UK: Awards and Conferences - Competition at the cutting edge of customer service.

UK: Awards and Conferences - Competition at the cutting edge of customer service. - Put the quality of your service to the test. Enter the 1999 Management Today/Unisys Service Excellence Awards.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Put the quality of your service to the test. Enter the 1999 Management Today/Unisys Service Excellence Awards.

Think of the defining qualities of a your bank, and what springs to mind? Security? Yes. Honesty? Hopefully. Good service? Hmmm ... maybe not. Most people have a favourite bank cock-up tale, and they aren't usually of the '... and they all lived happily ever after' variety. So when one of these maligned institutions picked up the coveted Company of the Year title in last year's Management Today/ Unisys Service Excellence Awards, there may have been a few surprised faces in the crowd.

First Direct is not a traditional bank, however. The telephone banking operation has been committed to quality service from its launch in 1989, and it shows. Around 90% of its 1.2 million customers say they are either extremely or very satisfied with the service they receive.

If you would like to find out how your organisation fares in such accomplished company, why not take part in this year's competition? Entry is free, and open to any UK-based company, plant, institution or organisation - including those from the public and non profit-making sectors.

One of the keys to achieving service excellence is the involve-ment of customers in the decision-making process. At First Direct, dialogue between customer and bank is encouraged and it is this feedback that drives improvements in service. One consequence is that the company knows a great deal about its clients - who they are, what they do and what they want from their bank. Another is that even junior employees have a chance to make a genuine contribution to the company - 88% of staff say that they are proud to work for First Direct.

Award winners are acknowledged to be at the cutting edge of customer service but equally important is the fact that every entrant receives a feedback report from the judges. This provides a unique opportunity to benchmark performance against other entrants as well as the Unisys database of organisations offering the highest levels of service around the world.

Achieving first-rate service means identifying and implementing best practice, even if that involves looking beyond your own industry. Pizza Hut (winner of the 1998 consumer services category award) has introduced personal development reviews, new pay and bonus structures, and four-week induction programmes for all its employees. Staff turnover and morale, traditionally problem areas in the fast-food trade, have improved as a result.

The Awards cover five industry sectors: business-to-business, consumer services, financial services, manufacturing/engineering, and public services. A new category for 1999 is the Learning Organisation Award, sponsored by Cranfield School of Management, for the organisation showing the best year-on-year improvement.

There is also a special award for small businesses (fewer than 50 employees), won for the past two years by the Triple 'A' Animal Hotel & Care Centre of Washington, Tyne & Wear. Described by the judges as having a model approach to customer care, this is one company to whom the epithet 'small is beautiful' can justly be applied. All the attributes of top quality service are there in miniature - staff training programmes, efficient complaint handling processes and a real desire to learn from their customers. The company even surveys each of its customers, and displays the results on a 'What our customers think of us' board.

The competition is judged by a panel of experts including representatives from Management Today, Cranfield School of Management and Unisys. Entrants are assessed on every aspect of their efforts to attract, satisfy and retain customers, using five key criteria: understanding customers, operational effectiveness, engaging employees' enthusiasm for customer care, the quality of vision, values and leadership of the organisation, and its agility of response to changes in customers and markets.

The first stage in the process is the completion of a confidential self-assessment questionnaire, which measures performance against these criteria.

A short list of 25 entrants is drawn up from the results, and tailored reports written for each entrant.

The lucky finalists will be visited on site by the judges, and may be called on, unannounced, by a 'mystery shopper' gathering further evidence. They will also be invited to attend a Best Practice conference at Cranfield School of Management in November 1999.

The closing date for entries is 19 March 1999, and entry forms can be obtained from Anthony Locke, Unisys Customer Service Centre, on 01908 212613.

NATIONAL AWARDS

- Best Service Excellence Company of the Year 1999

- Best Small Company

- The Learning Organisation Award

INDUSTRY AWARDS

Best Service Excellence Company in:

- Business-to-business services, including distribution

- Consumer services, including retail, utilities and passenger transport

- Financial services

- Manufacturing/engineering, including construction and extractive industries

- Public services, including government, education and non profit-making organisations

TIMETABLE

January-March 1999

Entries accepted - entrants fill in and return the confidential self-assessment questionnaires. Closing date 19 March 1999

April 1999

Entries assessed and short list prepared

May-June 1999

Short-listed companies receive site visit

July 1999

Feedback reports sent to all non-finalists

September 1999

Winners announced at awards ceremony and reception in London.

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