Service excellence: the distinguishing touch

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What truly sets a Travel Management Company apart? Increasingly, the answer is not to be found in the type of services provided. Rather, it’s about how those services are executed. It’s with this thought in mind that Tourvest Travel Services launched its Service Excellence Centre in February. The offering is being extended to all brands within the group, including American Express Travel Services, Seekers, Maties, Indojet and Cumming Travel.

The philosophy underlining the establishment of the Service Excellence Centre is, in the words of Tourvest COO Clive Jones, the acknowledgement that ‘businesses do not sell products, but services’. Adding further impetus to this ethos is the fact that service excellence has long been a guiding principle of the business.

The person making sure that service excellence moves from a principle to a way of life within the organisation is Buyi Shongwe, Client Liaison Executive. Shongwe explains that the idea for the Service Excellence Centre was in its infancy when she joined the organisation in August 2010. Since service is one of her passions, she jumped at the opportunity to guide this project to fruition. So, how will the Service Excellence Centre help Tourvest in attaining its service excellence vision? For a start, the Centre provides a single point to address service-related issues across all brands within the business. Its spheres of operations range from conducting and collating client surveys (both internal and external) as well as providing a forum for complaints and customers, and equipping the business with a full spectrum of customer relationship management tools. For the company, the Service Excellence Centre is certain to have an enormous impact on the establishment of a service culture within all Tourvest entities – which is, ofcourse, good news for travellers.

But the facility will benefit travellers in other ways, too. “Because the Service Excellence Centre is independent from the business, clients are guaranteed that all service issues will be treated with complete impartiality. Service in the service industry is delivered to people by people, and our main asset is people,” he states. How does it work? “Clients will be invited to submit their feedback, whether positive or negative, to the Service Excellence Centre via a feedback platform,” Jones explains. Importantly, the feedback platform is immediate, so clients are able to make their reports while their experience is still fresh in their minds. From here, the compliment or complaint is escalated to reach the relevant manager, who will then take action. Jones emphasises the fact that clients will not simply be left to wonder what has happened to their comment: the Service Excellence Centre will provide ongoing feedback to inform them of the steps being taken to resolve their issue.

Each month, clients will be issued with a consolidated report containing details of all such incidents, thus indicating Tourvest’s intention to work towards better overall service performance, as well as its willingness to work with clients as partners to achieve this. Clients may also be invited to participate in Service Excellence Surveys from time to time. These short, to-thepoint questionnaires aim to uncover areas of improvement within the business (while also giving the company an insight into what it is doing right). The surveys will be completely objective, as they will be conducted and analysed by an independent company. Shongwe is adamant that this isn’t just another initiative that will fall flat. In fact, it will have very a real impact for clients. “The Service Excellence Centre is entirely unique to Tourvest. 

It’s not a simple help desk – it goes well beyond that.” This, she explains, is because the Centre has been launched off the highly successful Step Up campaign, which aimed to entrench and align employee values with those of the organisation. This provided the ideal environment in which to plant the seed of great service, she points out, as the concept was extremely well received. Added to this, the Service Excellence Centre applies as much to staff members as it does to clients: they, too, are invited to provide feedback about colleagues and performance areas within the company. This will provide a particularly valuable source of information about areas of strength and weakness within the organisation, Shongwe observes. “From this, we will be able to form a clear idea of trends within the business,” she says. The organisation will also be better equipped to act on such trends. With reward and recognition schemes in place for those who live the value of excellent service, it won’t be long until service excellence is established as a habit and, eventually, a culture within the company. This will also be made possible through extensive training programmes targeting service issues.

Another reason for her enthusiasm is the fact that, for the first time, all information of this nature will be available from a single source. “Ofcourse, we receive comments at present – both compliments and criticisms from our clients. The difference is that with the Service Excellence Centre in place, we are able to take a more consolidated view.” Shongwe has high hopes for the Service Excellence Centre. “This is not a once-off intervention that we will forget about after implementation. Once the Centre has taken root, and service excellence has become an embedded integral part of the Tourvest culture, our plan is to grow and enhance it. Service excellence is something that will touch on every part of the organisation, from operations to our internal stakeholders; it is something we are deeply committed to.”

“Ultimately, the establishment of the Service Excellence Centres serves to help us make our promises to our clients a reality. These promises include a commitment to listening, and taking the time to understand their frustrations and needs; a commitment to being reliable, responsive and accountable for our actions; making sure that our solutions meet their business needs; and a guarantee to outperform our competitors through our people, our processes and technology,” Jones concludes.