Understanding Excellence

Make Venues’ new report delves into the concept of customer excellence.

Smiley faces on post-it notesAbout the Author
With three AIM accredited, conference centres of excellence in Warwickshire, London and Bristol, Make Venues is a seven-time winner of the BVA BDRC Venue Verdict Award for Small and Mid-sized Venue Group. The Make Venues team is passionate about quality service and its Understanding Excellence report is part of the group’s research into how quality can be both achieved and maintained in the long term. www.makevenues.co.uk



David Vaughton, managing director of Make Venues, explains why exceeding customer expectations is essential in order to thrive in today’s world

Woodland Grange
Make Venues’ Woodland Grange, Leamington Spa

Customer excellence is an area we were passionate about before the coronavirus crisis, as we think back to celebrating both the 2019 BVA BDRC VenueVerdict awards for Small and Mid-sized Group for a seventh consecutive year, plus Best Value for Money Venue Group 2019. It’s an area we’re still extremely passionate about as we reshape our business for a world in which the customer needs to feel safe and assured that their chosen venue has quality procedures in place for an exceptional experience.

As we continue to strive to deliver an offer that exceeds customer service, food and beverage, event delivery, and venue product expectations across our three UK venues, we have to repeatedly ask ourselves, ‘what constitutes quality in today’s world?’

We pride ourselves on taking inspiration from a range of brands, sectors and individuals, some of which we showcase in this report.

Marginal gains

David vaughtonWith the postponed Olympics now set for 2021, it’s interesting to look at improvements as a series of marginal gains, a sporting philosophy made famous by Sir David Brailsford, the former performance director of British Cycling and current general manager of the Team Ineos cycling team in Manchester.

Brailsford realised, as many businesses owners do, that there is no magic bullet to turn high performance into elite performance. He concluded that if you break down everything you can think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improve it by 1%, you’ll get a significant increase when you put them all together.

In terms of improving kit and hardware, like in any business, there were obvious benefits to British cycling. But the concept of marginal gains really sets itself apart by shining a torch into unexplored corners.

Riders had their own personal hypoallergenic bedding and mattresses transported from hotel to hotel to improve their sleep quality, whilst a surgeon was hired to teach athletes proper hand washing techniques to minimise illness (something we’ve all now had to relearn).

Literally no stone was left unturned in the search for marginal improvements and the results were there to see – Team GB won 16 gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics in cycling and have utterly dominated the Tour de France for a decade.

It is not our role to determine what quality looks like as the customer drives our standards through their expectations and demands. Our success in achieving excellence is governed by how we engage with customers and get to understand their needs.

It isn’t about having the flashiest product offering but how we make the customer feel, do we make them happy and content. A ‘moment of truth’ that delights a customer will override any other observations they have made up until that point.

I know it is a cliché but ‘happy staff lead to happy customers’ – body language, attitude, personality, empowerment and passion.

In the meantime however, the notion of ‘excellence’ can be defined in other ways too. In this report we explore the relationship between achieving brilliance and contributing factors such as the need for purpose, and – specifically for our industry – how creative customer service and food and event formats play their part.


Quality on Purpose

For most, the term quality is synonymous with service excellence. Ken Kelling, a life coach for overworked event professionals, discusses the relationship between quality and a sense of professional purpose

Table setting at an eventThe concept of ‘quality’ in both goods and services has been around for a very long time. Literally hundreds of years. It’s weaved into our language – just think of familiar marketing phrases like ‘hallmark of quality’, ‘quality guaranteed’ or ‘great quality every time’.

There are quality standards in hotel accommodation and visitor attractions, as well as many other business areas. More recently, these standards have also grown to reflect environmental and green quality marks in response to consumer demand.

We also understand the concept of a ‘quality service’ – a blend of efficient and friendly service standards that are customer-centric, prompt and focus on timely communication.

Quality has long been a familiar way of marketing and branding a product or service, from the heritage grandness of Fortnum & Mason and the Ritz, to hand-stitched leather seats in an Aston Martin. Believe it or not, the lager Stella Artois was also branded as “reassuringly expensive” in one of its earliest modern-day campaigns.

ken hellingMore recently we’ve started to expect and enjoy so-called ‘quality experiences’. From music festivals to theatrical and outlandish dining out, we also want to feel special; the first through the door, respected, prioritised and able to convert that experience into ‘Instagrammable’ photos and stories to share.

Covid-19 won’t change this but it will shine a brighter light on an often understated aspect of how we view quality that is now coming increasingly to the fore – values.


Finding Purpose

Moving from ‘how’ to ‘why’ as consumers put values front and centre of their purchasing decisions

broadway house
ake Venues’ Broadway House, Westminster

As far back as the formation of the Body Shop, the very first company perhaps to put its values front and centre of its appeal, companies have been doing more to convince us that their values should make them a service of choice.

This trend was given a massive boost by Simon Sinek’s book and TED Talk called Start with the Why. He articulated how people no longer wanted to know simply about the ‘How’ of a product or service but more importantly, the ‘Why’ – its purpose.

There’s been a simultaneous rise in interest in our own personal values and purpose, influencing everything from starting our own business as an entrepreneur to a much greater interest in working in an ethical environment.

We now actively seek out companies, services and experiences that match our highest values. And those companies who have treated employees badly during this pandemic or who haven’t lived up to our value expectations will find it harder to regain consumer trust.

In reality, values have always been our most important drivers in making decisions. There’s a concept known as ‘neurological levels’ that suggests our behaviour comes from a much deeper level than we think. It’s a hierarchy of thought that implies our behaviour is always influenced by our purpose, values and beliefs. These are really what’s influencing our decision-making.

What does this mean for venues?

For venues, this means getting crystal clear on your values as a workplace, as people, and what it means for those you work with, including your clients. Especially in today’s ‘new normal’.

It also means thinking about the impact you want to have on others, including your local community and the world at large. How do you want people to feel about you? What do you want them to know about your purpose?

These ideas may seem far from the notions of service excellence that we’ve lived with for many years, but with increasing awareness of sustainability in its widest sense, event buyers and planners are thinking about these ideas because they know how their delegates and attendees want to feel.

They will be looking for venues, services and products that are clear about their purpose and that will help them deliver a quality, purposeful experience for attendees. Those destined to succeed in this context will be clear about not just what and who they are but also their ‘why’ and the impact they want to have on those that come into socially distanced contact with them.

It’s the newly paved road that leads to a stand-out experience.


Earning Loyalty

Learning from the big boys

How do brands earn the loyalty of their customers? How do they consistently delight and empower people so they not only keep returning, but they refer others to become customers too?

The answer often lies in exceptional customer service and brand purpose. To achieve excellence in these areas, successful brands promote the values that their customers truly care about.

They provide frictionless communication and support with a human touch, plus they focus on implementing rapid, problem-solving solutions that leave lasting and memorable impressions. The following brand examples each provide an inspirational take-away that we can all adapt to suit our pursuit of quality during these unprecedented times.

The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota

When it comes to customer service, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is often spoken about in the same breath as iconic people pleasers such as Disney and Starbucks.

In his book, What’s the Secret to Providing a World Class Customer Experience, author John R. DiJulius writes, “I left The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota in such a rush for the airport that I forgot my laptop charger in my room. I planned to call when I got back into my office, but before I could, I received a next- day air package from The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. In it was my charger, with a note saying, ‘Mr. DiJulius, I wanted to make sure we got this to you right away. I am sure you need it, and, just in case, I sent you an extra charger for your laptop.’”

The note was signed by an ordinary member of hotel staff. When DiJulius investigated further, he discovered that Ritz-Carlton actively encourages staff to improve the guest experience by authorising them to spend up to $2,000 per day on creative customer service solutions when necessary.

Another heartwarming example is when Ritz-Carlton helped a dad convince his son that a left-behind stuffed giraffe was just enjoying a few extra days holiday by creating a booklet filled with photos showing how Joshie the giraffe had spent his time, before being posted home.


Lyft, the ride-sharing company operating in 644 cities throughout the United States and 12 cities in Canada, is a great example of a purpose-led brand. Its customers take pride in supporting a business they feel represents their social and political views.

In 2018, Lyft announced it would immediately start offsetting the carbon emissions from all rides globally. This was a multi-million dollar investment in the first year alone, which has made Lyft one of the top voluntary purchasers of carbon offsets in the world.

The year before, Lyft donated $1 million to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in response to the introduction of an executive order that restricted immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries to the United States.

Lyft joined the widespread condemnation of the act, writing in an email to customers: “Banning people of a particular faith or creed, race or identity, sexuality or ethnicity, from entering the U.S. is antithetical to both Lyft’s and our nation’s core values. We stand firmly against these actions, and will not be silent on issues that threaten the values of our community.”

Southwest Airlines

The world’s largest low-cost airline has long been hailed a bastion of quality customer service with a raft of tales to support its global reputation for competitive prices, free checked luggage, friendly employees and a hassle-free experience.

Our favourite story is the one about the suitcase belonging to a teenage girl, which showed up on the luggage carousel with a damaged handle. When the girl’s father walked into the Southwest office to complain, he was greeted with a friendly employee and a choice – he could either fill out some paperwork and arrange to have his luggage repaired, or Southwest would replace the luggage with a brand new piece; immediately – on the spot.

It’s easy to be great when things go well. It’s when things don’t go well that can make or break a reputation. That’s when a good system has to be in place. That system, along with properly trained employees, can be the difference between losing and retaining a loyal customer.

Warby Parker

Warby Parker, an online retailer of prescription glasses and sunglasses based in New York, has revolutionised the way people purchase frames and eyewear by enhancing the customer service experience.

Upon arriving at Warby Parker’s website, visitors are asked to take a quiz, which is both fun and designed to build excitement about the product range. From there, visitors can browse the selection of frames, and they can choose five options to try on, free of charge, at home. No reason to leave the safety of your home, no reason to travel to a store and try on frames wearing a face-mask.

When Warby Parker sends customers glasses to try on, it recommends sharing selfies on Instagram using the hashtag #WarbyParkerHomeTryOn. Take a look, it’s a great way to encourage brand advocacy among followers and get friends to give their opinion on which frames to go for.

Providing customers with more options and making the purchasing experience fun, frictionless and ‘Instagrammable’ has transformed Warby Parker into a beloved fashion brand.

In Conclusion

Jo CausonJo Causon, CEO at The Institute of Customer Service sums it up best: “In today’s complex world, it is vital that organisations get the basics right first – efficiency of service, complaint handling and the actual customer experience. On top of this, consumers are placing growing importance on trust, transparency, emotional connectivity and ethical behaviours.

“Our research shows there’s a compelling argument for meeting both these types of customer priority for a profitable business return. Brands can overcome the uncertainties we currently navigate as businesses by understanding what is genuinely important to today’s consumer and acting on it.”

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