Today, the Novotel London West in Hammer-smith is a quality hotel and convention centre with a turnover of £25m and 180 permanent staff supplemented by 70 agency employees. However, four years ago it was an ordinary tourist hotel offering ever lower prices and struggling to shake off a poor reputation with its staff and customers.
The French parent company, Accor, decided it needed to reverse this decline, so it brought in a new general manager, Ren Angoujard, and invested 30m on converting the hotel into a convention centre.
Angoujard says: "Having invested that much in the building, it was important that we also invested in our staff to ensure they provided a service that was consistent with a four-star convention centre."
He spent a year searching for an HR director who was prepared to take on the challenge, and eventually hired Helen Kalyan. Together with Angoujard's assistant, they formed a project team and developed a service philosophy called 'Service Extraordinaire'.
The first stage of the training programme was to agree four standards:
- Look professional - be professional
- Greet every guest and colleague
- Look after your hotel
- Be positive.
These were devised through consultation with hotel guests and employees and by observing other convention centres and service-orientated companies, such as airlines. The team set the launch date of 4 November 2002 and gave all employees one month to prepare for it.
Each employee had a three-hour training session on the changes and Angoujard also wrote to all of them, explaining Service Extraordinaire and enclosing a credit card-style reminder listing the four standards.
Kalyan admits it was difficult to alter the mindset of some employees, however.
"Many people had been here a long time and had developed a 'couldn't care less' attitude," she says. "They were resistant to change, and we had to work really hard to show how much this initiative would benefit individuals as well as the hotel."
A major step forward was the decision to appoint 10 coaches. The team advertised internally, promising training to successful applicants and received 37 applications. After training on coaching they were expected to do regular checks of areas of the hotel, directly addressing any gaps in service and coaching fellow employees on h