Creating a great Rapport

Greg Mace discusses how delighting guests has translated into business growth.

Rapport has been raising the bar in creating exceptional guest experiences since 2012, so EP met up with the man behind the business to find out more about his influences, philosophy and passion.

Over the years, we have all had frustrating experiences with receptionists who give unfriendly welcomes, don’t look up from their computers and appeared bored when they do. It was not long ago that many regarded it as an almost impossible challenge to expect a warm welcome in the UK.

However, the last five years has seen a real change with the realisation that a great welcome can have a genuine impact on a guest’s experience, whether in a hotel, a restaurant, or a business environment. Today a great welcome and exceptional customer service now set companies apart from one another. Expectations of customers are on the rise and in response the skill level of receptionists is rapidly increasing.

One person who has led the way in raising the bar within the corporate world is Greg Mace, who set up Rapport in 2012, which is now one of the UK’s leading providers of exceptional guest services to many high-profile blue-chip companies. Guest services in this context includes all the touch points a guest may have when dealing with an organisation, including the main reception and client floor reception, concierge services, switchboard and other call services, such as room reservations and help desk.

Rapport is a great success story – only four years after launching, they are managing operations at many of London’s most prestigious companies. Having experienced the benefit that Rapport has brought to their headquarters, many of these clients have extended the service to their regional offices in major cities across the UK and this now accounts for 20% of the company’s business.

In February EP attended Rapport’s Service Excellence Awards and was taken aback by the energy at the event, as Rapport celebrated its anniversary and its people’s success. Seeing the excitement and level of engagement across the teams made us realise that there was something special happening and perhaps this is the reason Rapport is delivering a level of service that you don’t often see elsewhere in the UK. Last year Rapport also launched in New York on the back of demand from existing UK clients. There is something ironic that the self-proclaimed home of customer services is now embracing the British way of delivering service excellence, and Rapport’s growth in the US looks set to mirror that of the UK.

In 2015, the UK business achieved 30% growth with 100% client retention rate. This year 40% growth is expected, and one can envisage strong growth both in the UK and internationally for some time to

So what is the secret to Rapport’s success? Greg would be the first to say that he is not central to the story, although of course he is. Rapport is the result of a great partnership between Greg and the senior Compass executive team – initially via Ian Sarson (Group MD between 2010-13) and Jason Leek (former MD of Business Excellence) and more recently with Dennis Hogan, Managing Director UK & Ireland. All have given Greg the support and, most importantly, the freedom to build Rapport into the success story we see today.

Greg enjoyed a great grounding in his career within some of the finest London five-star hotels, including The Connaught and The Dorchester. This experience taught him how important a guest’s welcome could be.

“When I was at The Connaught we used to make it our duty to learn something new about our guests from every interaction with them,” he recalls. “Over the course of a few days, we realised we could build up a picture of each guest and some key facts that allowed us to offer a great service that was tailored to that individual. Anthony Lee (former General Manager) drummed this discipline into us, and of course The Connaught has been revered for many years as one of the best hotels in the world.”

Greg’s expertise developed further with a move into the contract catering sector, managing Catering & Allied’s flagship operation at the European Bank, then working at Merrill Lynch as a Facilities Manager before founding Portico in 2005, which was one of the forerunners in developing excellence in reception outsourcing. What all these roles had in common was they gave Greg a platform to focus on service excellence, which provided the blueprint for Rapport’s success today.

”When we launched Portico, there were only a few companies that operated at a high level in the outsourcing of corporate reception services,” Greg notes. “Portico allowed me the chance to learn a lot and to discover what works and what doesn’t. When I was approached by Compass, it was clear they had seen the advantage of having a credible ‘guest services’ offer and were keen to set up something new and innovative to add to their portfolio of businesses. The opportunity to develop and launch another new offer into the market place was really exciting,” he adds.

“Of course, initially I was concerned that by joining a large organisation I would not be able to develop the company the way I envisaged, but Compass has been true to its word, and both Ian and now Dennis could not have been more supportive.

One of the challenges at the start was how to create the new brand and set the business apart. As is always the case, those early days are crucial and the market associated Greg with his previous roles. What would he do that was different? The market was ready to listen, watch and judge, which cannot have been easy for Greg.

”I started out knowing that I wanted to create a new guest experience as they entered our client’s premises. We didn’t want to talk about five-star service as that draws an immediate and outdated comparison to hotels. We focused instead on a service level that was unique to us and enabled us to consistently strive for excellence, where a personal and intuitive-led approach provides the ultimate service.”

Greg joined Compass in 2011 and took almost a year before launching Rapport. One can always analyse the business rationale, strategies and brand values, but maybe Greg’s real success has been in building a name that is anchored by a great team of people – the Rapport ambassadors, as Greg calls them. He believes they are key to the company’s success, saying, “Our people are the heart of our organisation and guest service is all about delivering a personalised and intuitive service, so we have worked hard to create a sensational team of ambassadors through an effective programme of engagement and empowerment. All our ambassadors are inspired to do whatever it takes to delight the guests, and I am incredibly proud of how they go about this on a daily basis.”

Rapport has successfully developed a very strong brand. Greg recognised the need to ensure the brand reflected a tone of voice that would resonate with his corporate client base. The name Rapport supports the business’ ethos to focus on each individual client’s needs and is backed up by a series of core values that the Rapport team all live by Ð Create Rapport, Be Brilliant, Innovative Spirit, Walk Tall and Stronger Together.

Commenting on Rapport’s growth, Greg says, “Clients are attracted to the ‘boutique’-type of service we offer, so we need to ensure our growth is managed so our ability to support this is not impacted. I always say that we want to grow fast enough that we can provide opportunities for our team to grow, but remain small enough so that we know everyone’s name.

“One of the keys to our growth has been the fantastic chemistry we have with James Boyle, MD of Restaurant Associates, and his senior team. Very often we see tenders where the catering and front-of-house services are bundled together. By working incredibly closely, we are able to offer clients a joined-up service proposition that I believe is hard to beat in the marketplace.”

Maybe service excellence is founded on the principles that make bespoke hotels like The Connaught or The Dorchester stand apart from the rest Ð it is about a group of people striving and working towards this goal. But of course, the truth is more complicated.

Rapport is about the successful blending of partnerships. It is part of Compass but they have given Greg the freedom to operate and he has led with a mix of entrepreneurial spirit and an uncompromising commitment to the guest experience. The leadership team Greg has brought together enjoy working together and see their role as supporting those at the front end, and this is the final part of the jigsaw Ð a partnership between the Rapport leadership team and their frontline ambassadors. Together they are working towards raising the bar, improving standards and building their business.

Greg has set the tone through his behaviour. He is delighted for the business to be recognised but he wants this recognition for the whole team. “It is amazing to think that it is five years since I joined Compass – it feels like yesterday,” he says. “I believe Rapport has been successful based on the excellence of our teams and also by how our clients have taken us to their hearts.

“Our clients are our greatest advocates and I believe they see us as their partners in a very special way. We work hard to create a positive working partnership with them and work hard to provide a seamless service. Often our guests are completely unaware that the service we provide is outsourced. It’s a huge responsibility, as first impressions can make or break a deal for our clients.”

Is technology changing the welcome and allowing for improvement in service level? “Absolutely,” says Greg. “We are always looking at different ways to innovate. We have recently been looking at how a virtual reception service could be used as an out-of-hours option and how facial and number plate recognition technology could enable us to provide an even more personalised service. We are always assessing how we can improve the guest experience.

“However, we need to be careful with technology, as ultimately the real value comes from the personal interaction with a guest plus the service they receive from the moment they arrive right the way through to the end of their visit. Nothing beats a smile and a warm welcome.”

So what is next? ”I do believe that if we continue to focus on providing a personal and intuitive service, and we invest in our ambassadors and empower them to delight our guests, we will continue to enjoy great success,” says Greg. “We are passionate about our people, investing in training and bringing innovative ideas to benefit our clients. We are really excited about the journey we are on.”