Five years later, the Hammersmith hotel has been transformed into a four-star, state-of-the-art convention centre, revenues have soared, and employee retention and satisfaction are well above the industry average. Behind this remarkable story is Service Extraordinaire, a change programme created by a new management team that has set an example to other hotels.
The architects of this revolution - general manager Rene Angoujard, assistant general manager Isabelle Macart and HR director Helen Kalyan - started out with a vision: 'To be the best hotel in London, to be the best Novotel in the world'. They then set about building awareness and commitment among staff.
The approach taken was to listen to guests and staff through a succession of open tables and other meetings. One resulting element is a set of behavioural standards - an essential step in defining how staff were expected to act. Coaches were recruited internally to spread the message, and carefully evaluated to check that they were delivering.
Every day, at least 10 clients are interviewed face-to-face; any issues are resolved within the hour. A daily floorwalk checks behaviour and grooming, and an in-house check-up monitors responses to phone, e-mail and fax.
The results have been striking: customer complaints down by 92%, employee satisfaction up 30% in the past two years and a dramatic increase in customer satisfaction. The programme was presented to the board in Paris and the parent group has adopted a number of best practices. Angoujard sums up: 'When people leave your hotel, they don't take any product, only a memory. Now they have a memory that will make them come back.'
BUSINESS TO BUSINESS
A former overall winner of the awards, CragRats suffered a setback last year when it had to make redundancies after losing a major Government contract. To its credit, it managed soon after to re-employ almost half those laid off and avoid its values suffering in the process. CragRats' main business is providing training and education programmes through theatre - it is one of the UK's largest employers of actors. It has also diversified into catering and has recently launched its own CragRats Brasserie in the Pennines. CragRats' people demonstrate outstanding empowerment and commitment to delivering for customers. The firm has recently appointed a creative consultant for each event, and a new role of customer interface agent to collect intelligence from customers. It has also been making strides with technology, introducing mini-websites for a number of marketplaces.
The UK's leading private dental plan provider, with more than 6,000 dentists catering for over 1.3 million patients, Denplan offers its members financial independence and business stability. The company holds client forums, and senior management also engage with dentists at Meet the Member evenings.
Denplan provides valuable leadership, setting standards that dentists have to meet before they can join, and helps with training and even dispute resolution. A fast-track conversion process helps practices that want to switch from the NHS to Denplan. It organises lots of social events to celebrate success, and encourages recognition by handing out 'Nice One' cards to colleagues. The company has recently focused a lot of attention on getting both its call-handling and written correspondence right.
RETAIL & CONSUMER SERVICES
Virgin Mobile Telecoms
With more than five million customers, Virgin Mobile, the UK's largest mobile virtual network operator, has sought to differentiate itself with its irreverent, customer-friendly style. Floated on the Stock Exchange last year, it operates from three sites at Trowbridge, Daventry and London.
It offers lively content to its customers as well as an innovative tariff, with no line rental or monthly charges. VM has an impressive armoury of techniques for finding insights into its users, the latest of which is a 'Brain Surgery' project designed to understand what drives customer satisfaction. It has interesting initiatives for its people - such as a four-day MBA training programme and 'Forget-me-not seeds', designed to coax leavers back into the fold. It recognises key contributors by asking team members to identify their 'strongest link' - who is then wined and dined while a manager covers.
The One Account
Formerly Virgin One, The One account is now a fully fledged subsidiary of Royal Bank of Scotland, specialising in offset mortgages and operating from sites in Norwich and Horwich, Lancashire. A remarkable 88% of The One account's customers say they have recommended it to others, and 57% said they were 'delighted' with the service last year. Process improvement is delivered through a 'Work Out' programme, a tool designed to implement changes proposed by front-line staff within 90 days. This delivered £300,000 worth of benefit in 2004. The company launched its new mortgage product, First Active, from concept to going live in just 12 weeks. The One account deals with its customers in an informal fashion, treating them as grown ups.
John Pring & Son (a Leggett & Platt incorporated company)
John Pring has been manufacturing specialist wire products on the same site in Sandbach, Cheshire, since 1834. The company has thrived by making customer service an important differentiator - unique in this industry.
It conducts a fact-finding exercise when a new customer opens an account, and collects feedback through surveys and delivery notes. Pring looks after its own people with 26 days' holiday and a final-salary pension for all; directors roll up their sleeves to help on the production floor and meet urgent orders. The firm has developed a database system to provide full management information, data previously unavailable to senior managers.
It is soon set to enter the next phase in its history, with a move to new, purpose-built facilities.
Ricoh UK Products
Established in Telford in 1984, Ricoh UK Products Ltd (RPL) manufactures photocopiers and toner drums, which are supplied to 11 customers throughout Europe, 10 of them internal to Ricoh. Its strategic priority is to demonstrate the value it adds to these customers, to ensure continued manufacture in Europe. One way it does this is to manage the supply chain on behalf of its customers. It forecasts their sales of individual products using daily stock data, and ships supplies accordingly. In recent years, RPL has achieved a dramatic shortening of lead times for customer orders: from 31 days in 1999 to just two days in 2005. Deliveries now take place daily instead of weekly. RPL has many business improvement initiatives, including kaizen; it rewards its manufacturing staff for Bright Ideas and for Good Spots - when potential problems are identified.
National Refractory Angina Centre
Liverpool-based NRAC continues to delight angina sufferers and their families with its patient-centred approach to treatment. The process starts with an interview to find out what the patient's real priorities are, then re-educates them about the nature of their condition and how it can be coped with, and proceeds to devise a programme of treatment that will help them meet their individual objectives. NRAC collects customer satisfaction reports for every one of its employees via survey forms with a picture of each staff member on them, and follows up any score that shows a patient to be less than highly satisfied. NRAC even consulted patients about the layout of the new building it will shortly be moving into. The organisation has a 'rotating chair' at its monthly management meetings, which has resulted in much stronger buy-in to its service-oriented approach.
NHS Logistics Authority
The NHS Logistics Authority supplies the bulk of the consumables used by every hospital, clinic and primary care trust in England. Its operation involves six distribution centres supplying to more than 600 organisations, covering 80,000 ordering points. The scale is huge, with 30 million items a year delivered by a fleet of more than 200 lorries. Its customers are far from being a captive market, however, and NHSL has embarked on a transformation programme aimed at becoming more customer-focused. Performance results are impressive: NHSL's promise to customers is that 98% of deliveries will be on time and 98% of each order will be fulfilled; both targets have been exceeded. It has set up state-of-the-art e-commerce solutions for customers, and runs the UK's only logistics benchmarking club, Logmark.
From a standing start in 1997, Rollover has become the UK's largest source of hotdogs, supplying 15 out of 20 Premiership football clubs and nine of the UK's top 12 theme parks. The company has started a programme to garner real feedback on customer satisfaction and put it to use. Rollover has achieved a remarkable growth record through offering quality products and building strong relationships with its customers - sales are increasing by 25% a year. The company encourages people to seek promotion, and gets them to chair meetings in turn, to gain a sense of empowerment. It has been careful to protect its brand, and produces all its graphics and literature in-house. The company's employees are well motivated and are recognised by an unusual display of hand-prints in the company's lobby.
Direct Response acts as an intermediary to manage outsourced call-centre solutions, telecoms and data security on behalf of its customers. It achieves this with innovative approaches. A call recording system lets customers listen in to calls going into their call centre via the internet. The company operates a military-style DEFCON alert system to identify customers who are in danger of closing their account, so that preventative action can be taken. It makes strenuous attempts to recruit and retain quality staff - for example, through a '60-second interview' that introduces new starters to their colleagues. Direct Response has created an interesting proposition for customers called 'Nuts about service' and offers service-level agreements to all customers. It has also been adept at outsourcing to call centres overseas and providing multilingual solutions.