To make a success of next year's Olympics we have to offer gold-standard customer service, says Brian Wisdom, chief executive of People 1st
Next week we begin the one-year countdown to the opening ceremony of the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. It's something the industry has been talking about for years, but this is the time to assess how ready we really are to welcome the world.
Millions have been poured into developing the infrastructure for the games, but it's essential that we don't forget the softer skills needed to deliver a world-class visitor experience. We recently conducted a poll with YouGov, which revealed that almost three in four Britons think our customer service needs improving before the Olympics, while our State of the Nation 2010 report found that 65% of businesses with skills gaps think their staff lack customer service skills.
In addition, last year's Nations Brand Index ranked the UK 13th out of 50 countries for its "welcome". With up to half a million international visitors expected to arrive for the games, we have a real opportunity to blow these negative perceptions out of the water and create a tourism legacy for the future - it's critical that we deliver a positive visitor experience.
People 1st is working with businesses across the hospitality and tourism industry to help them raise their game. Last year, following extensive research into international best practice customer service, we brought the WorldHost customer service training programme to the UK. Now we're working with LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games) to develop it for London 2012 and incorporate the Olympic values.
The WorldHost programme has been awarded the London 2012 Inspire mark, which recognises its objective in supporting the legacy themes of the games, and it will be offered to tens of thousands of employees and contractors' staff who will be working at the Olympic and Paralympic venues. It has already been used successfully at the Vancouver Winter Olympics, where it was used to train 39,000 volunteers and tourism staff last year.
We're also offering the programme, which offers a gold standard in customer service training, to businesses across the hospitality and tourism industry. The WorldHost suite includes four programmes which address critical customer service needs - Principles of Customer Service, Customers With Disabilities, Service Across Cultures and the Ambassador Workshop. If you want to make the most of the estimated £2b generated from visitors during the Olympics, now is the ideal time to invest in the people who represent you and act as ambassadors for Britain's visitor offering.
Opportunities to improve Britain's reputation won't stop with London 2012. Over the next few years, we're also hosting the 2014 Ryder Cup and Commonwealth Games and the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Businesses that act now will be the real winners - by delivering a world-class customer experience, we can place ourselves among the elite and create a tourism legacy that could bear fruit for years to come.
For more information, visit www.worldhost.uk.com