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Colleague empowerment : How your staff CAN make a difference

Joe - 7 th July 2021

As the hospitality and leisure industries continue to find their feet operating in this new era of Covid-19, we explore the impact on colleagues, some of the attitudes of customers they serve and how the vital frontline can be empowered to deliver a great customer experience despite challenges.  

There is no doubt that consumer expectations have changed drastically recently. “We’ve had surprisingly unforgiving customers post-covid, you’d think people would be really forgiving because they’ve waited so long to go out but now they can come out, they want it to be perfect! And everyone is stretched so that’s not going to happen, unfortunately,” General Manager, Pub and brewery

Whilst many customers may acknowledge that colleagues are facing a difficult task in providing excellent customer experiences, they still expect it. 

Our survey has found that customers expect colleagues to actively manage the environments they work in: 74% of customers expect colleagues to ask customers to wear a mask, 71% expect them to ask customers to keep their social distance and 53% expect colleagues to ask customers to remain seated in restaurants. This means the pressure is on colleagues to not only fulfil the role they are employed to do, but also to become health and safety officers and bouncers. 

A hotel receptionist we spoke to shares this experience, “Some have been really good and wear masks and distance and keep away from members of staff at a safe distance but I’ve found everyone from their 20’s -60’s don’t wear their masks and have to be reminded and also to keep their distance.”

The data also suggests that whilst some customers are more tolerant now, they don’t expect to be accepting of changes made to the CX in response to Covid-19, in a year’s time. For example, 60% will tolerate queuing now but only 19% say that will tolerate it in a year’s time and 59% expect to book several weeks in advance now but only 20% would expect to have to do this next year. Brands and their colleagues are having to respond quickly to attitudes now but will also need to stay ahead of expectations. 

Colleagues are under pressure with their roles changing rapidly in response to the virus, new legislation and changing customers. A theme park hospitality manager told us: "No, we did not have any new hires, and we were already understaffed which made team morale low due to overworking and lack of management. Training was limited and last minute, with new protocols being explained just before service.”  The data shows that the audience is split: 41% of people believe that covid-19 is being used as an excuse for poor customer service whilst 39% disagree. 63% say they are more tolerant towards ‘small slip-ups in service’ now, but only 19% claim they will accept it in a year’s time. The hospitality and leisure industries are currently facing a recruitment and training crisis in the wake of Covid-19 and Brexit, finding the numbers of qualified and willing talent is extremely challenging for most businesses. 

So, how can colleagues on the frontline be empowered to design and implement suitable processes and solutions that work for them and their customers?

Over the years we have been fortunate enough to work with some great clients who HAVE managed to empower their frontline teams to address inefficient and broken processes that were not only leading to a poor customer experience but were also causing numerous headaches for the staff attempting to run these processes. Here’s an example of a company who “got it right.”

A UK-based international airport had an issue with lost property in their Security area – the finding, identification, collection, storage and repatriation of it. In a recent survey of passengers passing through the airport, lost property was the 4th highest customer complaint: they were finding around 80 items per day and only 25% of those were being returned to the customer. 

When senior management decided that this process was one that should be targeted for improvement, a project team was assembled – the make-up of which was 4 members of staff who worked within the Security lanes and who lived and breathed the lost property process on a daily basis.

This team of colleagues quickly realised that their knowledge of the process – although excellent from the Security area part of the process – did not extend to what happens after those forgotten goods leave their area. For this reason, the project team were encouraged to reach out to the organisation responsible for the management of the lost property – a 3rd party working within the airport – and brought those people who actually collected, removed and stored the goods into their project team, essentially mirroring the “team-building” formula used earlier.

This project team was now a strong one, with knowledge of the entire lost property process – from finding an item in a Security lane to a customer getting that item back, sometimes many weeks later. But they didn’t stop there!

The team knew that the detail and answers behind this problem lay with their colleagues, so to capture a wider picture from those people “in the know”, the project team built a questionnaire and shared it with their co-workers. In less than 2 weeks, it was clear that the lost property issue was a pain numerous people within the business felt and wanted to improve and this was reflected in the whopping 100 questionnaire responses that were received. The project team now had a fantastic suite of data and insight which they used to drill down into the issue of lost property and uncover several different root causes of the problem.

Solutions were then developed and prioritised and the team had one or two different ideas they wanted to test. Having been strongly encouraged to get this far with the project, senior management was not going to deter the colleagues’ enthusiasm now and instead agreed that a pilot should be conducted – on a normal busy day in Security – to test the impact of the team’s solutions. Nobody was disappointed! 

During the 2-week Pilot period, lost property per passenger halved and the number of items collected was significantly lower in the two “Pilot lanes” compared to the other lanes in the area. In addition, improved labelling, and storage of lost property in the test lanes lead to a far easier and quicker collection process for the 3rd party and improved the chances of repatriation of the lost items back to the passengers.

The project had been a huge success and that was primarily down to the make-up and empowerment gave to the project team – setting an example for all within the airport that improving a process or solving a problem happens much more effectively if the people living and breathing that process are given the opportunity, support and tools to drive the change.  

In summary, this organisation had recognised the potential of investing in their people. And it is an investment. This project team was one of a number who, over the last few years, have been trained and upskilled in continuous improvement/problem-solving techniques – one of several training courses we offer at Brand Vista.

Any training course delivered by an external, 3rd party obviously has an impact on organisations – both financially and timewise (candidates are required to spend time away from their day-to-day activities to attend) – but we always try to encourage businesses to see the bigger picture and think of their initial investment as something that will pay dividends in the long run. In addition to any gains made from initial improvement projects delivered during the training, the real win in following this approach is knowing that you ultimately have a team of upskilled front-line colleagues who, if the organisation lets them, will be empowered to continue looking for positive change within their areas and delivering business benefits and improved customer and colleague experiences for many more years to come.

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Joe’s background is in manufacturing where he ran and oversaw numerous improvement projects bringing benefits to both internal and external customers. As a CI consultant he has expanded his field of work to numerous other sectors including retail, finance and logistics. Joe firmly believes that regardless of the industry looking to make improvements, quality data collection and analysis is key. 
Find out more about Joe