How to Create an Evaluation Program from an Outsider's Point of View

By John Ely Senior Vice President of Marketing, Signature Worldwide | December 18, 2009

I've often been asked about the value of external evaluation programs, especially in the world of customer service and sales. I believe there's no better way to truly understand your customer's experience than to pretend to be one. There are many reasons why, so let me share them in the following story.

Back in the early '90s, I was working for a communications company and we had recently spent a lot of money trying to improve our perception of customer service. As you know, communications (phone) companies were notoriously lacking in these skills, especially in the previous decade. The majority of the money and energy was spent on a customer tracking or Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system. At the time, it seemed like the panacea for all of our customer service ills, but of course it was not.

The system came with a lot of bells and whistles and promised to finally integrate all of our existing systems while also managing the customer experience from beginning to end. While it did that from a technology standpoint, we didn't account for the human factor. The greatest customer relationship software in the world is useless unless everyone using it understands the way it works and its relation to the important fundamentals of customer service.

As marketing manager, what I found was that our customers were still not having a good experience with us, and that customer service had actually deteriorated after installing the system. Management wasn't necessarily interested to hear that the multi-million dollar investment in customer service had actually worsened our reputation. But our marketing team couldn't stop discussing our customer service index scores (from surveys) and the fact that they were still declining!

"What do we do now?" was the question asked by a regional vice president. My suggestion was that we install a mystery shopping system to experience exactly what our customers were experiencing. I felt this was the only way to truly identify where and how we were falling short. We all had heard of these types of services, but his view (like most executives with this company) was of retail mystery shoppers and had trouble understanding the value to our firm (even though we did operate some retail outlets). We finally got the OK and began working with a company to map out the program. We started by identifying all customer touchpoints.

In this assessment process, we looked at every way a customer could interact with our company. To my amazement, we had hundreds of touchpoints and many thousands of interactions every day. Each one presented an opportunity to either demonstrate the best of our company or to fall short of customer expectations. We developed customer scenarios for each type of touchpoint, created shopper reporting tools, and began the mystery shopping process.

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Human Resources: An Era of Transition

Traditionally, the human resource department administers five key areas within a hotel operation - compliance, compensation and benefits, organizational dynamics, selection and retention, and training and development. However, HR professionals are also presently involved in culture-building activities, as well as implementing new employee on-boarding practices and engagement initiatives. As a result, HR professionals have been elevated to senior leadership status, creating value and profit within their organization. Still, they continue to face some intractable issues, including a shrinking talent pool and the need to recruit top-notch employees who are empowered to provide outstanding customer service. In order to attract top-tier talent, one option is to take advantage of recruitment opportunities offered through colleges and universities, especially if they have a hospitality major. This pool of prospective employees is likely to be better educated and more enthusiastic than walk-in hires. Also, once hired, there could be additional training and development opportunities that stem from an association with a college or university. Continuing education courses, business conferences, seminars and online instruction - all can be a valuable source of employee development opportunities. In addition to meeting recruitment demands in the present, HR professionals must also be forward-thinking, anticipating the skills that will be needed in the future to meet guest expectations. One such skill that is becoming increasingly valued is “resilience”, the ability to “go with the flow” and not become overwhelmed by the disruptive influences  of change and reinvention. In an era of transition—new technologies, expanding markets, consolidation of brands and businesses, and modifications in people's values and lifestyles - the capacity to remain flexible, nimble and resilient is a valuable skill to possess. The March Hotel Business Review will examine some of the strategies that HR professionals are employing to ensure that their hotel operations continue to thrive.