Service Heroes: 5 minutes with Gary Acheson, Head of HR, Learning and Development at The Argyll Club

Author: Stella Chrysaki/December 6, 2019

To kick off our blog series on Service Heroes, we sat down with our very own Head of HR, Learning and Development, Gary Acheson, to discuss what service means to him and how people are at the heart of The Argyll Club.

How did your career in service begin, and what led you to The Argyll Club?

I grew up in rural Ireland and so was - drawn to the - glamour of the hospitality industry. After leaving school, I completed a four-year hotel management course with a year-long placement at a premium hotel overlooking Lake Geneva, which was not a bad introduction! I was then recruited by The Dorchester, where I worked on instilling excellent service through training for three years, and then moved to The Peninsula in New York. It was a very exciting industry to be part of and I met some fantastic people along the way.

However, one thing that I felt was missing from my career was the opportunity to build long-term relationships; clients in hotels tend to be fleeting. I moved into the serviced office market in search of this and spent five years at MWB, now Regus, developing its customer service processes. I first heard about The Argyll Club’s exciting rebrand in early 2019 and was very keen to be part of it from its inception. My role in our journey is to guarantee that the customer is central to every process, ensuring that service runs through our DNA via the best team possible.

How would you describe the internal culture at The Argyll Club?

When I joined The Argyll Club, the first thing that struck me was its people, and their pride, passion and potential. Everyone is committed to excellent service and wears it as a badge of honour. A recent survey showed that our members had an 88% satisfaction rate with the helpfulness of our teams and that rings true the minute you walk through the door!

It’s a culture of fun and learning. We want our team to come into work every day feeling motivated, so we’re passionate about celebrating individual achievements and ensuring that there are always learning opportunities – whether it’s on-the-job or structured training. Our people are as much a part of The Argyll Club as our members: behaviour breeds behaviour so a vital part of our culture is to ensure our people are happy, and in turn spread an infectious sense of positivity and productivity through our ‘club’. I believe that having good people around you ups your game; this is why our culture is so important!

What learning and development initiatives are you spearheading at The Argyll Club to develop service from within?

An exciting new journey has begun. We want our people to be integral to the business, so during our relaunch to become The Argyll Club we worked with focus groups and employee questionnaires to ensure their voices were part of the new business. We also hosted a celebratory launch event for over 150 employees to kick off our new brand’s journey. It’s a two-way process: we want change to come both from the top and from within.

During Customer Service Week, we celebrated our own service heroes, focusing on a different brand value each day and sharing stories of excellent service within the company, and we’ll be hosting our own service awards next year. If you think about it, why would our clients come to a serviced office if the service isn’t there? We need to make it central to our existence, internally and externally.

We also recently sent teams to The Hari, a boutique Mayfair hotel, and The Berkeley Hotel in Knightsbridge, to see first-hand how excellent service looks and feels. We then ran a reflection session where we considered how to embed these service behaviours in our business. There is immense potential within The Argyll Club and my job is to ensure that the training, support and processes are in place so every member of the team can unlock it.

What’s the most important lesson that you’ve learned about service?

That you must find people who genuinely care about others; surround yourself with those who can’t prevent themselves from helping other people.

What has been your favourite ‘service moment’?

When I was working at The Peninsula New York, a guest was rushed to A&E but left a crucial medical document in her room that meant her operation couldn’t proceed. We had to urgently track it down and fax it over to the hospital. It was this ability to help people every day that excited me when I first started my career, and continues to do so today.

What does service mean to you?

The key to great service isn’t just going above and beyond to help, but also personalising how you act in each moment and with each person. If someone is having a good day, celebrate with them; if they’re having a bad day, pick them up. When service becomes generic, it loses its value. What we do at The Argyll Club is tailor our approach to each individual member, which is how you truly make a difference.

What are the biggest challenges facing the service industry?

The conversations currently taking place around mental health are incredibly important. As Head of HR, a key aspect of my role is to ensure that we are better at talking about, and tackling, mental health as a business. That’s why myself and other members of the senior team attended a 2-day mental health training course, which we are embedding into internal policies. We also hope to offer similar courses to our members in the future to help our entire community support mental health in the workplace.

Finally, who is your service hero?

When you’ve been in the industry for a long time, it becomes difficult to be impressed and so, for me, the best service comes as a surprise, when you’re least expecting it. My service hero would have to be Nelson Mandela. I met him unexpectedly whilst working at The Dorchester and, although I was supposed to be ‘serving’ him during his stay, I was struck by his genuine kindness and interest in me. This is what it’s really about – people who care.