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UK Business Embrace Customer Service Training

Nov 24, 2007
In today's competitive markets, it is often the quality of customer service that determines the winners and losers.

'Customer service training can be the magic ingredient that makes a business or organisation stand out from the crowd.' says Mike Wilkinson, Chief Executive of Lancashire and Blackpool Tourist Board and Chair of the North West Tourism Sector Skills and Productivity Alliance for Tourism in the North West.

'Great customer service training makes all the difference when it comes to winning repeat business, and acts as a magnet to quality staff as well as improving staff retention rates.'

Since launch in 1993, over 300,000 people throughout the UK have taken part in Welcome to Excellence- the largest customer service training programme in the UK and the only one recommended by the The Regional Tourist Board Partnerships Ltd.

Clients range from tiny B&Bs to some of the biggest names in tourism and leisure such as Bourne Leisure, De Vere, English Heritage and the new Wembley Arena.

In the North West, Welcome to Excellence has been embraced by thousands of businesses large and small, with more than 2000 people being trained each year.

Mike Wilkinson says 'Welcome to Excellence currently offers a series of seven interactive one day courses, all of which are frequently updated to reflect changing conditions and legislation.

'Welcome Host' is perhaps the most famous of the seven courses, but the Welcome to Excellence programme also includes much more for staff at every level. For example, 'Welcome All' focuses on how to provide a top class welcome to people with disabilities, 'Welcome International' provides an insight into how to deal with people from other cultures and 'Welcome Management' is designed especially for managers, showing how to develop a business-wide customer service strategy.

'Welcome to Excellence is already widely regarded as the gold standard by the tourism, leisure and hospitality sectors, but we are now seeing it being increasingly sought after by other businesses and organisations for which customer service is critical such as local authorities, transport operators and retail outlets.'

'Fantastic!' is how Jackie Mottershead of Oswaldwhistle Mills, describes the impact of Welcome to Excellence on the shopping village near Blackburn, which is the third biggest tourist attraction in Lancashire.

Oswaldwhistle Mills employs 60 staff of its own, all of whom took part in Welcome Host training, in addition to 70 staff employed by concessionary retail outlets based in the shopping village.

'I was amazed and thrilled by the scale of the impact' says Jackie. 'The staff had a huge improvement in motivation and our sales increased by 20 per cent in the six months following the training. Welcome to Excellence was certainly the biggest single factor in this achievement.'

Mike Williamson comments 'It's always exciting to see evidence of the huge difference that great customer service training can make.'

The Imperial War Museum North is an award winning building created by world famous architect Daniel Libeskind in a stunning waterfront location in Manchester. Danielle Hird, Volunteer Coordinator at the Museum, was determined that the quality of customer service should be as impressive as the design of the building. She turned to Welcome to Excellence to raise standard in customer service amongst the front of house volunteers on whom the Museum depends. Over the last two years, more than 70 volunteers have benefited from both the 'Welcome Host' and 'Welcome All' training courses.

Danielle says 'We chose Welcome to Excellence because it allows volunteers to gain an accredited customer service certificate.

'The Welcome to Excellence courses are great. They help increase the volunteers' awareness and understanding of the vital importance of their role. For many, it is also a real confidence boost and shows them how to deal with tricky customer situations. It also helps inspire them to make the most of their role and really try to improve the customer experience. Importantly, our customers really notice the difference. We get very positive comments about the quality of customer service at the Museum. The culture of the organization has stepped up a gear - customer service is now something that all staff and volunteers see as central to what we provide'

This is a viewpoint shared by Charles Quinn, Visitor Services Officer at Grosvenor Museum in Chester, which has made extensive use of the Welcome to Excellence programme.

Charles says 'Local authority services such as ours are constantly striving to deliver best value and Welcome to Excellence has been extremely useful in helping us maintain high levels of customer service. Our staff invariably return from the courses more positive and motivated, with a fresh perspective on the importance of their role. This makes all the difference to the quality of the customer experience.'

Welcome to Excellence training is available throughout the year at a number of local venues. However, another option is to train your own in-house Welcome to Excellence trainer. This was the route preferred by Centre Island, an independent Liverpool based hotel group comprising two Crowne Plaza hotels, four Holiday Inns, two Express by Holiday Inns and a boutique hotel, 62 Castle St.

Dee Keeley, Group HR Manager says ' We see customer service training as absolutely crucial to helping us achieve and keep the edge we want in the marketplace.

' We opted for Welcome to Excellence because it is an established programme and it is also constantly being refreshed and developed. Welcome to Excellence was also cost effective, compared to the other options we considered. What's more, the programme can be delivered in-house by our own team, something we think is very important to keep the momentum going.'

For Centre Island, being able to train and support their own in-house trainer through Welcome to Excellence was an essential part of the appeal. 'It gives us complete flexibility' says Dee 'It means that the trainers can tailor the courses to make them completely relevant to our business and also makes it simple to run the courses frequently. We run a training programme every two months in each of our nine hotels.'

Mike Williamson says 'We believe passionately in the value of customer service training and are actively involved in assisting with customer service training for the Capital of Culture in Merseyside in 2008. We are delighted that subsidised Welcome to Excellence training is available in the North West, with approximately 50% of the funding from the North West Development Agency.'

Looking to the future, Welcome to Excellence is set to introduce a stream of new courses over the coming years as well as refresh the existing courses.

Sue Gill of The Regional Tourist Board Partnerships Ltd says 'With the Olympics and Paralympics Games in London in 2012, The eyes of the world will be on the UK and the event will interface with all parts of the UK's customer management and service offering. There has never been a more important time for all businesses to raise the bar when it comes to customer service training. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us all to aim to set new world class standards'

Mike Wilkinson is confident about ambitions for the North West.

He concludes 'We have a great and long tradition of hospitality in the North West of England and through building on that heritage through consistent improvement and customer service training, we can ensure that our businesses continue to lead the way and increase their competitiveness, providing standards of customer service that are second to none.'
About the Author
Sue Gill is the Head of Skills and Training for Tourism South East who offer a range of customer service training courses.
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