The Management Today/Unisys Service Excellence Awards begin their 1998 nationwide search for those companies who provide that extra something.
'Customer service is instilled in every employee from the top down, and it's been key to the success we've achieved over the last 10 years,' says Chris Atkinson, sales and marketing director of TNT Express Delivery Services, winners of the 1997 Management Today/Unisys Service Excellence Awards. And he's absolutely right - the company's boast that it is 'committed to customer care' is no glib slogan - in the delivery business it's simply a matter of sound commercial sense.
Now in their third year, the Awards, which are organised by Management Today in conjunction with Unisys, aim to promote and recognise the companies and organisations throughout the UK which best serve their customers.
And quality of service is something any modern business should be mindful of. Gone are the days when companies could afford to take a halfhearted approach to service. Rather than merely the icing, service has become an integral part of the cake.
'Customer service is recognised as a powerful source of competitive advantage,' says Christine Carroll, Unisys' director of external marketing (Information Services Group, Europe). 'This has clearly become a guiding company philosophy rather than mere window dressing.'
So, what are the judging criteria and how are they chosen? Unisys has carried out extensive research among over 100 organisations world wide, all of which are renowned for their superlative customer service. Based on this data, the judges will be scrutinising the hopefuls for the following: a proven process for capturing feedback from customers on their needs and expectations, together with a demonstrable connection between data collection and action; customer involvement in the design of products and processes as appropriate; an understanding of the activities of competitors; a clear policy, and supporting action, to ensure that people have the right skills, knowledge and work patterns to perform their jobs; a positive atmosphere in the workplace; demonstrable leadership; and the building of shared purpose and values.
Entrants will be measured against four broad criteria of excellent service provision: operational excellence; understanding customers; engaging employee enthusiasm for customer care; and leadership vision and values. And the operation involves far more than just sifting through the entries: judging is a three-part process. Initially, participants complete a confidential questionnaire designed to weigh their performance against the above criteria - this information remains confidential. All entrants also receive a confidential report benchmarking their business' performance against their fellow entrants and the 100-plus organisations which comprise Unisys' global database. And this document doesn't simply tell entrants how they're doing; it tells them what they should be doing and identifies the steps necessary to achieve world-class levels of customer satisfaction and retention.
After assessing the entrants on the basis of their questionnaires, a shortlist will be drawn up and, in April and May, those on it will be invited to proceed to the next stage - a visit by a team of judges from Management Today, Unisys, Cranfield School of Management and representatives from 1997's award-winning organisations. Later, a list of the finalists will appear in Management Today and the winners will be announced at an award ceremony.
Entry costs nothing and is open to any British-based company, plant, institution or organisational operating unit which provides service to customers, either internal, external or both. The Awards (which are open to British and foreign-owned companies) divide into five industry categories, with further awards for small business (turnover of £25 million or less).
There is one other category award for which 1997 entrants are eligible - now in its second year, this is for the most-improved company. And, of course, the overall winner will receive the coveted Best Service Excellence Company of the Year 1998 Award. All finalists will, naturally, be featured in Management Today. To obtain an entry form, see the timetable and procedure box.
1998 SERVICE EXCELLENCE AWARDS
- Best Service Excellence Company of the Year 1998
- Best Small Company
- Most Improved Company
- Best Service Excellence Company in:
- Business-to-business services, including distributive trades
- Consumer services, including retailing
- Financial services
- Manufacturing/engineering, including construction and extractive industries
- Public services/utilities, including government and education
TIMETABLE AND PROCEDURE
December 1997 - March 1998
Entrants fill in and return the confidential service excellence questionnaire. Entry forms are available using the postage paid card in this issue or from Anthony Locke at Unisys Customer Service Centre on 01908 212613. Returned forms must be received by 20 March 1998.
April - May 1998
Shortlisted companies receive site visits by a team of judges from Management Today, Unisys and Cranfield.
To be advised
Publication date of the finalists' shortlist in Management Today. Distribution of the Service Excellence Report which benchmarks entrants' service against each other and those of the world's best service organisations. Announcement of winning companies and awards reception.