Carlar Hospitality Consultants Company Profile “Helping The Best Become Better Yet!”


An osprey soars over Leslie Rochford's Kelowna, British Columbia-based office. In this semi-rural setting overlooking Okanagan Lake, the busy hotel quality control consultant has time to reflect on the demanding pace of the past year. As managing director of Carlar Hospitality, he has literally been on the go non-stop across Canada. Staying night after night in prestigious hotels with world class cuisine for every meal, and room service in between -- many would view this as the height of self-indulgence -- but for Rochford, it is all in a day's work.

A veteran of the hotel industry, Leslie Rochford CHA, is paid to do what he loves best. Since incorporating Carlar Hospitality in 1990, he makes his living as a consultant to the finest hotels in North America. For 72 hours, he tests and samples all the services they have to offer. Before he leaves, he meets with a management team and reviews his in-depth Customer Perception Analysis (CPA), a detailed survey of the establishment's strengths and weaknesses.

Hospitality consulting - hotelsThe idea for Rochford's Customer Perception Analysis service sprang from 35 years of international experience in the hospitality industry. Using a 2,656-question database, Rochford can assess a client hotel in exacting detail from forty-four questions monitoring hotel reservations to ninety-five questions about room standards to twenty one questions on follow-up on lost items, the Customer Perception Analysis is a startlingly thorough review of everything offered by a fine hotel -- and how effectively the hotel's standards are being delivered at the customer level.

"All first-class hotels subscribe to an industry standard," explains Rochford. “What managers can't always know, however, is how well these standards are being met in the myriad interactions, large and small, that happen with the guests every day."

When Rochford set out to create the Customer Perception Analysis in 1990, he admits he had no idea of the magnitude of his task. For more than three years, he paid his way across Canada and down the Continental West Coast, visiting both resort and commercial hotels. After monitoring 200 hotels, his database had grown from several hundred questions to its present of more than 2,656 guest contact points -- and still growing.

Many of the questions came from what Rochford calls the “automatic” aspects of hotel service, details most customers take for granted, such as friendly front desk reception and clean uniforms. Then there were more glaring pitfalls. “At one four-diamond hotel, we sat at our table for 15 to 20 minutes before anyone even brought us a menu,” recalls Rochford. “Being invisible isn't a very pleasant hotel experience.”

Another eye-opener was preferential service. “We started to notice that men were often catered to and served first,” says Rochford. Unlike men, women were rarely addressed by name; in hotel restaurants, they were often seated at less desirable tables. “If I stay at a hotel, I can ask for a shaving kit and usually get it,” notes Rochford. Often, however, if a woman requests items, such as personal products, they are just not available.

“Hotels want to attract female patrons. It is, after all, the largest industry growth segment. And the industry as a whole has done a lot of work in making itself aware of the issues. It is well known that you need to add quality, service and safety to the female traveller's experience.” In some instances, it is the simple touches that make the difference. What is less clear is how well those added value services are being delivered, and with our teams of both male and female monitors we can bring back that kind of information.

An “air of discovery and astonishment” was an unexpected highlight of the Customer Perception Analysis research phase. A career hotelier, Rochford admits his love for the industry came early. He was born in his parent's private hotel in London, England, during a Second World War blitz. After studying in a public boy's school in Bath, he graduated from Westminster College and the University of North London, and entered the industry as a trainee receptionist at the Savoy Hotel in London, England. “I was so far removed from the action that I never even got to talk to a customer,” Rochford recalls of those early days.

His trainee position eventually paid off, leading to a job as front office manager at The Bermudiana Hotel in Bermuda. From here, his career included increasingly responsible roles at the Grand Bahama Hotel, Ottawa's Chateau Laurier, Vancouver's Holiday Inn Harbour Side in British Columbia, and Brazil's Pousada Sitio Dos Tukanos. Rochford's subsequent experience included serving as opening general manager at Winnipeg's Radisson Suite Hotel and time specialising in openings and reversing trends industry-wide. On the educational side of the industry, Rochford has taught hospitality and supervisory courses for the Okanagan University College in Kelowna.

At this point, instead of retiring, Rochford decided to put his years of experience to better use. He incorporated Carlar Hospitality and went into business for himself. From room standards to ongoing services, security to customer comfort, themes began to emerge in the Customer Perception Analysis. Customer satisfaction, as Rochford discovered, comes in many guises. On one occasion, he recalls having a booming middle-of-the-night headache, only be told by the front desk that the hotel was legally prohibited from providing him with a headache product. When he offered to buy it, the hotel admitted they had no such product available at 3 a.m. Another memorable incident occurred during a visit in Boston. Although it was only September, the weather proved to be unseasonably cold. Unfortunately, inside the hotel, it was not much better. When he asked the assistant manager why the heat wasn't turned on, he was informed it wasn't on the maintenance schedule until the following week. Guests would just have to wait!

Far from home, sleeping in a strange (however luxurious) bed, a customer's response to a hotel is often coloured by emotion. To make customers feel truly special, Rochford emphasises, the hotel must cater to their needs. By providing well-thought-out basics (such as turndown service) or speciality items, the hotel becomes a happy substitute for home, whether the traveller is on business or holiday. In fact, says Rochford, the hotel's goal should be to provide “all the comforts of home, and then some.”

A major area of concern is customer security and confidentiality. Here Rochford discovered a complex world deserving the myriad questions in the Customer Perception Analysis database. He was amazed to discover that in some hotels guests could flash a safety deposit box key and access

valuables without having to follow standard security procedures such as signature verification. In others, a guest could return to a room while it was being made up for the day, enter and remove property without being questioned. “In these situations, thieves don't look like characters out of a police show,” says Rochford. “They look like legitimate hotel guests. The reality of the modern world is that stringent security procedures are a must. But first the hotel must know where it falls short.”

How does a hotel convince the world of its excellence? “Not by telling people how good it is, but by delivering quality service. Word gets around. Satisfied patrons will tell others. They'll also come back when they have a chance,” says Rochford.

Not surprisingly, the higher the level of a hotel, the higher the level of customer expectations. A manager can't be everywhere, at all hours of the day and night, observes Rochford. “Every hotel sincerely wants to deliver the best possible service, but the demands on management and staff are huge. Employees may be putting in hundreds of thousands of hours yearly, yet in spite of the efforts, it may not add up to true satisfaction.”

That is where Carlar Hospitality comes in. Its Customer Perception Analysis stands in for a manager's watchful eye, recognising superior service, as well as areas that can benefit from a second look.

After an initial meeting with the client, the Customer Perception Analysis process begins when a team of two or more people pre-registers in the hotel. Beginning with 15 calls at all hours of the day and night to the reservations desk, and from arrival to departure three days later, the team works round-the-clock checking and re-checking both service and facilities. Does the front-desk staff answer telephones within an acceptable number of rings? Can they give advice about local activities? Does the sauna have a clock? Have room keys been replaced by more security-conscious electronic cards? Over 2,150 questions later, Rochford is ready to give his report.

To make life easier for the management team, the Customer Perception Analysis was designed to give instant results. At the conclusion of the 72-hour stay, hotels are presented with an overall score out of possible perfection of 100 per cent. The review comprises the percentages achieved

in the survey's departments, starting with reservations and ending with the sales department.

“Our job is to inform the hotel what is happening on a round-the-clock basis,” notes Rochford. “The management team then decides how to follow-up on our findings.”
As regional vice-president and general manager of Banff Springs Hotel, Ted Kissane observes, “No matter how good a hotel, there’s always room for improvement. Customers are more and more sophisticated as travellers today. Our goal is not only to meet but exceed their expectations.”
“Carlar’s Customer Perception Analysis looks at every detail of the hotel from a critical point of view. That makes it a very important part of what we do.” Kissane notes that the report goes beyond what management can learn from guest customer cards. “The cards typically come from people who don’t travel as much, not the frequent traveller. Other aspects of the hotel, like back of the house performance, are never seen by our customers.”

The immediacy of the findings is a major benefit says Kissane. “All the information is entered into a computer almost on the spot and we get a precise and accurate report before the team leaves. We can deal with the problems right away, not weeks after the fact.”

Satisfaction with Carlar Hospitality’s service is high. More than 272 client hotels are now on his roster. Most hotels request annual or semi-annual visits to check on their progress.

As executive vice president of CP Hotels, Christopher Cahill notes, “Having the customer Perception Analysis completed on a regular basis allows us to see where we have improved".

With business taking off, the Carlar Hospitality staff keeps growing with employees based in Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, and company headquarters in Kelowna, British Columbia. All have either extensive hotel backgrounds, or strong management skills. Some represent the typical business customer, others vacationing.

“ When I began developing the Customer Perception Analysis, it was crystal clear that the basic problem most hotels faced was in the area of communications. In order to assess how well they were communicating their goals and standards to their own employees, managers needed a precise
and independent way of monitoring what was actually happening to guests. And that is the methodology we have developed and the service we provide. In the competitive world of hotel accommodation, it is a proven process with maximum pay-off.