When the phone rings three times

What qualities do employees need to make guests delighted? In every area, at any time, and over and over again? An interview with Klaus Kobjoll, whose Hotel Schindlerhof was the first German company to be awarded the European Quality Award by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) in 1998.

text: Anke Pedersen 

Mr Kobjoll, let us talk about quality. How can quality be measured?

There is still too little measurement being conducted in most companies. If there had been no marks at school, my performance would have been even more miserable than it was already. (laughs) With regard to a companies, that means: Only those things that get measured get done.

What exactly do you mean by that?

When we were preparing for the EFQM prize in 1995, we defined the rules, for example, that an email should not remain unanswered for longer than two hours, and that stamps should be stuck onto letters straight, not crookedly, because a letter is our hotel's calling card. Then we frequently enjoyed taking the envelopes franked by trainees out of the post tray . (laughs) In addition, we agreed that phones must be answered at the latest after the third ring, even if a guest happens to be at reception at the time.

Even if a guest is waiting at reception?

Yes, because of course the guest sees that it's ringing, while the caller is getting no reply. In reality, no one will object if I ask them nicely if I can just answer the call quickly. In the area of applications, we actually introduced the same standard as the one we apply to our guests, so that people don't just answer when they feel like it. However, it is important to emphasise at this point that these standards cannot/may not be laid down by the boss, but by the people who are charged with the tasks in question.

Another example is complaints in the restaurant, for example if waiting times are too long - which can happen at any time in a hotel. We established the standard that meals must be served within a maximum of 30 minutes – with appropriate tolerance up to five minutes. Because the kitchen always blamed the waiters and the waiters blamed the kitchen, we initially worked with a scatter diagram: The waiters wrote down how much time had passed after ordering until they served the meal. The time of ordering is always on the slip, of course. Pretty soon, it became apparent that the guilty parties were to be found in the kitchen. Afterwards, incidentally, they then initially worked too fast, and that did not go down well either, because then the food was served but the wine had not been opened at all yet.

It appears you really examined each individual area. That sounds like a huge amount of work.

It is! We drew up 127 quality-related procedural instructions and 45 checklists. That took a lot of time, about six months, but after a while it becomes just like brushing your teeth: it becomes a routine. But you must not forget the fun aspect in all of this! Because the better an organisation becomes, the greater the danger that the mood will go downhill because too much bureaucracy creeps in. That is why measurements should only take place when they are necessary, and they should be conducted very cautiously, so they should not be carried out constantly. After all, we aren't just measuring for measurement's sake. And if after some time we see that the measurement results aren't changing, then we stop doing it.

However, it is fascinating to see that many of the standards which you set down more than 20 years ago are still applicable.

Yes, but they have been adapted constantly. The current version of our organisational manual is about the thirtieth edition. After all, descriptions always have to be up to date. Good quality management can be recognised overall by the fact that it is very individually tailored to a business, so that it does not follow the textbook slavishly, but rather follows its own model.

To ensure that the fun does not get lost in the process.

My employees learn that every ISO standard can be violated, but not the one about hospitality. That standard outranks all other standards. I do not regard ISO standards to be terribly important. They are not the Ten Commandments, but are more comparable to a banister rail which helps a new employee to learn, or rather to understand, our standards.

And to live by them on a daily basis?

Do you know how a culture of pride is generated in a company? A culture of pride is generated when quality management is not just communicated by the left hemisphere of the brain, and therefore without any emotions, but also by the right hemisphere. That is why I say from the start: Let's get excited about the prospect of winning this prize or other. Using this method, I distract them from the fact that they are actually working. The result: We won the German Ludwig Erhard Prize for Excellence four times in a row, we have been named favourite employer umpteen times, and so on.

Mr Kobjoll, thank you very much for the interview.

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