At the recent Glasgow Welcomes Champion's event, held at SSE Hydro, guest speaker Angela Newton of Apex Hotels offered her personal experience of the unique approach to people development and culture of service excellence at the successful hotel group.
Angela has been with Apex Hotels for 17 years and holds the role of Group Head of Learning, Development and Quality. The company is celebrating its 20th anniversary and owns nine hotels, three in London and six in Scotland – in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh. A new hotel will open in Bath in 2017.
Apex Hotels has received the TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence for five consecutive years. Amongst many quality initiatives, the newly opened Apex City of Glasgow Hotel has embraced the Glasgow Welcomes: Service Excellence training programme, using it to complement to their own in-house staff training.
Service excellence is very important to the company and Angela describes it as an asset “from the core of the business”.
From top down: Angela says: “The business is – and always has been – established on creating a great culture of caring for staff. There is a feeling of positive attitudes, being aspirational and being able to progress a career and achieve goals. This happens from the chairman at the top to every level of staff.”
A warmer welcome: All new staff at Apex Hotels are given a welcoming “Orientation”. Angela says: “Every new employee is told that they are different and that they were chosen because of their attitude and personality. We believe that qualifications are less important than the right personality because we can train people to do the work but we can’t train them to have the right personalities and attitudes.”
Empowered staff: Staff are encouraged to be autonomous in their daily work. Angela says: “If it feels like the right thing to do for the customer then staff should do it. They should have the autonomy to think for themselves and to offer the very best in customer service excellence.”
Measuring performance: Apex Hotels uses The Global Review Index. This measures on-line reputation across a number of websites, including TripAdvisor, booking.com and 5pm.com At the time of the GW event, Apex Hotels had scored an 89.7% customer satisfaction rating after 17,175 customer reviews.
Angela says: “We keep a close eye on The Global Review Index because we feel it is important to recognise when our company is doing well. We want to know what we are successful at, as well as making sure we address any issues that guests complain about. We also compare our performance with others in our industry. We want to know how well we are doing and compare with competitors.”
Recruiting process: In 2014, Apex Hotels introduced a new system for the initial stages of recruitment. Angela says: “We have embraced an assessment centre approach for our higher volume positions. The potential employees first attend an assessment centre where they work in teams doing a range of different activities.
"We have found that this quickly identifies people ready for a 1:1 interview with department managers as they will have shown the potential to fit in with our culture.” Since this system has been introduced Angela reports there has been a drop in staff turnover.
L&D: Learning and development programmes for staff are seen by Apex Hotels as vital not only for improved skills, but also for staff motivation and, therefore, happier customers. At the Glasgow hotel, Angela has been a keen advocator of the Glasgow Welcomes’ training programme.
She says: “Glasgow Welcomes perfectly complements our own in-house training. We are very keen on training staff in customer service excellence. We’ve been making good use of the online module for front-line and central reservations teams, in addition to training up two in-house trainers to deliver the Glasgow Welcomes workshops.”
Apex Hotels also has a dedicated Centre of Excellence to promote all aspects of L&D from apprenticeships, SQA qualifications, workshops and external training. Angela is also a part of the team working in partnerships with other Hotels to support the newly created Scottish Apprenticeship in Hospitality programme for 17 to 24-year-olds.
Angela says: “We want to grow our own talented people and ensure they are progressing and feeling fulfilled in the workplace. We believe in Hospitality being a positive career choice and our future L&D plans will support all levels of employees within our company.”
Feedback from the event attendees was very positive.
Hollie Russell, Celtic FC, said: “I will be taking so much back to the workplace with me from this morning's session including advice about engaging across the organisation and not just working in single departments. I can see how important it is that everyone is on board with the same message about customer service excellence.”
Allie Barr, Hard Rock Café, said: “It was really interesting to listen to the tips and advice about engagement and customer service. It underlined that we already have many good practices in place at Hard Rock Cafe but, of course, there is always room for improvement. In particular, I liked the point about empowering staff to deal with customer issues and also making sure that staff engage with customers in the first instance.”
* Many thanks to Angela for giving us an insight into how Apex Hotels has become a successful employer and a leader in hotel customer service excellence.