The New Role of Quality Assurance
By Janet Gerhard Founder, Hospitality Gal, LLC | February 17, 2013
Quality assurance as a practice in the hospitality industry goes back to the first days of franchising. American mobility was the basis for establishments to franchise starting with well-known brands such as Kentucky Fried Chicken in 1930, Dunkin Donuts in 1950, Burger King in 1954, and McDonald's in 1955. It was only natural for hotels to follow these early pioneers in the space, and with this move came the need for quality assurance. Its function continues to evolve, and many organizations today are looking at how to leverage this onsite workforce for competitive advantage.
Examining the roots of the term "quality assurance" is everything. The concept started with the simple premise of consistently delivering the brand experience through products and services. Historically, the primary purpose of quality assurance was the proverbial stick (versus the carrot), especially in franchise agreements. Checklists included physical items such as exterior signage, room elements down to the number of hangers in the closet, amenities in the bathroom and procedural elements of the stay like check-in and check-out processes, room service, wake-up calls, and the like.
Inspectors were trained for consistency. Subjectivity was specifically eliminated from the evaluation, e.g., the size and nature of a stain on the guest room carpet dictated its relevance to the overall measures of room cleanliness or conditions. Service evaluations were yes/no responses on items, such as the number of rings for call to be answered, use of the guest name, etc. When new programs were rolled out by the brands internally or externally, the quality assurance team was the conduit to ensure proper presentation and adherence to the new standards.
The evaluation cycle was held tightly to a six-month rotation. All evaluation criteria were recalibrated on an annual basis, which was the typical cycle for brands to adjust standards. In the earliest days, hotels were given a two-week notice of the pending inspection. The inspector received VIP treatment, and efforts were made to put a best foot forward, and in some instances extreme means were used to accomplish this. Depending on your view, it could be seen as the heyday of inspection life. Gaming existed. The franchisor took comfort in knowing that every six months the properties under their purview were thoroughly spruced up.
With bonuses often tied to the results of these inspections, hotels looked for relief on brand standards to which they could not or would not comply. An often onerous exceptions policy sprouted up with waivers filed with the brands to eliminate point deductions. Databases had to be created simply to manage the volume of waivers for each hotel. Scoring could be tied to the hotel's willingness to file paperwork with their regional manager versus actual adherence to the brand standards. In the era of TQM (Total Quality Management), this number grew proportionally with the number of standards created to distinguish each of the brands.
The largest hotel companies are now managing nearly a dozen brands a piece. Necessity more likely than reason took hold, and standards began to get streamlined. Instead of maintaining standards for each brand independently, basic items became the foundation for all hotels. No longer were there different numbers of hangers for the full service versus limited service properties. Brand standards that routinely generated exceptions were re-evaluated to determine appropriateness. In time, waivers were reduced as the need for perfection in scores was reassessed against intent of measuring brand compliance.
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