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Part Three Planning and control

Operations in practice Quality at the Four Seasons Canary Wharf1

The rst Four Seasons Hotel opened over 45 years ago. Since then the company has grown to 81 properties in 34 countries. Famed for its quality of service, the hotel group has won countless awards including the prestigious Zagat survey and numerous AAA Five Diamond Awards, and it is also one of only 14 organizations that have been on the Fortune magazines list of 100 Best Companies to Work For every year since it launched in 1998, thus ranking as top hotel chain internationally. From its inception the group has had the same guiding principle, to make the quality of our service our competitive advantage. The company has what it calls its Golden Rule: Do to others (guests and staff) as you would wish others to do to you. It is a simple rule, but it guides the whole organizations approach to quality. Quality service is our distinguishing edge and the company continues to evolve in that direction. We are always looking for better, more creative and innovative ways of serving our guests, says Michael Purtill, the General Manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Canary Wharf in London. We have recently rened all of our operating standards across the company, enabling us to further enhance the personalized, intuitive service that all our guests receive. All employees are empowered to use their creativity and judgement in delivering exceptional service and making their own decisions to enhance our guests stay. For example, one morning an employee noticed that a guest had a at tyre on their car and decided of his own accord to change it for them, which was very much appreciated by the guest. The golden rule means that we treat our employees with dignity, respect and appreciation. This approach encourages them to be equally sensitive to our guests needs and offer sincere and genuine service that exceeds expectations. Just recently one of our employees accompanied a guest to the hospital and stayed there with him for the entire afternoon. He wanted to ensure that the guest wasnt alone and was given the medical attention he needed. The following day that same employee took the initiative to return to the hospital (even though it was his day off) to visit and made sure that that guests family in America was kept informed about his progress. We ensure that we have an ongoing focus on recognizing these successes and publicly praise and celebrate all individuals who deliver these warm, spontaneous, thoughtful touches. At Four Seasons we believe that our greatest asset and strength is our people. We pay a great deal of

attention to selecting the right people with an attitude that takes great pride in delivering exceptional service. We know that motivated and happy employees are essential to our service culture and are committed to developing our employees to their highest potential. Our extensive training programmes and career development plans are designed with care and attention to support the individual needs of our employees as well as operational and business demands. In conjunction with traditional classroom-based learning, we offer tailor-made internet-based learning featuring exceptional quality courses for all levels of employee. Such importance is given to learning and development that the hotel has created two specialized rooms, designated for learning and development. One is intended for group learning and the other is equipped with private computer stations for internet-based individual learning. There is also a library equipped with a broad variety of hospitality-related books, CDs and DVDs that can be taken home at any time. This encourages our employees to learn and develop at an individual pace. This is very motivating for our employees and in the same instance their development is invaluable to the growth of our company. Career-wise, the sky is the limit and our goal is to build lifelong, international careers with Four Seasons. Our objective is to exceed guest expectations and feedback from our guests and our employees is an invaluable barometer of our performance. We have created an in-house database that is used to record all guest feedback (whether positive or negative). We also use an online guest survey and guest comment cards which are all personally responded to and analysed to

Source: Four Seasons Hotels, Photographer Robert Miller

Chapter 17 identify any potential service gaps. We continue to focus on delivering individual personalized experiences and our Guest History database remains vital in helping us to achieve this. All preferences and specic comments about service experience are logged on the database.

Quality management


Every comment and every preference is discussed and planned for, for every guest, for every visit. It is our culture that sets Four Seasons apart: the drive to deliver the best service in the industry that keeps our guests returning again and again.

What is quality and why is it so important?

It is worth revisiting some of the arguments which were presented in Chapter 2 regarding the benets of high quality. This will explain why quality is seen as being so important by most operations. Figure 17.2 illustrates the various ways in which quality improvements can affect other aspects of operations performance. Revenues can be increased by better sales and enhanced prices in the market. At the same time, costs can be brought down by improved efciencies, productivity and the use of capital. So, a key task of the operations function must be to ensure that it provides quality goods and services, to both its internal and external customers.

Figure 17.2 Higher quality has a benecial effect on both revenues and costs
Source: Based on Gummerson, E. (1993)2


Part Three Planning and control

The operations view of quality

There are many denitions of quality

There are many denitions of quality; here we dene it as consistent conformance to customers expectations. The use of the word conformance implies that there is a need to meet a clear specication. Ensuring a product or service conforms to specication is a key operations task. Consistent implies that conformance to specication is not an ad hoc event but that the product or service meets the specication because quality requirements are used to design and run the processes that produce products and services. The use of customers expectations recognizes that the product or service must take the views of customers into account, which may be inuenced by price. Also note the use of the word expectations in this denition, rather than needs or wants.
Customers view of quality

Past experiences, individual knowledge and history will all shape customers expectations. Furthermore, customers may each perceive a product or service in different ways. One person may perceive a long-haul ight as an exciting part of a holiday; the person on the next seat may see it as a necessary chore to get to a business meeting. So quality needs to be understood from a customers point of view because, to the customer, the quality of a particular product or service is whatever he or she perceives it to be. If the passengers on a skiing charter ight perceive it to be of good quality, despite long queues at check-in or cramped seating and poor meals, then the ight really is of good perceived quality.3 Also customers may be unable to judge the technical specication of the service or product and so use surrogate measures as a basis for their perception of quality.4 For example, a customer may nd it difcult to judge the technical quality of dental treatment, except insofar as it does not give any more trouble. The customer may therefore perceive quality in terms the attire and demeanour of the dentist and technician, dcor of the surgery, and how they were treated.

Reconciling the operations and the customers views of quality

Customer expectations

Customer perception

The operations view of quality is concerned with trying to meet customer expectations. The customers view of quality is what he or she perceives the product or service to be. To create a unied view, quality can be dened as the degree of t between customers expectations and customer perception of the product or service.5 Using this idea allows us to see the customers view of quality of (and, therefore, satisfaction with) the product or service as the result of the customers comparing their expectations of the product or service with

Figure 17.3 Perceived quality is governed by the magnitude and direction of the gap between customers expectations and their perceptions of the product or service

Chapter 17

Quality management


A customers view of quality is shaped by the gap between perception and expectation

their perception of how it performs. This is not always straightforward; see the short case Tea and Sympathy. Also, if the product or service experience was better than expected then the customer is satised and quality is perceived to be high. If the product or service was less than his or her expectations then quality is low and the customer may be dissatised. If the product or service matches expectations then the perceived quality of the product or service is seen to be acceptable. These relationships are summarized in Figure 17.3.

Short case Tea and Sympathy6

Dening quality in terms of perception and expectation can sometimes reveal some surprising results. For example, Tea and Sympathy is a British restaurant and caf in the heart of New Yorks West Village. Over the last ten years it has become a fashionable landmark in a city with one of the broadest range of restaurants in the world. Yet it is tiny, around a dozen tables packed into an area little bigger than the average British sitting room. Not only expatriate Brits but also native New Yorkers and celebrities queue to get in. As the only British restaurant in New York, it has a novelty factor, but also it has become famous for the unusual nature of its service. Everyone is treated in the same way, says Nicky Perry, one of the two ex-Londoners who run it, We have a rm policy that we dont take any shit. This robust attitude to the treatment of customers is reinforced by Nickys Rules which are printed on the menu. 1 Be pleasant to the waitresses remember Tea and Sympathy girls are always right. 2 You will have to wait outside the restaurant until your entire party is present no exceptions. 3 Occasionally, you may be asked to change tables so that we can accommodate all of you. 4 If we dont need the table you may stay all day, but if people are waiting its time to naff off.

5 These rules are strictly enforced. Any argument will incur Nickys wrath. You have been warned. Most of the waitresses are also British and enforce Nickys Rules strictly. If customers object they are thrown out. Nicky says that she has had to train her girls to toughen up. Ive taught them that when people cross the line they can tear their throats out as far as Im concerned. What weve discovered over the years is that if you are really sweet, people see it as a weakness. People get thrown out of the restaurant about twice a week and yet customers still queue for the genuine shepherds pie, a real cup of tea, and of course the service.

Both customers expectations and perceptions are inuenced by a number of factors, some of which cannot be controlled by the operation and some of which, to a certain extent, can be managed. Figure 17.4 shows some of the factors that will inuence the gap between expectations and perceptions. This model of customer-perceived quality can help us understand how operations can manage quality and identies some of the problems in so doing. The bottom part of the diagram represents the operations domain of quality and the top part the customers domain. These two domains meet in the actual product or service, which is provided by the organization and experienced by the customer. Within the operations domain, management is responsible for designing the product or service and providing a specication of the quality to which the product or service has to be created. Within the customers domain, his or her expectations are shaped by such factors as previous experiences with the particular product or service, the marketing image provided by the organization and word-of-mouth information from other users. These expectations are internalized as a set of quality characteristics.

Source: Corbis


Part Three Planning and control

Figure 17.4 The customers domain and the operations domain in determining the perceived quality, showing how the gap between customers expectations and their perception of a product or service could be explained by one or more gaps elsewhere in the model
Source: Adapted from Parasuraman, A. et al. (1985) A conceptual model of service quality and implications for future research, Journal of Marketing, vol. 49, Fall, pp. 4150. Reproduced with permission from the American Marketing Association.

Short case Quality at Magic Moments

Magic Moments is a small, but successful wedding photography business. Its owner, Richard Webber, has seen plenty of changes over the last twenty years. In the past, my job involved taking a few photos during the wedding ceremony and then formal group shots outside. I was rarely at a wedding for more than two hours. Clients would select around 30 photos to go in a standard wedding album. It was important to get the photos right,

Source: Alamy Images