Satisfaction guaranteed

Travel Inns gambled on a customer service scheme – and won. Lucie Carrington

at Whitbread Travel Inns, and probably some customers too, thought management
had gone mad when the firm announced that customers who weren’t 100 per cent
satisfied with their stay could have their money back.

Inns introduced its 100 per cent Satisfaction Guarantee a year ago.
"People said we would go bust and customers would cheat us," says
Stuart Branch, personnel manager with responsibility for training and
development at the hotel chain.

it was not a moment of insanity, Branch insists. It was a sound business
decision based on the need to hold on to market share. "Travel Inns is
growing and expanding ahead of the competition, but there is a projected market
saturation point we will meet in a few years time," he says.

guarantee is about saying we want customers to trust us more than they do our
competitors. They can trust us for a good quality room, friendly service and a
good night’s sleep. And if they’re not satisfied that they have got that, then
they don’t have to pay."

Inns recognised the guarantee would involve a massive training programme for
all 7,000 staff in its 280 hotels, and Branch set to work in December 1999.

than the training professionals deciding how training should be delivered, they
handed the problem back to the guarantee implementation group which included
general managers, departmental managers, lead receptionists and some team

said to the group, this is what we need to train for, so you tell us how best
to do it. They wanted something that was fun, could be delivered in short
bursts and could be adapted to suit the different functions in the hotel,"
Branch explains.

with training firm Merlin Development Group, Branch and his colleagues came up
with a 10 steps approach. The steps were designed to explain the vision behind
the guarantee and included issues such as understanding the guarantee,
preventive action, talking to customers, the refund process and service quality
behaviour. Strictly speaking it was not customer care training, Branch says,
"but there was a recognition that doing this training would remind people
of the brand standards and re-energise those standards."

from involving managers and frontline staff so directly, there was nothing
particularly remarkable about the training delivery. Like many mass training
initiatives it involved training managers and trainers who then deliver the
goods on the ground. As a result, 540 people were trained as trainers during
the summer of 2000. They returned to their units and between October 2000 and
January 2001 trained the remaining 7,000 staff.

is unusual is that it seems to have worked so well. The key aim of the training
was to help staff understand that the guarantee was not going to result in
customers ripping them off, Branch says, but would enhance their customer

there was a certain amount of apprehension. For example, some staff wanted a
list of complaints that could invoke the guarantee. This completely missed the
point of the guarantee, Branch says. "It’s up to customers to decide
whether or not they are satisfied. So rather than focus on the fraction of
people who might cheat the system, we encourage staff to think ‘should the
customer pay that price if they have had that problem?’"

is particularly proud of the fact that 60 per cent of guarantee payouts have
been offered to customers by staff rather than requested. "It shows the
training achieved what we wanted: awareness of the guarantee, ownership of it
and winning staff over."

insists the guarantee is not really about giving customers refunds. "It’s
about creating processes that make it easier for customers to tell us why we
did not make the grade and having mechanisms within the organisation to address
those issues," he says.

example, as a result of the guarantee Travel Inns has discovered that hotels
that have been extended often don’t have sufficient power to keep the water
hot. They discovered this because enough customers invoked the guarantee when
their showers went cold; and they have now put the problem right.

training is now an integral part of the induction programme and individual
hotels have introduced additional learning on site.

Hilton, Euston Travel Inn manager in London has introduced ‘100 per cent
champions’ – members of staff, nominated by their peers or managers, who have
shown a real understanding of or commitment to the guarantee. So far there are

has also set up a monthly guarantee forum to discuss any issues raised as a
result of the guarantee.

has no doubts about the value of the guarantee. "Previously, if the
customer had a serious problem it was felt that only the manager could deal
with it. Now everyone in the hotel deals with customer care and it’s certainly
made my life easier."

and figures
Six steps to satisfaction

January 2001

customers have asked for their money back

paid back to guests
This is equivalent to 0.39 per cent of room revenue

Complaints to head office halved from 1,500 to 647

Customer satisfaction rates have risen: 56 per cent of customers who complain
say they would stay with Travel Inn again compared with 26 per cent in 1999

Staff turnover has gone down from 76 per cent to 5 per cent

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