Over the years as an industry we have evolved from ‘everyone doing their own thing’ – mass market entrepreneurs, to a culture where if there isn’t a manual / SOP / on line training programme we don’t know where to start.
Many years ago when I started my career as a management trainee in a large hotel chain I can remember the odd file detailing procedures but very little in the way of training materials and certainly no glossy pictures showing menu dishes and preparation methods.
Regardless of this, the bedrooms were cleaned and prepared to standard, and reception knew exactly which procedures to follow, and we had an awful lot of fun and banter which resulted in a stable team and loyal guests.
That said, over the span of my career it has been exciting and fascinating to be a part of the introduction and evolution of brands, with huge influences from America of course, and the learning from this across the entire spectrum of the Industry.
Over the years I have been involved with various aspects of brand compliance including teaching people how to write, deliver and monitor training, producing national training programmes, manuals and SOPs as well as taking a part in refresher training with successful operations.
There is undoubtedly more of the rainforest propping up wobbly desk legs and used as effective door stops than ever before in the form of glossy manuals.
For most large as well as smaller companies it would be inconceivable to imagine anyone opening the doors to a new cafe / restaurant / bar etc without a full training programme and documentation.
And of course in many areas these are legal, safety and security essentials – Air hostesses for example couldn’t serve a meal without a full flight briefing first.
So why is it that with all these amazing tools, written by intelligent dedicated people who I have no doubt genuinely want to make a difference, we still have ‘compliance to standards’ and ‘improving customer service experience’ as high on the priority list of most companies.
Recently I had an interesting ‘Light bulb moment’ in this regard.
As part of the roll out of a new concept, I visited the sites on day 1 to see how the team were getting on with the training and implementation of the new requirements.
They had also on the same day opened a new Starbucks operation in parallel.
Talking to the team member I asked him what he thought of the new concept offer and how he was getting to grips with the new standards.
‘Yes it’s going well and I feel quite relaxed about it as it’s not too critical’ I was told. This was swiftly followed up with ‘but we have to get the Starbucks standards right and protect their brand – they are really strict and we are monitored regularly so we can’t afford to get them wrong’
Of course we all know that successful brands such as the aforementioned Starbucks have rigorous standards and a strict approach on compliance with their operation, and in honesty whatever you think of their coffee (that is another debate in itself) or choice of pastries, by and large you have to admit the overall experience is consistent.
And it is that word ‘ consistency’.
Whenever I work on new concepts I am asked what it is that makes successful brands deliver such a consistent and loyal experience and my answer, you will be pleased to hear, is equally consistent – It’s about the buy in from the team and a follow up that they believe matters.
This drive for consistency needs to be weighed against the engagement of the team and their belief in what they are delivering PLUS their ability to have a real conversation and engage with their customer.
The team need to know that checks and follow ups will be carried out in a consistent way which develops both them as individuals as well as the business, whilst always focusing on improving the guest experience – too many people talk about checks but use them as a stick or simply ‘play at them’ – neither of which is effective in the long term.
Great companies mix it up – setting base standards, often with input from their people, and add a good dollop of personality to a strong and engaged foundation.
Then they continue to engage and deliver improvements that add value – doing things for a reason and which teams are able to communicate to their customer base – without creating a team of manual carrying robots.
Philippa has worked in the hospitality and travel industry for 20 years, specialising in brand and concept design, operations and implementation. During that time she has worked for high profile brands including NEXT, House of Fraser, Debenhams, Safeway and the Virgin group. Most recently Philippa was New Product Development Director at Virgin Trains, responsible for scoping the customer experience strategy and ensuring its delivery to support the Virgin Brand umbrella. A creative, customer centric and results driven consultant with a passion for delivering real value at all levels of a business.