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Great service leads to growth & profits – for Bettys, it’s a piece of cake!

July 9, 2012 1 comment

I recently visited a friend in Leeds – a major city in the North of England. On the Sunday, a group of us travelled the short distance from Leeds to Harrogate, a few miles away. Harrogate is a spa town – you can walk past the “Royal Pump Room” museum  and still smell the sulphur from the spring below. This is just one of several mineral wells containing iron, sulphur and other chemicals that made the town an attraction in the Victorian and earlier Georgian eras.

As well as the spa, Harrogate also features the first Bettys Tea room.

Bettys Tea Room

Bettys was founded in 1919 and has since grown to include a number of other tea rooms across Yorkshire. The family run company now also includes  Taylors of Harrogate, the tea and coffee merchants with brands including the best-selling Yorkshire Tea.

Our visit to Harrogate included a visit to Bettys for morning tea and cakes. We were amazed at the level of service provided.

One friend asked about the orange juice on the menu. “Was it freshly squeezed?” Instead of just acknowledging that it was, we were told that it had been – but not that day, but on the Friday, as it was squeezed off-site and not at weekends. We asked about the ingredients of one of the cream cakes – was it made with butter or margarine and was it suitable for vegetarians? The waitress wasn’t sure – so said she would check in the ingredient listings. It turned out that it was made using butter and was fully vegetarian.  It tasted superb.

I watched our waitress (on the bill it said her name was Jade) – and others. They smiled, they conversed, were friendly, helpful, and their body language showed a real care and attention to each customer.  They knew their products – and if they weren’t sure they didn’t lie or guess, but went to check. The service was impeccable.

It turns out that the superb service is no accident. I asked whether there was any training provided – and was told that each waitress had one-to-one training before starting, and they were expected to learn the menu and were tested. They had an induction phase where they were watched and it took some time before they could graduate to become a full waitress. This training showed – it wasn’t just in product knowledge but also in the whole interaction with the customer, that made our visit such a pleasure. Bettys even has a dedicated website devoted to working for the company at www.workingforus.co.uk.

The results of this focus on excellence show in Bettys financial results. The company consistently makes a profit – and turnover and net worth has grown impressively over the last 5 years. This is despite one of the worst downturns for decades – showing that Bettys has come up with a strategy that seems recession proof. Although profits have not shown the same growth, they’ve remained stable – perhaps reflecting the value offered by the company, compared to competitors. (We paid more for our sub-standard tea on the self-service motorway café journeying up to Leeds).

Bettys shows how important service is for a business, and how appropriate training can lead to top-quality results, and evident staff satisfaction. (In 2007 Bettys was listed in “the 100 best companies to work for” compiled by The Sunday Times). This focus on quality, in the product as well as the product knowledge, attention to detail and customer focus can translate to the bottom-line result – and lead to turnover growth and profits.
Queue outside Bettys, Harrogate
The queues outside, waiting to get into the Tea room is evidence that Bettys is doing something right. The results – financial and reputational are too. It may look like a piece of cake to achieve this – but the numbers of companies that fail to provide adequate service shows that it isn’t. Maybe they should make a visit to Harrogate part of their own staff training!

Sharing ideas, creativity and intelligence

November 3, 2010 4 comments

I was recently pointed to a great YouTube video from Steven Johnson on where good ideas come from:

A key point that Johnson makes is that many creative ideas often take years to develop and depend on the input of other people. It is only through the sharing of partial ideas and hunches that fully fledged creativity can happen.

This is also important for competitive intelligence. Some managers view competitive intelligence as a “cloak & dagger” type process that needs to be enshrined in secrecy. They view it as of strategic importance and accordingly not for their corporation’s rank and file.

I believe that they are wrong! Competitive Intelligence IS strategically important but all employees need to be involved in the process. What often happens is that one employee will hear some information that by itself seems meaningless. It is only when combined with information from several others that a coherent picture emerges, turning disparate data pieces into important intelligence. Management needs to encourage such information sharing throughout the organisation – and only through such cooperation will the CI information gathering process be 100% effective. The role of the CI personnel then becomes that of coordination and facilitation – putting together the jigsaw of pieces gathered throughout the organisation and building a picture that management can safely use to make strategic decisions. Failure to do this can mean that several jigsaw pieces are liable to be missed or found too late – and so decision-making will suffer and the chances of making a wrong decision increase.

There is a story told by Sheila Wright of DeMontfort University. I’ve slightly adjusted it – partly to protect the innocent (and guilty) – apologies, Sheila.

Baked Beans TinApparently a number of years ago, there was a senior managers’ meeting at a food canning factory. Six months earlier, the factory had installed new machinery for wrapping the cans in plastic. Plastic wrap allowed them to reduce pallet sizes, and so ship products at a lower cost. Unfortunately the factory was having problems.  Too often the plastic was tearing – and not doing the job of keeping the cans immobile on the pallet. This meant that cans got damaged and costs got higher than anticipated.

As is common in senior management meetings, lunch and coffee is delivered during the meeting. A junior staff member was bringing in the coffee when he overheard his bosses talking about the plastic wrap problem.

Er hmm….. can I interrupt…. I know what the problem is and how to fix it….I thought that you already knew the answer to the problem….” he said, to the incredulous stares of his bosses. The junior staff member then explained that he played football every Sunday and was friends with an operations manager who worked for a rival company. Apparently this competitor had installed similar machinery and come across the same problem. A few Sundays before, the operations manager had come to the football game in an ebullient mood. “We’ve fixed it” he’d explained. “All it needed was to recalibrate the machinery to take into account our cans and the plastic wrap we were using. It took us months to work out, but we’ve done it“.

By not encouraging the sharing of information, the canning company had compounded their problems. Nobody knew that this staff member had friends in a rival company or that this competitor had also been having problems with their packaging – and had solved it. There was no process to communicate the information – that would have helped and saved time and money. Essentially, information flowed down but there were no processes to allow it to flow up or be networked within the organisation.

Effective competitive intelligence builds systems that encourages the flow of information throughout the company – up, down and sideways. Of course there does need to be a respect for secrecy – and some conclusions should be kept secret. Business, strategy, and product development plans and so on do need to be protected.  However this should not be at the cost of failing to encourage all staff to contribute to the overall intelligence process and provide any information they come across – whether obviously relevant, or seemingly irrelevant or unimportant. There needs to be a balance between secrecy and openness. Anything else is a flawed system – that deserves to be canned!

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