Accoladia earns its wings

A year after Thomas Cook Holidays and British Airways Holidays merged to
form Accoladia, its call centre team reviews its training and development

Reach for the stars and Telephone excellence
Designed by: Academee, Bollin House, Bollin Walk, Wilmslow SK9 1DP
Phone: 01625 540 540
Fax: 01625 540 541

On test: 2001, Thomas Cook Holidays merged with British Airways Holidays to
form Accoladia, a leading UK outbound scheduled tour operator. While Accoladia,
a trading name rather than a consumer brand, benefits from increased buying
power and shared knowledge and experience, Thomas Cook Holidays and British
Airways Holidays continue to operate as individual consumer brands to satisfy
customer needs.

One area where the two work seamlessly together is in the call centre. Following
the joint venture, the decision was made to expand Thomas Cook’s existing
Peterborough call centre to accommodate all Accoladia’s customer contact. Carol
Jones, who runs the call centre, realised the new operation needed to focus
more on training and development to ensure its success.

"We had already started to review our training and development prior to
the joint venture, but when this was agreed, we realised we needed to act
quickly," says Jones. "We already had some good training in place,
but it was not intensive enough for new starters and not consistent throughout
the call centre. It was mainly delivered by team leaders who often had
conflicting demands on their time.

We decided the best way forward would be to create a separate training
function and designated training areas so we could really focus on creating and
delivering excellent training programmes to all our call centre people."


Janine Lane, who had previously been head of operations, took on the newly
developed role of training and development manager, working alongside Jones to
create training programmes that supported Accoladia’s strategic aims – to
create an increasingly successful organisation through improved productivity,
customer focus and sales.

Management consultant Academee also became involved at this stage, spending
time with senior managers, reservations managers and team managers to help
identify training needs and create solutions.

"We were looking for a consultancy that had good call centre
experience," says Jones. "Although external companies had delivered
telephone skills training before, we hadn’t worked with anyone who really
understood call centres


"We did a lot of research with Accoladia, asking existing staff what their
training needs were and what they felt they would have benefited from when they
joined the company," says Academee consultant Janine Nolan. "Everyone
was eager to get involved. They told us they would have liked more intensive
induction training with more structure. So we created a five- to six-week
induction training schedule, which was important because it meant that as soon
as individuals joined the company, they knew exactly what to expect."

This immediately gave new starters a sense of purpose and ultimately the
knowledge and skills to embark on their new roles with confidence. When new
staff start working in the call centre, a ‘buddying’ programme ensures they are
coached by experienced colleagues.

Opportunities for training existing staff also emerged. Call centre
consultants were keen to cross-train on different products, applying their
experience and enthusiasm to new areas. They were also open to the benefits of
improving their skills in other ways, such as developing increased customer focus.

"As for other types of training," adds Nolan, "it became
evident we needed to start everything from scratch. In particular, we saw there
was a real need for improved telephone skills training."

This need was met by the introduction of a new programme for everyone in the
organisation – existing staff as well as new recruits. The programme, entitled
Telephone Excellence, was designed and delivered by Academee consultants. The
feedback from delegates on the course has been overwhelmingly positive.

"Some of the ideas were completely new to me," says one
consultant. "and I wasn’t sure if they would work, but the course gave me
the confidence to put them into practice."

One such new idea was the suggestion that the consultants should not
introduce themselves right at the beginning of the call, but rather say hello
and then introduce themselves after the caller had spoken, at the same time
asking the caller for his or her name – a kind of verbal handshake. "This
went against everything I’d ever learned," said one delegate, "but
when I put it into action, it really worked. If you give your name right at the
beginning of the call, it often does not register with the caller. The ‘verbal
handshake’ is more professional and results in a more successful call."

All 380 consultants and team managers have now completed the Telephone
Excellence course, and the difference both in language and in tone can be heard
throughout the call centre. "It’s great to hear everyone around me using
consistent language – and enjoying it," said one Accoladia consultant.

Making the call enjoyable for both client and the consultant was something
else the course promoted. "Enjoyment is key," says Academee’s Maggie
Colman, who worked on the design of the Telephone Making course.
"Enjoyment helps consultants to feel able, confident, willing and
motivated. A successful call should make both parties feel good and enhance
their day," she says.

The teams in the call centre each deal with different holiday destinations.
Most consultants are now cross-trained and expert on at least two locations.
Everyone in the call centre is given opportunities to visit the areas they
represent. These familiarisation trips are a real perk of working for
Accoladia, but can also be hard work, often involving visits to up to 10
different hotels in one day. However, the benefits to each individual and the
organisation are enormous.

Alongside this, suppliers regularly visit Accoladia to run training sessions
of their own, educating staff on the products they are selling. "Since we
embarked on the training programme, suppliers always compliment us on the
quality of our staff when they visit," says Lane. "The credibility of
our call centre is very important, as we are representing our suppliers. They
need to have confidence in us."

Excellent reputation

Accoladia’s excellent reputation combined with the improved training
opportunities and perks such as foreign travel mean that they have no problem
recruiting staff.

"When the first Accoladia recruitment advert went out in July 2001
after the joint-venture announcement, we had more than 2,000 responses and
recruited 200 new staff," says Jones.

The increase in consultants meant that the call centre also needed 15 new
team managers, who were mainly recruited internally. Accoladia was aware that
these people required additional training to help them take on new roles in a
changing organisation.

"We identified exactly what type of training we needed to offer team
managers," says Lane. "And designed a ‘Reach for the Stars’ development
programme, with five key modules. As well as Telephone Excellence, all team
managers have now been trained in Coaching Winners, Leading Teams, Motivating
to Win and Focusing on You (a personal effectiveness and time management
course). Team managers have been soaking this stuff up like sponges. It has had
an incredibly positive impact on the way people work and lead their

Team managers

Individual team managers back this up: "The Reach for the Stars
programme has totally changed the way I work," says one experienced
manager. "It was a real eye-opener and has helped me to become a better
leader. I now appreciate what delegation is and how to delegate properly. I can
understand different behaviours and how to communicate better with the team.
I’m also more aware of my own behaviour and the impact it has on other people.
I take time out to coach the team. The whole thing has also really energised me
and that’s had a real impact on the people around me, too. We’ve got a real
buzz going."

The elements of coaching and motivation in the programme are key to enabling
team managers to help their teams implement their newly acquired telephone
skills in the call centre. "Coaching is key," says Academee’s Nolan.

"Managers who are good coaches can help their teams to apply their new
knowledge and skills to everyday tasks. A good coach will draw the best out of
individuals, helping them to reach successful conclusions for themselves.
Coaching is totally different from a ‘telling’ style of management, and it gets
much better results."

When the Academee team walk through the call centre, individuals often run
up to them to talk about the successes they’ve had as a result of their

Motivated staff

"Following the training, our people are a lot more confident and
motivated," says Jones. "Consultants are more keen to get on the
phones and put their training into practice." They are also more adept at
creating solutions to their clients’ needs.

"This means that managers are not getting tied up with calls, which
frees up their time so that they can focus on coaching and leadership. We’re
also seeing a positive impact on productivity. We’re answering more calls, and
dealing with them more effectively because we’re more knowledgeable and more
customer focused."

"There is still a lot of pressure on us following the joint
venture," continues Lane. "We’ve been through a lot of change, but
training has already brought many benefits, and we expect to see several more
over time.

"Now that we’ve got the basics in place, we’re planning to build on our
early success through an ongoing training and development programme which helps
us meet our medium- and long-term objectives."

Accoladia is not resting on its laurels, however. The team says it remains
determined that its commitment to training and to developing its people will be
a central part of its continued growth and success.

Training takes off

In the run-up to the busy 2002
holiday season, the investment in training has prepared Accoladia’s people for
increased success. The company is already seeing a positive impact on staff
motivation, customer service and sales

– Morale at the call centre, which has always been high, has
improved since the introduction of the training programme.

– Staff turnover, running at 15 per cent, is 5 per cent lower
than the average for UK call centres. In a period of tumultuous change, this is
quite an achievement.

– Quality control criteria are high. Accoladia has a quality
control programme, which measures key criteria in a typical call. This call
monitoring has always been regarded as a positive thing by call centre
consultants, as it helps to highlight areas for improvement and can also lead
to rewards.

Since the introduction of the training programme, the quality
control criteria have been re-evaluated in line with new initiatives such as
the ‘verbal handshake’. This reflects the increased focus on customer needs and
ensures consistency across the call centre. It also rewards individuals for
successfully applying their new learning in the workplace.

The results are one of the best indicators of the training
programme’s effectiveness. "Since we introduced the training, we’ve seen
incredible results from quality control," says Lane. "Some new
starters are achieving scores of 100 per cent, which was unheard of before now.
It’s fantastic."

Effectiveness     * * * * *

Ability to meet business needs   *
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Value for money           *
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Appropriate to any business      *
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Entertainment value       *
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* = disappointing   * * * * * = excellent

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