If service excellence is viewed as a journey, then the vehicle in front most likely has TNT Express Services emblazoned on its sides. The choice of the express delivery company as the outright winner in this year's awards, three years after its previous triumph, is an indication of how much further down that road TNT has travelled in the interim.
The company fended off competition from corporate clothing specialists Simon Jersey and PR consultancy Countrywide Porter Novelli to win the business-to-business category, and narrowly pipped Riverside Housing Association to win the vote for overall winner.
In spite of the efforts of competitors to emulate its success, TNT has gone from strength to strength. The company has increased its revenues by 54% in the past five years, in a market that has grown by just 8.8%. It has also introduced a string of innovations to support its customer service during the past couple of years, ranging from Make it Happen awards for staff, to new technology, such as radio frequency scanning and mobile data transfer between depots and vehicles.
An indication of just how far TNT has come is its customer dissatisfaction survey, initially targeted at 8,000 customers. The company already surveys 4,000 customers twice a year on their level of satisfaction, with results broken down by individual depots. But as Chris Fowkes, director of quality, explains: 'What that survey didn't tell us was how to handle problems. We are going in with the assumption that there will always be some little niggles, and we want to find out about them.' The company already has an impressive knowledge of its customers' buying patterns, keeping detailed records on 120,000 current and lapsed customers and contacting each of them every six weeks.
Another important innovation from TNT is the Expressing Excellence Workout - a workshop designed to provide a formal, systematic process for getting the best ideas out of the company's 7,500 employees. The idea is that, rather than waiting for employees' suggestions to float to the surface, go out and seek them, so that improvement becomes the responsibility of the many rather than the voluntary contribution of the few.
Within months, all 63 TNT sites around the country will have participated in a workout session, in which employees identify the threats to their business and the possible solutions. These are fed to managers, who must use them to formulate an action plan. This appears to have the overwhelming support of employees, with 76% saying they are 'completely contented' in the latest staff survey.
TNT ardently believes in developing employees through training, but even here its attitude is quite systematic. 'We know the cost of our training and the effects of our training in terms of key performance indicators (KPIs),' says personnel director Suzie Theobald. 'We don't do training that doesn't have outcomes.' Internal promotion is encouraged through a so-called 'home-grown timber' policy.
In practice, employees are made aware of the performance of the company through the publication of weekly KPIs, together with league tables, which measure the performance of individual depots. A remarkable 25% of the company's marketing spend goes on internal communications.
Far from resting on its laurels, TNT is working ahead, planning new depots to absorb the capacity that its current growth suggests it will need in the years to come. The company has taken the ethos of continuous improvement to heart in a way that others can only envy. The next time you see a TNT lorry, it is unlikely to be stationary.