According to an article in a recent issue of the Financial Times’ ‘How to Spend it’ magazine staircases are on the up. They have certainly come to my attention of late beginning with the magical structure within the Renaissance Hotel at London’s St Pancras train Station.

Not a staircase to customer service heaven.

Its sweeping arc as it rises up into one of the hotel’s main towers is one of the highlights of the recent restoration of this Victorian gothic masterpiece. This venue came to my notice because I’m always on the look-out for somewhere new to conduct business meetings that are in conveniently-located places and have comfortable surroundings.

When I had a business appointment with an executive travelling into King’s Cross station the hotel seemed an ideal venue to meet. All we needed was the use of a table and an environment that was not too laid back or too noisy. This meant the lounge was unsuitable and so we were directed into the much more sedate wood-panelled Ticket Office.

Unfortunately, despite it being virtually empty during the post-lunch period, we were told we couldn’t use the room as we hadn’t booked a table and we weren’t intending to eat. The only place we could therefore use was outside under a canopy on the Eurostar train platform.

 

There was an expectation that the magnificence of the structures of both the re-developed station and hotel with its staircase would be translated into the quality of the service levels. But sadly we were let down badly. It seems that all too often in the UK you can have the fixtures and fittings and bricks and mortar but the poor service standards make the whole exercise pointless.

Retail and leisure businesses should be about creating a service ethos where the customer experience encourages every visitor to make a return visit. When you consider how much competition there is in the marketplace it beggars belief that organisations are annoying people to the extent that they will never come back.

The St Pancras hotel is in stark contrast to a new store that has opened near me in Farnham called Evitavonni that was a former Woolworths and which has undergone a two-year £5 million transformation.
Evitavonni: Wonder if they do pick ‘n’ mix?

It is now a retailer of ultra high-end designer fixtures for the home – including a toothbrush holder for £325 – that has as its centrepiece a sweeping marble staircase that has been installed at some exorbitant cost no doubt.

The workmanship is not let down by shoddy service levels. Everybody in the store is keen to help and has time to assist customers when they are deciding on product choices. However well this store performs financially it certainly won’t have been let down by service levels. All customers leave the store talking about its amazing service and impressive staircase – just like I’m doing now.

Other stores akin to this – with equally high service levels and cutting edge interior design – are the renowned Apple outlets. Such has been the success of these units around the world that appointments have to be booked ahead if customers want to speak to anybody about their own Apple product.

These stores are also recognised for their glass staircases and the patent on their design is in the name of the late Steve Jobs, which maybe indicates just how proud he was of this particular feature, which complements the exemplary in-store service levels.

Staircases aside, you’d have to assume that in the current competitive environment it would be natural to aspire or to lead on service levels. But all too often individuals want to bring their own take on service to their businesses – whether that is the store managers or individual shop assistants – with the result that customers are let down badly.

The one thing we can conclude is that it seems much easier to have a great staircase than it is to have great service.

Nigel Sapsed is director of executive search specialist Sapsed Stevens