Guests are helping a leading hotel group in Hong Kong to improve its customer services. The Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel has devised a set of five key rules to ensure service excellence and best-behaviour standards among staff. The rules are based on a recent survey conducted to determine guest expectations. John Girard, the hotel's general manager and area director, says the rules are a distillation of thousands of suggestions received relating to hotel services. The main points have been incorporated into a service excellence programme. 'Every day, our staff receive hundreds of notes from the guests, their peers and their superiors,' Mr Girard says. 'It is difficult to digest all of them. The service excellence programme crystallises the key messages to help staff focus on delivering the essentials, and thereby raise the hotel's service level.' The five messages are condensed versions of job descriptions, encapsulating an easy-to-do list aimed at keeping guests happy and encouraging their return. 'Repeat business saves us 10 times the cost and effort of getting new business,' Mr Girard says. 'We have only one chance to make a good first impression. Guests judge us immediately. They will not come again if we deliver mediocre service. We have to go that extra mile to make guests feel important.' The essence of the exercise is to change the staff mind-set, and help employees take a five-star, rather than a four-star, hotel approach. 'We have to think as a five-star hotel, or beyond, and project a classy image,' he says. Besides changing the service attitude, the hotel is investing heavily in renovations to match its new image. The service excellence programme targets the staff of 1,000 at the three hotels under the Marco Polo brand in Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. The programme will be rolled out later to the group's other four hotels in Asia. To catch the attention of all Marco Polo staff, the programme was introduced at the hotel's annual party in January. The five key messages were presented in a 10-minute comedy show. The messages are also printed in pocket calendar format for easy reference, and they are repeated at daily staff briefings and departmental meetings. Mr Girard believes the time is right to launch such a progamme. 'In our current global climate, hotel staff have a few concerns. What impact will the war have? Will I have a long-term career here? 'The programme diverts attention back to daily matters.' Because continuity is an essential part of the service programme, the hotel ensures that staff performance is continuously monitored, measured and recognised. 'The staff should know that their work is being monitored and measured. It is not meant to be threatening. It is just that staff should know the measures are there.' Within four weeks of the programme's launch, staff were receiving award forms bearing compliments from guests. More than 150 forms were handed out. An assessment by an independent consultancy firm found that 95 per cent of all guests had expressed 'a greater level of satisfaction' during their stay at the hotel. 'We update employees on the business outlook and market situation at our regular staff meetings,' Mr Girard says. 'We also give out various awards, for honesty and bravery, for example, to acknowledge outstanding performance. Most staff are selected for special mention by guests on various occasions.' The hotel has always been an active supporter of the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB). Mr Girard is an HKTB board member and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association. 'We have to support Hong Kong, and we do not like doing things individually. We would like to build something that benefits all.' The hotel is proud of its background. 'We are 100 per cent owned by the Wharf Group, an anchor blue chip company in Hong Kong. This gives us a sense of security. We have a history of 150 years in Hong Kong, and we strive to contribute to society,' Mr Girard says. 'We provide our staff excellent training. In 2001, we introduced a job certification programme that clearly outlines work procedures and standards. This helps to enhance service levels and upgrade staff skills, thus improving everyone's career prospects.' The hotel group also offers plenty of career development opportunities. 'We are like a training school. Once the executives have learned and performed well, we send them out to China or the region for development or management work. When they return, they are usually promoted to more senior positions,' Mr Girard says. The hotel also aims to compensate staff fairly. 'Our hotel is conveniently located, and is easy to access by both tourists and staff. The beauty of locating all three Marco Polo hotels on the same road is that we can swap staff around if necessary. With three different operations to work in, staff don't get easily bored. 'We may be small hotels, but we are professional. We keep our promises. We truly walk-the-talk.' Mr Girard believes the management maintains high visibility. 'We do not have a culture of pride,' he says of the Marco Polo management style. 'We are humble and co-operative.' Mr Girard, who has worked in 18 countries in the hotel industry, believes Hong Kong is the 'number one place for hoteliers to build a career'. 'Almost all the global players are in Hong Kong,' he says. 'Hong Kong is in the world's spotlight. If you make a serious mistake or build a good name, the rest of the world will soon know.'