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.
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.
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