The AA grades B & Bs, campsites, self-catering hotels, hotels and restaurants
Do you work in the UK hospitality industry and want to know how you can improve customer service?
You could apparently do worse than calling First Direct – because AA’s head of inspections and evaluations, Paul Hackett, thinks it’s an example of a company nailing it down.
He mentioned the bank during a conversation with MailOnline Travel about the AA’s inspection work – which rates campsites, B & Bs and self-catering properties, and gives stars to hotels and rosettes to restaurants – lamenting that this is the biggest problem in the UK with the hospitality industry is the hotel industry itself. “
He said, “We should be the very best in hospitality. It doesn’t matter which hotel, which star rating, which B & B, which guest house or which campsite, it is all about hospitality. And I sometimes think, and we often see – you are not welcomed so warmly, you do not get this warm departure, this commitment, this interaction, this smile.
“And it’s a shame because it’s all free. It’s not about having a top-notch spa or huge suites, money buys something like that – money talks. But for me, it’s the hospitality, the softer qualities, that weigh the most.
Paul Hackett pictured has been with AA for 21 years, working his way from inspector to area manager to inspection manager. This picture is likely pinned behind every reception in the country …
‘There are hotels where the experience is very, very good. Mostly not. But I don’t think enough people care about good hospitality.
‘Some alternative industries are really exceptional in the hospitality industry. Like First Direct. ‘
Mr. Hackett mentioned First Direct as an example, also because it would be unfair for him to name a hotel that is impressed with the customer service.
After all, his praise is priceless.
He continued, “You would expect them to be faceless and loveless. In fact, the phone experience with First Direct is very, very good. ‘
Paul said, “It’s not about having a top-notch spa or huge suites. Money buys something like that – money talks. But for me it is the hospitality, the softer attributes that carry the most weight ‘(archive image)
However, Mr. Hackett understands why customer service can be such a slippery fish.
He said, “They are people. And the people are diverse. You get introverts, you get extroverts, you get some people where it comes naturally and some people where it doesn’t come naturally. And it’s really complex. And the best hotels in the UK are the ones that make it. It doesn’t matter if it’s check-in, the bar or the restaurant. The very best hotels, which we mark with our red stars, are always there. But for some hotels it might not be their priority, but it should be. It’s the hospitality industry. ‘
Mr. Hackett knows a thing or two about how it works.
He worked as a cook in a small family hotel, studied hotel management at Bournemouth University, completed an internship as a porter at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons and then held management positions in various three and four-star hotels.
He has been with AA for 21 years and has worked his way up from inspector to area manager to inspection manager.
And how many hotels has he stayed in? “Probably everyone inside the AA,” he revealed.
His team, which also offers a “Mystery Guest” review service, has also reviewed a few.
The AA 1908 Handbook, where the organization’s hotel reviews were first published. Restaurant reviews started in 1912
The AA’s guides have been invaluable over the years. The AA published the first edition of a combined guide to British hotels and restaurants in 1966
In a year, a patch inspector will be gone for 145 nights.
“It’s an isolated role,” said Paul, “but sometimes we meet for training purposes.” For example, someone who hasn’t inspected a five-star star might go with someone who has one. And you always talk to people. It’s a very enriching job. ‘
Paul’s team’s job when it comes to hotels is to assess whether a property is good enough to receive one to five AA stars – an accreditation that costs a fee – and conduct annual reviews.
The assessment is conducted during a one night stay, with the hotel taking over the bill for the bed and breakfast item and paying the AA for extras tested such as dinner, afternoon tea and drinks in the bar.
“We rate the hotel from the minute we pick up the phone to make a reservation until the minute we check out,” Hackett said.
And do the hotels know that the AA shows up?
“No they don’t,” said Mr. Hackett. “We explain who we are when we check out.”
However, some smart hotel workers may have already got their way, and sometimes there’s a morning glimpse at the front desk where we knew who you are, Hackett said.
But not because a notebook gave it away.
Mr. Hackett continued, “We don’t walk around with notebooks, much of it is mentally logged. I think in general it’s our profile because in general we are sole proprietorships mid-week and going to a country house hotel that is a couple’s destination, for example, can help you stand out a little. Some hoteliers are very experienced and some only get a feel.
AA inspectors explain who they are when checking out – and then give feedback (archive image)
“The other thing it can give away is that if one of the inspectors checks in, then does room service, then has a cup of tea in the lounge, then has a drink in the bar, and then has dinner … if someone really cares what you do may make you think that is a little unusual. However, there are many hotels that are full, with more than 50 or 60 rooms, up to hundreds, and one person can just fit in.
“If you investigate and look for everyone who comes through your door, you may be able to locate an inspector. But how many people actually have this time? ‘
The purpose of the visit, Mr. Hackett stressed, is not “to make or break people” but “to support them, give them objective feedback and help them”.
Mr. Hackett said, “After we make the reservation, we really are a typical guest. The only difference is that when we find out about the experience we will speak to you. We will give you feedback based on the reservation experience, based on the check-in experience, based on the bar or lounge experience, room service. If you have room service we will give you feedback on it, breakfast, dinner.
In a year, an AA patch inspector will be gone for 145 nights
‘We ultimately rate the hospitality of the team. Assessment of the service provision, how efficient, how attentive. And we provide feedback based on cleanliness, the bedroom product, and the common areas. We tell you in a very professional and objective way how a guest feels about your hotel.
‘The feedback should improve. Maybe they have someone at check-in who is fantastic, who is warm, chatty, friendly, and engaging, who covers everything you could want at check-in, and that is really valuable feedback as a general manager or operations manager can then come back Person, tell them she did a great job and that is really motivating. It’s a tough industry and that’s part of what we do.
We rate the hotel from the minute we pick up the phone to make a reservation to the minute we check out. We explain who we are when we check out
Paul Hackett, Director of Inspections and Assessments, AA
»If the person in the same hotel and when checking out does not have eye contact, if their body language is closed, there is no dialogue, there is no interaction. We can also communicate this to the managing director, as this becomes a training opportunity. ‘
The AA strives for hospitality, service, food, housekeeping, and bedrooms and bathrooms minimum scores to achieve this important star rating.
And because the hotel advocated it, it’s usually a sign, Mr. Hackett said, that it’s a quality product. As a result, his team doesn’t often see shocking sights – for example, bugs in corridors – although there are strange and wonderful things found on top of cupboards and under beds.
And what is the main difference between one and five stars?
“Quality grades related to the level of service,” Hackett said. “There are facilities, but it’s less of a focus. We’re not saying you have to have a swimming pool to be a five star hotel. ‘
Remember to smile and you are halfway there.