This month judges from Unisys, Management Today and leading UK organisations recognised for excellent customer care will decide the winner of the 1996 Management Today/ Unisys Service Excellence Awards. The 21 UK companies to reach the final stages are competing for two national awards - Best Service Excellence Company of the Year and Best Small Company (turnover of £25 million or less) - plus five industry awards under the categories of business to business, consumer services, financial services, manufacturing engineering, and public sector/utilities.
Visits to the 21 UK companies competing for the title of Britain's best service provider were completed in June, and the finalists and winners will be featured in the September issue of Management Today. More than 500 companies applied for questionnaires; 129 were completed and returned.
The business to business category attracted most entrants (41) followed by the public sector/ utilities (31). 'All shortlisted entries came from England and Northern Ireland,' says Unisys awards co-ordinator Tony Locke.
'Scotland and Wales were very poorly represented - which we found puzzling.' However, feedback suggests that the process was well received. 'Several companies responded by saying that they were not yet ready to enter but had found the questionnaire thought-provoking and were using it to reconsider their customer service policies,' Locke explains.
Many organisations commented that they had used the awards process either to progress their thinking or start some customer-orientated action within the company. All 129 entrants for the awards will now benefit from a confidential, in-depth, tailored report compiled by Unisys, benchmarking their company's performance against other entrants and that of 80 companies which are recognised worldwide for their dedication to customers and excellent service provision.
To win, satisfy and keep customers
The 21 companies which received site visits by the judging panel were assessed against four broad criteria of excellent service provision: understanding customers; operational excellence; engaging the hearts and minds of employees; and leadership, vision and values. These criteria result from research, undertaken by Unisys among the world's top service suppliers, which identifies what best practice entails and how good customer service can be embedded into corporate culture. Service excellence, says Unisys managing consultant David Jackson, is about what it takes to build and sustain a customer-focused organisation. 'We believe service excellence is about everything an organisation does to win, satisfy and keep customers. This has to be done profitably (in commercial organisations) as that represents a source of investment and return to shareholders. It also has to be done better than the competition - to do otherwise risks the survival of the organisation.'
A clear sense of direction
Excellent service providers understand the needs of their customers, explains Jackson. They know who their customers are, their needs and how well those needs are being met. This requires an organisation to make a conscious choice about who its customers are, and - by implication - who they are not. Other critical aspects of excellent customer care include translating customer needs into products and creating an organisation which is easy to do business with. Customer-focused organisations are very clear about where they are going - and this is understood throughout the organisation. They have a clear sense of direction and a shared set of values. It is leadership which builds the environment where everyone in the organisation can contribute, but leadership is not restricted to the top.
'People do it all,' says Jackson. 'Success requires the right people with the right skills, information and power in the right place to satisfy the customer. Empowerment is a profit strategy, not just a nice thing to do. Employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction are linked.' The awards will go to those companies which not only lead the field in terms of winning, satisfying and keeping both internal and external customers but which also measure their success. 'Success in customer focus is about the totality of what an organisation does. Best practice companies measure more - and measure more often - thus increasing their opportunities to learn and improve,' he says. Exceeding customer expectations is the ultimate goal of all finalists shortlisted for this year's awards.
WHO'S IN THE RUNNING
Business to Business:
- DHL International (UK)
- Farnell Electronics - Farnell Components
- Hugh J O'Boyle Training
- TNT Express (UK)
- Volvo Truck and Bus - Aftermarket
- Allied Carpets Group
- Black & Decker - UK Service Division
- Hilton National
- ORCI UK & Ireland
- Birmingham Midshires Building Society
- Credit Card Sentinel
- Lloyds Bank plc - Retail Banking
- NatWest Life Assurance
- Abra Cad
- British Aerospace Dynamics - Customer Supply Services
- ConvaTec UK - Chronic Care
- Ferguson International Holdings plc - Harkwell Adhesive Labels
- The Army Presentation Team
- Cumbria FHSA - Barrow Health Advice Centre
- London Borough of Southwark - Southwark Revenue Services
- Staffordshire CC - The Shugborough Estate.