Mad about customers

The business

Moat House Hotels currently operates 32 hotels across the UK, from Glasgow to Plymouth. It employs 3,700 people and has a team of eight in HR. In the 1990s it got into serious financial difficulties and, as a result, by the time a new managing director joined the company in 2001 it was heavily in debt and unable to match the level of investment that its competitors were making in their estates.

The challenge

Moira Laird, HR director, says that while customer service had always been important to the company, it became even more so in 2001.

“We had reached the end of a customer service training programme and felt it was time for a new direction,” she recalls. “Our financial situation meant the only way we could establish a competitive advantage was through quality customer service.”

The solution

Laird decided to bring in external consultants Invigor8 to help her lead this new customer service drive. “I liked the way Invigor8 challenged us to define the culture of the business, to look at our mission and our personality, to identify what we wanted to achieve and how we wanted to achieve it. It also challenged us not to solely focus on profit measures – it recognised broader business objectives,” she explains.

The first stage of the ‘Making a Difference’ (MAD) programme was a two-day workshop for the UK executive team, at which the company’s mission was defined. Laird explains: “A newly-formed steering committee, comprising representatives of every part of the business, took this mission statement and translated it into something practical to which every employee could relate.”

Andy Clark, one of the directors at Invigor8 who led the process, describes the next stages: “From the summer of 2002 and throughout 2003 we implemented a three-pronged strategy. In ‘clarity’ we communicated the mission to everyone in the business. In ‘alignment’ we ensured that the key measures of business performance were all in line with this mission. And in ‘engagement’, we ran a 12-month programme of team sessions, in which managers and their teams identified what they would do to deliver success.”

In 2004, the company moved on to its next phase. It identified seven universal standards that all staff members should exhibit. These resulted from customer feedback and industry reports on what makes consumers choose one hotel over another – ranging from staff dressing smartly to calling guests by their name. The standards were communicated and reinforced through weekly training sessions. Hotel managers now check one of the seven standards at random every morning.

The outcome

The last year for which results are available – 2003 – shows that the process was working. In that year customer complaints fell by 26%, customer satisfaction rose by 8%, and the employee commitment rating rose by 7%. In 2004 this contributed to the business exceeding its target for gross operating profit.

Even Laird was surprised by how well the programme worked.

“In 2004, the company was taken over by Whitehall Funds and Westmont Hospitality. This followed a period of strategic review during which shares were suspended and a number of hotels were sold. We were able to keep MAD going during all this uncertainty, mainly because we had ensured it was owned by the operators, and facilitated by HR,” she says.

The MAD programme is ongoing and has recently focused on MAD About Family Matters and is now working on MAD About Conferences, as the hotel chain attempts to improve its market share in those two areas.

Employee perspective

Mark Langham joined Moat House Hotels 10 years ago. He has worked at four of the company’s hotels and is now the operations manager at Lakeside Moat House. He was involved in the first roll-out of the MAD programme in 2001 when he was working in Winchester.

“Each month, I got the team together and we looked at the company’s mission statement and three aspects of the company personality: ‘passionate about our customers’, ‘one team together’, and ‘be the best we can be’. We had sessions where we’d related those aspects to what we did, and discussed how we were doing and what we could improve,” he says.

In 2004, Langham was invited to join the MAD steering committee, and worked on the development of the seven universal standards. He says that the MAD programme has helped to develop a more supportive working atmosphere.

“People do things such as picking up litter in the car park. Our team satisfaction has risen from 74% to 92%,” he says. “Having staff members who are keyed into management objectives has made my job a lot easier.”

Learning points for HR

Moira Laird offers this advice to anyone who is setting up a major culture change programme: “Ensure you know what the business wants to achieve, and gain the buy-in of the top team. It’s essential that you have this, to ensure everyone really engages with it and wants it to work.”

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