lots of FUN

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Managing Customer Experience

Managing customer experience
Contact points will dictate your customer experiences. How many do you need to ensure your company does what it says on your tin?
Do you know how many contact points are necessary for the success of your business what measures do you undertake to ensure these are managed to maximise your customers experience? Traditional hospitality and leisure businesses are being squeezed by “home experience cuisine” offered by supermarkets and “stripped down service models” where customer contact is kept to  a minimum. Price points are dictating levels of service customers want, are you one of those operators who has confused levels of service with quality?
If you are reducing the “human” contact by definition you are also reducing the opportunities to react to customer needs and provide a personalised service. A key consequence of this is the utmost necessity to get every contact “spot on”. Only well trained, informed and motivated employees can provide consistent quality experiences.
It might sound complicated but without some form of brand filter to evaluate everything you do you are exposing your customers to inconsistent service and products. Careful and diligent use of a brand filter will ensure your personal values can be fully represented by all who engage with your business; suppliers will get their products to you having been quality checked, employees will maximise each contact point upholding your values and your community will drive recommendations.
Ten top things to help ensure your actions to match what you say on your tin:
1.       Decide on your brand values
2.       Research highest price points
3.       Imagine being a customer, love them, attract them
4.       Recruit suppliers, employees, agents etc with a ruthless adherance to your brand values
5.       Be bold, make clear promises and try to exceed them through quality training
6.       Ensure every contact point is needed and adds value
7.       Be personally linked to your company and be part of the community
8.       Don’t expect your customers to pay for your inefficiencies
9.       Make it look, feel and be fun
10.   Have an exit strategy right at the beginning

Friday, 4 March 2011

Too Lazy or clever to train??

Too clever or too lazy to train?
Does it make any sense to commit hundreds, thousands or even millions of pounds to your businesses and then fail to equip staff with basic hospitality skills? If I had received £1 for every time someone has said to me “well I’ve told them time and time again” when trying to explain service failure I could be giving Bill Gates a good run for his money! And this is where the crux lies; training is not telling… Someone is not trained until they can carry out the required task to the set standard again and again without supervision.
Do you drive customers away from your business, town, region or country by failing to train, pandering to the lowest common denominator or are you collaborating in programmes designed to drive up standards and working to deliver continuous improvement? Do you teach your colleagues and employees how to use knowledge gained to underpin and project your ethos, are you experienced enough to, recognise, reward and encourage them?  
In my late teens I experienced the two extremes of induction; in one leading hotel whilst being trained in the fine dinning restaurant it was a full six weeks before I was let loose on the unsuspecting paying customer and for the following six weeks I was closely monitored, praised, admonished and motivated by experienced restaurateurs passionate about excellent service, passing on their knowledge and of course tips. Core skills and intimate product knowledge were but key components of providing the ambience expected in first class dinning areas what took time to learn was the application of these skills in interacting with colleagues and customers. I can still recall the sense of pride and achievement when I was assessed as being competent enough to work unsupervised. The second experience still has the ability to make me cringe and feel helpless, stupid and embarrassed for the customer; my first shift as night porter commenced with me being provided with an ill-fitting uniform which it was insisted I wore. On taking a room service order I was deliberately given a pen that did not work so my “trainer” wrote down the room number took me to the kitchen area and showed me how to make the sandwich present the tray with side orders etc after which he sent me on my way to deliver the ham sandwich with English mustard and glass of milk. I did not know that he had written down a non existent room number which meant when taking the room service tray I searched in vain for this fictitious room the along the whole of each corridor, up and down fire escapes before being forced to return with the undelivered tray and failed mission to the waiting highly amused colleagues, “where have you been” boomed the Head Night Porter, Mr Peterson (yes I can still remember his name) has been complaining. It was a great laugh to everyone, deliberately putting me in my place for being so keen.
Times have definitely changed since those days with most enterprises unable to afford 12 weeks of non productive employment and to be fair the bullying culture of the 70’s and 80’s has receded resulting that most peoples first experience of work experience, part time or fulltime employment in our sector lies somewhere in-between.  However as customers become more knowledgeable and discerning it is incumbent on businesses of all sizes to take control of training to ensure their customer experience at least matches expectations. Owners and managers need to take full responsibility for ensuring employees are fully equipped to enjoy and be successful at their work. No business is too small to adopt these principals. It is quite possible that no business can afford not too!
Time spent devising and then implementing induction as a tool to underpin your ethos will pay dividends especially if your recruitment is such that you have selected the person most suited for you. With unprecedented pressures on all organisations after the financial meltdown it must be tempting to decide not to pay for training and when you consider the amount of “free” courses being offered by FE and HE providers it is understandable you may be paralysed into inaction but please, please, please evaluate your organisation needs, measure customer expectations against you and your teams ability to exceed and implement training after assessing who is best to provide the quality you require.
·         If you are too clever or lazy to train; delegate!
·         Use induction to demonstrate a clear commitment at the beginning of each employee’s time with you to outline what training, environment and conditions you will provide and what you expect back.  
·         Stretch your skills and encourage those around you to stretch you.
·         Allow periods of time for trainees to absorb the necessary skills, culture and manner in which these skills should be utilised.
·         Do not forget employees mirror you best when you are not present.
·         When customers don’t miss you your team is performing.
·         Measure and reward productivity.
·         When you are praising and not admonishing your employees you will probably be a benchmark enterprise driving up quality and leading the way.  
Come-on owners and managers commit your standards to paper and devise ways in which you will monitor performance in order that you will attract and retain quality employees and loyal customers.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Internet retailer ran off with my hotel !

Internet retailer ran off with my hotel !
Accommodation providers have been asleep on the job and are beginning to realise whilst they have been busy undercutting each other, online retailers are making a killing through selling their inventory. Can a social media strategy linked to quality provide a commission free route to market ?
Retailers are canny people and the internet has provided smart operators with opportunities to sell product they have never owned or paid for. If you stop and think; it beggars belief we have sleepwalked into this situation. Some retailers are ruthless in guarding “their” customers from providers and even keep providers out of the loop during rate and volume negotiations. How many beds have you got on allocation with onerous terms and conditions prohibiting you from offering deals direct to customers? How many customers realise just how much we are paying for their business?
When you set up your enterprise did you ever envisage selling your wares through the shop window of an internet retailer who pays you nothing for your product and then charges you levered commission? Far too many accommodation providers have failed to recognise their websites have become a commodity seeing their use simply as an online brochure and using websites purely as a route to market for distressed stock. Third party agents need content to drive traffic and we have failed to extract any value for this.
As the genie is out of the bottle it is difficult to imagine a time when we will be able to extract any value for content to third parties unless of course history is overturned and accommodation providers actually work together and compete with agents so that customers are the main beneficiaries from discounts.
Hoteliers, B&B and accommodation providers naturally relish and thrive on the contact with customers, tailoring services and facilities to their individual needs and wants. During 2010 it has been estimated third party agents took something in the region of $5 Billion out of American hotels in commissions, monies that could have gone direct to customers, training, upgrading and shareholders. In the past 6 years commission as a percentage of total revenue has leaped from around 2% to in some cases over 10%! When you factor in inflationary pressures on other cost centres such as salaries, food and energy this trend is unsustainable. More difficult to quantify is the lost opportunity to create relationship with guests at time of booking especially when controlled by “brand to brand” agreements.
There could however be some light at the end of the tunnel and intelligent use of social media may just be illuminating the way forward. Successful social media campaigns have on the whole been reliant on communicating with zeal and passion the qualities that make your business stand out from the crowd; what you do, how you do it and what you stand for. This information and sense of commitment to customers, suppliers, employees and the wider environment goes straight to the (“end user / decision maker”) customer. Getting your message aligned with your enterprise and your guests expectations allows for an environment of mutual trust to develop this of course demands honesty from providers and only those committed to constant improvement will stand any chance of forging long term relationships. Social media as part of a clear communication strategy aligned to your business ethos will no doubt invite public feedback from customers and if you deliver your promises you will grow the number of recommendations, reputation of your enterprise and of course repeat DIRECT business.
So by all means follow the herd and start Twittering etc but don’t be surprised if your real commitment to customers is quickly outed, a real bonus for those with quality management procedures underpinned by a reinvestment programme and true real ethos whilst a real risk for those who are just looking for quick customers at any price.
Perhaps this is how we can begin the fight back and regain direct access to and form a meaningful relationship with customers. Only those who are in this for the long haul, are truly ethical and committed to quality will benefit which has good feel to it, acting as a kind of natural selection rewarding the best with stronger loyalty from customers, increased profitability for reinvestment thus creating a virtuous cycle.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Time to clean up

Dirty cutlery, crockery and tableware
Why do so many catering establishments of all standards and reputations let themselves down so badly in this way? When was the last time you enjoyed a cup of branded or unbranded tea or coffee in perfectly clean crockery or with a shiny spoon? Most chains have given up on the spoon replacing it with some “fair trade” and "sustainable" wood !
Is it not time that as customers we started to fight back and demand cleanliness?  Why, if they cannot get the public facing areas right what’s happening out of sight?
Owners, managers and franchisees had better get their acts together and begin to train and motivate their employees/ colleagues / team members / associates much, much better. Can you think of a better way to undermine the “made freshly here” message being given for cakes, sandwiches, paninis, soup of the day, chefs special than dirty trays, collection points etc.
It takes two to tango so as consumers and customers let us start voting with our feet and only spend our hard won cash in those establishments that really do care for their employees & customers by ensuring the highest levels of cleanliness thus rewarding their commitment to training and passion for customer service.