IACC Accreditation Adds Up to Value and Customer Satisfaction

By Dianne Pepe Director of Group Sales, Millennium Broadway Hotel, New York | October 21, 2012

Do we make too much of accreditation? Based on TV advertising and grocery store labels, it seems like everything is "certified" something. What does a "certified pre-owned" automobile mean anyway? That it's guaranteed to be used? Seems like that would be pretty obvious from checking the mileage.

But if almost everything we buy or use comes with some kind of accreditation or claim to be special, how do you separate the valuable from the frivolous? (Did you know there's a website for useless and meaningless certifications; you can become a certified small talk conversationalist or ham sandwich maker.)

The serious answer to what makes an accreditation valuable, at least in our business, is customer satisfaction; to be more specific, an ability to surprise and reward customers by exceeding their expectations. At the Millennium Broadway Hotel New York, an accreditation we value highly is the International Association of Conference Centers, or IACC.

Since 1981, IACC has encouraged hotels and conference centers to meet a strict and demanding set of quality standards for facilities and service in order to earn the association's accreditation. What we find at the Millennium Broadway Hotel New York – and I'm sure it's true for the other approximately 300 IACC members around the world – is that this certification, symbolizing the standards that we are required to meet, helps drive business, including new and diversified business, and promotes customer trust and loyalty. It does so because the product that IACC membership demands is understood by meeting planners and the end user, meeting attendees, as delivering outstanding value. More on that in a minute.

There is no doubt that IACC standards are challenging and for many hotels may require significant changes, even reconstruction. You must have dedicated, single-use conference space that is set apart from accommodations and leisure areas like restaurants and bars. A hotel must generate a minimum of 60 percent of revenue from meetings and conferences. There must be at least one conference room of 1,000 square feet minimum and at least three other rooms with no moveable walls. In the case of multi-day conferences, conference rooms must be dedicated entirely to the group using them so that nothing has to be moved in or out between sessions.

Conference rooms must be equipped with ergonomically-designed chairs, tables with hard, non-glare writing surfaces and privacy screens, for the comfort and ease of female attendees, tackable walls and good sound-proofing. The meeting spaces must have in-room lighting control, including the ability to shut out external light if desired, individual climate controls, advanced telecommunications, modern AV capabilities, and high-speed internet access. Guest rooms must be "business-friendly," with desks, telephone lines, simultaneous internet connectivity and appropriate seating and lighting. (If you are interested, the IACC website can provide all the detailed specifications for qualifying facilities.

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Guest Service: A Culture of YES

In a recent global consumers report, 97% of the participants said that customer service is a major factor in their loyalty to a brand, and 76% said they view customer service as the true test of how much a company values them. And since there is no industry more reliant on customer satisfaction than the hotel industry, managers must be unrelenting in their determination to hire, train and empower the very best people, and to create a culture of exceptional customer service within their organization. Of course, this begins with hiring the right people. There are people who are naturally service-oriented; people who are warm, empathetic, enthusiastic, pleasant, thoughtful and optimistic; people who take pride in their ability to solve problems for the hotel guests they are serving. Then, those same employees must be empowered to solve problems using their own judgment, without having to track down a manager to do it. This is how seamless problem solving and conflict resolution are achieved in guest service. This willingness to empower employees is part of creating a Culture of Yes within an organization.  The goal is to create an environment in which everyone is striving to say “Yes”, rather than figuring out ways to say, “No”. It is essential that this attitude be instilled in all frontline, customer-facing, employees. Finally, in order to ensure that the hotel can generate a consistent level of performance across a wide variety of situations, management must also put in place well-defined systems and standards, and then educate their employees about them. Every employee must be aware of and responsible for every standard that applies in their department. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.