The UK’s hospitality industry is gearing up to be the frontline of our international reputation over the next few years as we host a series of international sporting and cultural events – the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Titanic centenary celebrations in 2012, the Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Rugby World Cup in 2015. How welcoming and helpful we are to our overseas visitors will go a long way to secure the success of these events. And because these events provide opportunities for British business to improve revenue, as well as injecting some much-needed growth into the economy, there is a clear purpose to raise customer service standards in the next six months prior to London 2012.
Our annual State of the Nation research report from the end of last year reinforces that there is a lot of work to do. It revealed that around 86 per cent of hospitality businesses have taken no steps to plan for London 2012 even though 73 per cent (1) of the British public agrees that Britain needs to improve customer service ahead of the Olympics. And in a National Employer Skills survey for England (2) employers cited customerhandling skills, problem-solving skills and team working skills as key skills shortages they were missing within their businesses (41 per cent, 38 per cent and 37 per cent respectively.)
With the support of VisitEngland we have developed WorldHost customer service training for the UK market. Originally developed by British Columbia tourism and used for training nearly 40,000 staff and volunteers in time for the very successful 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, the programme includes the principles of providing excellent customer service as well as additional learning modules on serving customers with disabilities, service across cultures and an ambassador workshop. Using WorldHost, we’ve been working with businesses to get their frontline staff ready as part of our campaign to train 200,000 hospitality and tourism staff ahead of the numerous international sporting and cultural events Britain will be hosting over the next five years.Taking on the challenge
We’ve been encouraged by the response from organisations that are taking on the challenge. The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead in particulartakes customer service very seriously. Home to Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world, the picturesque 4800 acre Windsor Great Park, as well as LEGOLAND Windsor, it knows how critical it is for its community that it welcomes and takes good care of the millions of guests that visit these attractions each year.
Having participated with staff in the localised training programme ‘Welcome Windsor’, for many years Julia White, visitor manager at the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, decided to embark upon something new.
Julia says: “As an attractive destination for visitors from around the UK and overseas, we take our responsibility to provide customer service seriously and the positioning of WorldHost as a national standard for customer service training was instantly appealing.”
The training was open to a number of local businesses including visitor attractions, tourist information centres and hotels, such as the prestigious four-star flagships, Principal Hayley and Oakley Court Hotel.
Julia says: “As a local authority, it’s important to us that we support our local businesses that are the lifeblood of our local economy. WorldHost training has refreshed the skills of those who have been in the industry for years and also provided others with their first qualification in customer service. Feedback on those who participated in the training was very positive. The interactive elements of the
course helped to bring the training off the page and into real-life situations.”Recognition
WorldHost training, which has been awarded the London 2012 Inspire Mark as recognition of the programme’s objective in supporting the legacy themes of the Games, is also being used by the borough to train around 500 volunteers who will be ambassadors for Dorney Lakes, a host venue for the rowing, kayak and Paralympic rowing events during London 2012. These events are due to attract up to 30,000 spectators per day and there will be 3500 staff and volunteers assisting the venue.
Julia says: “With the borough hosting an Olympic event, it is our responsibility to be at our best as we will be on the frontline and the face of the UK for some visitors. It is also hoped that those who have been trained with WorldHost will be deployed at other local Olympic events such as the torch relay, and therefore have more opportunities to put their training to good use. To date, over 100 people have participated in WorldHost training in Windsor, with many more set to follow suit in the next six months before the Games and beyond.”
Looking beyond the Olympic Games, repeat custom is the remedy to British businesses that are facing significant obstacles to growth. And while the deadline of the Games is important, our real ambition is to imbed a national standard for customer service so that the perception of UK’s visitor welcome is world class. In such a competitive market we also hope this will increase the ambition of all customer facing UK businesses to provide excellent service.
The training is also designed to have a positive impact on employee retention. In a sector that has suffered from a reputation for high staff turnover and limited career possibilities, we’re supporting organisations like The Strand Palace Hotel in London, with training programmes and expertise to help build the reputation of a career in hospitality as a skilled profession with opportunities to progress and develop a career for life.
By investing in transferable skills training for staff, employers are showing they are committed to the long-term personal development of their employees. Nadia Simmonds, human resources manager at The Strand Palace, comments: “Ultimately we want to invest in our people; they are the ones who make a real difference to our customers everyday. People in the service industry often move roles more regularly than we’d like and if we can offer continuing professional development we hope to retain our star employees for longer. Already we have had great feedback from our people, especially our managers, following the training.”Maximise the benefits
If we are to maximise the benefit of the increased visitors from the Games, and the wider tourism legacy that results from the UK hosting a series of global events, the opportunity to deliver a consistently high standard of customer service training across all service sectors in the UK is significant. With hospitality businesses leading the way in this regard we can hope to compete with other countries already recognised for high service standards. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to set an example to wider UK businesses for the good of the economy and catalyse real change in our sector.
Sharon Glancy is director of The People 1st Training Company. The company is part of People 1st, the sector skills council for hospitality, travel, tourism and passenger transport, focusing on transforming skills through the development of world class qualifications in management and leadership, customer service and craft skills. The People 1st Training Company delivers quality programmes for service-centred businesses specialising in hospitality, travel, tourism and passenger transport and invests its revenue back into the development of further training for the sector.
For more information, visit www.People1sttraining.co.uk
1 The figures are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 2000 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken in April 2011. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
2 Conducted in 2009 by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills