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Understanding the Developing Perspectives in Quality Assurance - Part 1 of 2.
By Dr. John Hogan, CHE CHA CMHS
Sunday, 31st October 2010
 
Quality is one of those words that seem to be often defined as, 'I'll know it when I see it', and yet less than stellar real world experiences in hospitality demonstrate that excellence does need additional definition.

Quality
  • goods of the highest quality
  • a characteristic of somebody or something
  • an essential identifying nature or character of somebody or something
  • the highest or finest standard - excellence
Assurance
  • a declaration that inspires or is intended to inspire confidence
  • confidence in personal ability or status
  • freedom from uncertainty
  • making something certain or overcoming doubt
In this series on Quality, I reached out to a well-known, international company that works with many different types of hotels, as well as other hospitality and service businesses.   LRA Worldwide, Inc.1  has worked with companies and brands for more than 20 years. The company, through research and consulting, works to assist their clients to better understand existing customer experiences and to identify unmet customer needs and wants. 

For this Hospitality Conversation, I spoke at some length with John Roberto, Senior Vice President & Managing Director of Quality Assurance at LRA Worldwide, Inc.

Question 1: 
What is your organization seeing in different approaches in maintaining and improving the delivery of excellence today?  Are there trends?

Answer: 
We see that there are three phases or trends in quality assurance today and they are all rather distinct, but build on each other.

The first is the Traditional Quality Assurance Inspection format. Many brands still do variations of this.  To answer your question on approach, these are not the "catch someone doing something wrong" inspections of earlier times, but meant to enforce the quality compliance aspects of franchise or brand agreements.  These are usually announced visits and frequently focus on the physical product.  They include a property tour and our team tries to interact with the hotel staff when possible.

Question 2:
With the Traditional Quality Assurance Inspection, what is the focus and who directs what is evaluated?

Answer:
The focus is on the fundamentals, which is usually cleanliness and facility condition. Certain life safety related items such as validating approved electronic door locks and brand-approved products are usually addressed.  Items such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers may or may not be included.

These semi-annual traditional inspections are initiated and evaluated by corporate operations groups and/or the QA group. Brand fundamentals are usually limited to signage, logo use, some amenities and basic core products that may be considered important by the brand.

Question 3:
How are these traditional programs scored? Are they more focused on product or service issues?
 
Answer:
These programs are objective, scoring is well defined, fairly rigid, and there are penalty points for repeat violations.  Depending on the brand, some portions of the inspections scores may be weighted and they are designed to "trigger" a failure for serious issues, which could lead to a default to the franchisee.

Service is generally not included in these traditional programs, although some properties may use local mystery shoppers to evaluate service

Question 4:
Are traditional programs still the main thrust of the industry efforts or are you seeing an evolution in some areas?

Answer:
Traditional programs continue to be used by a good number of brands and hotels, but we are finding it more of a "past" practice.   Many companies in the past 3 to 5 years have moved to the second trend we see, which is more of a Focus on Operations.  

These quality assurance programs are Brand and Product Evaluations that include a change meant to support the growing number of branded products. For example, consumers have likely heard of the "Heavenly Bed" even if they have not stayed at a Westin.  There are examples of brand endorsed or approved coffees, coffee makers, soaps and other amenities.

The brand purchase specifications are now much more rigid in some companies, and the QA programs can adjust, as there are fewer deviations to monitor. The emphasis has shifted to be more of a sharing of best practices to ensure proper implementation of branded programs.

Question 5:
With this shift, which areas at the brand headquarters are evaluating these Operational Focused QA efforts?

With a nod to learning and training, these QA efforts are jointly evaluated and "owned" by both "operations" and "brand marketing" for the first time.   The focus on "brand influence" is addressing segments of the audit for each brand within a portfolio and brands are now requesting more specifics to support their marketing message and promises.

Scoring is becoming more varied to drive the marketing promise and messages of the brand and there are now scorecards used, contrasted with the former "pass/fail" result. In addition, because many companies have brand segmentation, (luxury, lifestyle, full-service, select-service, economy); these QA programs are now more subjective, and not just objective scoring.

The Focus on Operations is also now including (depending on the brand) branded service culture, scripted service and QA is viewed as a support  tool to reinforce training initiatives and monitor service interactions, loyalty programs and other items a company might be focused on. 

Compliance is checked more by looking at records and documentation during the property tour and the emphasis on life safety is emphasized as the responsibility of the owners rather than liability of the brand.  These QA visits are not announced and the service portion may be anonymous and followed by an announced visit with property management.  Audits tend to be scheduled annually, with re-visits for low performing properties

Hospitality Conversations – Understanding the developing perspectives in Quality Assurance (Part 2) will address the third evolving trend, which is considered by LRA professionals as the most forward looking and exciting. Part 2 will also discuss self-directed Tool-Centered Audits and offer specific suggestions for hoteliers in all market segments
  
John Roberto, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Quality Assurance
John Roberto is the leader of LRA's Quality Assurance Group, a member of the firm's Management Committee and one who played a key role in the formation of LRA's quality assurance, mystery shopping, inspection, and compliance programs. Now in his thirteenth year at LRA, John has traveled extensively around the world and has personally visited more than 1,000 hotel properties. At LRA, he is responsible for managing a number of major client relationships in the hospitality and leisure, sports and entertainment and food services industries.   A graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA., his industry background includes positions with Stouffer Hotels, Four Seasons Hotels and luxury independent properties as well as service as Housing Manager for the 1990 Goodwill Games. 


1 - www.lraworldwide.com/index.html

John Hogan is a successful hospitality executive, educator, author and consultant and is a frequent keynote speaker and seminar leader at many hospitality industry events.  He is Co-Founder of a consortium of successful corporate and academic professionals delivering focused and affordable counsel in solving specific challenges facing hospitality today.

HospitalityEducators.com is a membership site offering a wide range of information, forms, best practices and ideas that are designed to help individual hoteliers and hospitality businesses improve their market penetration, deliver service excellence and increase their profitability. 

www.HoganHospitality.com
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