SERVICE: THE LAST FRONTIER IN FRANCHISING

Unit growth isn't a problem for Choice Hotels, as the 10-brand company executed a record 639 franchise deals in 2005. But now the mega-franchisor is taking on a much-tougher challenge: increasing levels of guest service and satisfaction, a particularly daunting task in a franchise environment that includes thousands of individual owners and managers and tens of thousands of property-level employees.

But the high-flying brand company believes it can accomplish the goal through a combination of technology, franchisee education, employee training and carrot-and-stick encouragement from corporate headquarters. Increased guest satisfaction, along with brand consistency and a stronger system, are the company's short-term goals as laid-out at the system's conference in May in Nashville.

“As more guests come through our doors, we have to work harder than ever to make sure they keep coming back,” President & CEO Charles Ledsinger told attendees. “A friendly greeting, showing interest in meeting room needs, quick response to any issues that arise — these are the things that can make a lasting, positive impression.”

Last year, Choice introduced its Customer Care initiative to help properties build satisfaction and loyalty, and this fall, the chain will roll out Be Our Best, a new training program that will reinforce the satisfaction message.

Using an electronic guest survey tool, the Guest Insight System, properties and headquarters, get immediate, direct feedback from guests. The key GIS metric the chain focuses on is a “likelihood to recommend” score.

“With GIS, we can understand very precisely what drives guests to recommend our brands, and through Be Our Best training we can directly influence the factors involved in those decisions,” said Janna Morrison, senior VP of customer care and information services.

Management believes so much in the importance of GIS that the score accounts for 60 percent of a property's ranking within its brand. The other 40 percent is the hotel's last two quality assurance scores.

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