Guests help out in quality quest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 July, 2002, 12:00am

When the general management team at the Grand Stanford Inter-Continental set out to examine how they could raise service standards, they knew they were trying to hit a moving target.

The hotel's constantly changing customer base means there is no stereotypical client profile. That makes meeting and exceeding customer expectations something of a challenge.

To establish benchmarks to satisfy the demands of today's changing guests, the hotel turned to ISO9001, a quality management system that helps businesses to achieve improved efficiency and better management control.

'Adapting to an evolving customer base presents special challenges,' says Gerhard Hecker, general manager, Grand Stanford Inter-Continental.

Realising the hotel would benefit from the latest ISO standards, Mr Hecker pushed for a wholesale adoption of the scheme in a four-stage process. Stage one explained to staff the basic principles and requirements of the scheme. Stage two involved a three-month work-flow analysis and included creating a quality manual for each area of the hotel's operations. Stage three was a five-month implementation process, with internal audit and awareness training. The last stage was a two-month quality system auditing and certification.

The entire process took 13 months, and the hotel was awarded ISO9001 certification in April this year.

Opening the hotel's internal workings to outside scrutiny may have been a challenge, but it was a process that offered long-term pay-offs, Mr Hecker says.

'It can be a very tedious administrative process, involving all players and all departments in a hotel, but it raises a new awareness of what exactly a service act is, and how it is achieved, maintained and adjusted,' Mr Hecker says. 'The guests are the ultimate beneficiaries, because standards are more clearly established and our employees are more aware of them.'

The Grand Stanford Inter-Continental is one of Hong Kong's leading five-star hotels. Located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui East, the hotel has 579 rooms and offers facilities which are state-of-the-art.

Besides improving services, the certification scheme provides tools for continuous improvement and gaining a better understanding of customer needs, while strengthening the company's competitive edge. With more than 560 staff, the hotel faced a major challenge to get everyone to understand and embrace the principles.

'It was a difficult task, especially the awareness training, as our staff come from different educational levels and backgrounds,' Mr Hecker says.

This is not the hotel's first ISO recognition. In August 2000, the company achieved ISO14001 certification, a standard for good environmental practices. At the time, the hotel found that opening its system to external auditors was empowering and an excellent way to enhance efficiency.

'We saw the benefits of combing through the organisation,' Mr Hecker says. 'It's easy to sit back and blame the government for the way the environment is. For us, discussing what we could do for the environment was a proactive step.'

What were the biggest obstacles the hotel encountered in its quest for a second ISO certification?

Communicating the quality concept throughout the organisation and ensuring all employees embrace the concept in their daily roles, Mr Hecker says.

To achieve this, the management played a key role in demonstrating commitment to meeting customer requirements, and establishing quality policy and objectives in line with customer focus. The 'quality policy' was then introduced down the ranks. A 'plan-do-check-action' cycle ensures implemented measures stay effective.

'The systematised method gets all people, all staff, involved in setting standards,' Mr Hecker says, pointing out the competitive necessity of the scheme. 'Competition is very strong. Whoever walks into your hotel never expects less than what he would receive in any other Hong Kong hotel.'

Mr Hecker says it is always a proud moment when a long-term project is realised. Working on the hotel's new convention facilities, for example, was a labour of love.

'It's very exciting, from planning to completing the project three years later. We are extremely pleased with these hi-tech facilities.'