SpotLight: Listening to Feedback - Staff and Guest Questionnaires.
Weekly by Sarah Muxlow
Wednesday, 12th April 2006
As the hospitality industry moves toward achieving higher standards than ever, the measuring and defining of best known practices is becoming essential. Executives, managers, producers and owners alike are showing an increased interest in benchmarking in all areas of their organisations.

Starting in-house, there is a drive to define and set clear objectives for each job and task process. Detailed documents outlining work flow provide a means to identify areas that have problems, measure achievements and set a course for improvement.

Externally, diversification makes the criteria for comparison with competitors more complex. The competition within smaller geographic areas, fierce. The Korean hotel industry has seen the over construction of hotels. Any hotel keen to stand out in the crowd has to really be better than the competition to survive. The question then is: How do we really measure ourselves against the competition? Followed by, How can we really improve and know we have improved?

Benchmarking itself is a means to continuously measure the process of improvement, using a set of robust indicators. Robust indicators being a list of questions in the form of a questionnaire or survey.

The need for benchmarking internationally within the hospitality industry has been responded to by The International Hotel and Restaurant Association (IH&RA), based in Paris. In 2005, the IH&RA embarked on the evolution of a program that will develop a library of Hotel and Restaurant Association Best Practices.

This will involve a reference data base which will be available to existing and new members. The aim is to enable Executives and Managers to enhance service quality, value, customer satisfaction and financial results within their establishments.

The primary use of collecting data is to use the results to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of an individual or department, the performance of the establishment as a whole or customer satisfaction levels.

Frequently measuring existing service quality against objectives and desired standards, is known to assist in realistic strategic planning toward improvement. Knowing internal strengths and weaknesses is a good way to evaluate comparative advantage. There are a wide range of elements that can be measured and evaluated in a restaurant or hotel, such as service quality, range and quality of facilities, staff training and employment packages – the impact staff have is important, teamwork, and management methods to name a few…. Each in tern has an impact on a different area.

There are several methods of collecting data such as surveys and questionnaires as well as carrying out interviews and observations. Many restaurants and hotels are measuring in several ways in several areas at any one time. The Hilton has a defined process for staff recruitment, appraisals and training for example. Most 4 and 5 star hotels have customer satisfaction questionnaires.

As with any change initiation process, the commitment to seeing it through and being realistic in terms of expectations and time frames is essential. Collating the data collected, presenting results positively in regular feedback sessions, following up with a course of action in response, then re-measuring for improvement, takes time.

Improvement programmes and action plans often incorporate further training for staff to improve skill levels, renovating and refurbishing areas of the building, overall changes in product range or menu to suit customer requests. Often there is a need to change work style and department organization and all this change has an impact on the budget. Taking the temperature and measuring how well any element of the business is working has an impact, as it could be expected. When actively looking for strengths and weaknesses, the weaknesses appear and prompt the need for solutions to be found and goals worked toward.

Creating an in-house culture made up of individuals and departments that have a willingness to change and make a difference is only achieve with intention . Many market leaders are devoting a lot of time striving toward improvement. Keen to get it right on the inside as much as competing on the outside, each department and employee is assessed and asked to work and contribute toward achieving higher standards and aim to continuously set new ones.

Each job has a description in terms of tasks, responsibility, knowledge expected and process by which to carry out the job. Checks are carried out by department heads at regular intervals. A programme to increase knowledge base is decided. For example, when a new chef is introduced to the kitchen team, he/she is shown the standard and presentation of each dish he/she is expected to cook. Behind this demonstration and initial inductions are factors of cost control, hygiene, ingredient selection, cooking method, the way the dish is presented and correct temperature served at. The standard is clearly defined.

The way each individual chef is able to complete their job makes up the overall efficiency and level of the kitchen department as a whole. How does the performance of one kitchen team compare to another? Competitive edge is more than about what is on the menu, the price and the style of cuisine. The way the team functions and range of skill becomes essential to sustain pole position.

Some areas of work practice are easier to measure and define than others. In a survey published in Organizational Dynamics, it was found that 78% of Japanese, Western European and American Managers believe that service improvements are key to competitive success. If you then take this example of 'quality of service', the process suddenly becomes more complex. How do we measure and define ‘quality of service'? It is intangible and elusive in nature. In this case it is essential to identify and prioritise service attributes.

The starting question is: What is important to our customers? In many cases, customer satisfaction questionnaires list service components and facilities that are known to have an impact on customer satisfaction. For example: safety, cleanliness, price, size of room, comfort, atmosphere. In customer service there are more areas of importance, such as: reliability, responsiveness, competence, communication, knowing and understanding the customer. (SERVQUAL and AHP list scales with many items that define service quality and can be used as a framework to adapt to house style and nature of an establishment.)

However, tracking customer perceptions is only one way to check the pulse. Customers are not always aware of the "correct procedure", whereas staff are. Front line staff often have a very good idea of what their customers want. Employees feedback is essential when bridging the gap between management perception and customer expectation.

SpotLight is the weekly column exclusively written for 4Hoteliers.com by Sarah Muxlow, it is highlighting the challenges and issues which the global hospitality is facing today.

Sarah is writing for hotel and restaurant owners, hotel chain managers, producers/growers/sellers of food & beverage, restaurant associations, governing bodies and hotel schools. She is looking at the problems they face...competition, trends of branding, staff shortages, unskilled staff, turning out students who are looking for good in-house management training schemes with hotel chains, what makes a good quality training course at a hotel school and more... 

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