There are some inspiring examples of customer focus among the 10 shortlisted finalists who narrowly missed the winners' circle. Few organisations showed a better understanding of their customer group than Wirral Alcohol Service in Birkenhead, which offers its services to anyone, irrespective of age, race or culture, whose life is affected by alcohol. The varied services on offer, including an alcohol relapse prevention group, are tailor-made to meet client requirements. 'A genuine life-saver', admitted one middle-aged client.
A similarly close partnership with clients is offered by construction company Thomas Vale Construction and West London-based Firefly Communications.
Extensive research into clients' products, markets, competitors and business challenges underpins Firefly's claim to understand customer needs and expectations fully.
The standard of operational excellence at international express distributors TNT Express Worldwide (UK) and the customer support service wing of Edinburgh-based GEC Marconi-Avionics is also extremely high. TNT distributes a wide variety of documents, parcels and freight to more than 200 countries. An impressive 98.5% of deliveries arrive at their destination on time.
The sheer size of operations at First Direct and the Halifax makes customer focus a daunting prospect. The Halifax employs highly sophisticated computer technology to manage its 20 million customers and 30 million product relationships.
With 36,000 employees and 970 branches, the Halifax impresses in its ability to delight both internal and external customers. Personal banking service provider First Direct offers its 625,000 customers a full banking service by telephone, including current accounts, savings, investments, secured and unsecured loans and travel services. First Direct's 3,100 employees include fully-trained banking representatives, who handle all customers' requirements over the telephone. Some 12,000 new customers join First Direct every month, and 87% of customers express themselves as extremely or very satisfied with the service they receive.
Employee enthusiasm and commitment make a strong impression at mobile services (cellular, radio pager and mobile phone) provider BT Mobile Communications and at Halesowen College. Some 2,000 full-time and more than 5,000 part-time students benefit from the dedication of Halesowen's staff, who offer post-16 education to residents of Halesowen and the surrounding region.
The achievement of service excellence at BT Mobile Communications through the development of teams and team-member training is similarly eye-catching.
Strong and passionate leadership is a recurring theme among customer-focused companies. The Riverside Housing Association is a registered charity which owns 16,000 homes in the North West and manages a further 3,000.
The strides taken by its Riverside Cheshire Division to offer excellent service to a wide range of people, including the unemployed, mentally ill and physically handicapped, reveals how much can be achieved through inspired leadership and powerful vision.
Shortlisted Companies in the Five Industry Categories
Business to Business
PHH Vehicle Management Services
TNT Express Delivery Services
TNT Express Worldwide (UK)
BT Mobile Communications, BT
Riverside Cheshire Division, Riverside Housing Association Triple 'A' Animal Hotel and Care Centre
Credit Card Sentinel
The Halifax Lloyds TSB Retail Banking, Lloyds TSB Group
Environmental Health & Trading Standards, London Borough of Bromley
Wirral Alcohol Service, Wirral and West Cheshire NHS Trust in partnership
with Turning Point
Customer Support Group, GEC Marconi-Avionics
Customer Supply Services, Matra BAe Dynamics (UK)
Thomas Vale Construction
Key Business Lessons
- Introduce new initiatives for employee recognition or suggestions: programmes lose impact over time - Test employee morale through regular staff feedback. Loyal and happy staff ensure loyal and happy customers.
- Measure what is important to customers: TNT Express has key measures of customer performance under 27 headings and publishes results in every depot
- Give instant employee recognition for excellent performance: it can mean more than recognition months after the event
- Count all service failures as failures whether or not due to circumstances beyond your control. To the customer a failure is a failure
- Give employees training and responsibility to pursue business improvement
Unisys, a world leader in information management, believes that customer service is a key source of competitive advantage. The Management Today/Unisys Awards provide a focus for organisations wishing to excel in customer care and an impetus for higher service standards throughout Britain and Europe.
Unisys supports a range of events to help organisations exchange customer service ideas and learn from industry leaders. Shortlisted companies from the 1996 and 1997 awards are invited to attend a two-day Service Excellence seminar at Cranfield School of Management on 10-11 November during which winners will present their case studies. On 19 October anyone keen to learn more about 'Sustaining Service Excellence' can join David Jackson, director of consultancy Novius and leader of the Service Excellence Awards judging panel, plus Unisys representatives and other industry experts, on a five-day study tour of excellent service providers throughout Europe, including Avis, Birmingham Midshires, KLM and Disneyland, Paris.