Five star Suffolk when it comes to service

PUBLISHED: 01:16 16 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:37 20 February 2013

Five star Suffolk when it comes to service

Five star Suffolk when it comes to service

Ruth French checks up on Suffolk's standards of service ahead of the Olympics and reckons we should blow our own trumpet when it comes to local customer care

Ruth French checks up on Suffolks standards of service ahead of the Olympics and reckons we should blow our own trumpet when it comes to local customer care

have mystery shopped, surveyed lunched and lodged my way through Suffolk and its official by my admittedly biased reckoning anyway Suffolk is good news when it comes to customer service.

And that puts us squarely into focus as an advantageous tourist destination as Britain prepares to be 2012 Olympic hosts to the sporting world.

Why are we so special? For a kick-off, were little more than an hour from London yet we have a beautiful coastline, glorious rural villages and market towns, and local people grounded in hard work who have an enviable, industrious creativity when it comes to food and artisan products.

Top that with an eager willingness to help, serve and simply be kind, and you start to feel very proud indeed.

Who particularly won my praise? Well I focused on various aspects of life in Suffolk those that visitors to the county may tap into at some point during the games and this is what I found.


Ive found a company who travel that bit further when it comes to good service. Helpful Cabs of Felixstowe recognise what makes life easier for customers. Their motto is simply for those that need a helping hand. Katherine and Alan Kane make sure thats what their customers get. They are the only wheelchair-adapted Hackney Carriage company in Felixstowe and use vehicles that makes each journey a safe, pleasant and convenient one. In particular I found Katherines re-assuring and kind manner supportive. She told me they based their business model on listening to customers and implementing their wishes. Personally, I cant think of any better way to run a business.

Large chain and department stores

We all use them at some point, even if we generally dislike the town, so we want to feel good about our local one.

Marks & Spencer in Ipswich is one such place. Suffolk has more than its fair share of lovely people and to me the Ipswich branch of M&S always feels like a comforting place an auspiciously situated safe haven of retail necessity. Is it intentional? Do they have a strategy? Of course they do theres no happen-chance here.

"Marks and Spencer is very much customer-centred and we always strive to offer the highest standards of quality, value, service, innovation and trust," says Ipswich branch manager Jackie Norbury.

I asked her how the policy is effectively implemented. "Since 2006 we have used mystery shoppers in Suffolk to improve our in-store service and to give customers here in Ipswich a better shopping experience with us."

Smaller independents

This is an area of retail that quickly shows up the differences. Without a large budget and possibly with no clear customer service policy in force, the small shops show themselves in a very clear light. Apart from my own village Budgen store in East Bergholt, where the manager, Alex, and staff insist on taking heavy shopping to your car or delivering free in bad weather, quite the best small retail customer service Ive experienced is at Sant Studio Woodbridge. Run by sisters Claire, Louise and Georgina who either design, produce or source fabulous things, they have an outrageously unfair amount of creative talent between them and quite the loveliest of customer service skills which I couldnt forget. Watching them interact with customers is a treat. Theres a real art to service that dictates you dont smother clients the moment they walk through the door. The next time you need something special, visit them and youll know just what I mean.

Restaurants and pubs

Theres potential enough in this arena for umbrage and dissatisfaction to last a lifetime but yet again Suffolk comes up trumps. Why? Because we have an exceptional food provenance thats spawned eateries that are the envy of the gastronomic world and weve learnt to combine that with good customer service.

The White Lion Restaurant & Hotel in Aldeburgh is an example. General manager Peter Osborne has a passionate commitment to giving his customers the finest service which he has achieved in an innovative training initiative.

Peter took a lesson from Londons best customer service traditions at the five-star Goring Hotel in Belgravia.

For two days the White Lions food and beverage manager, Juliet Stone, and front of house manager Sean Martin shadowed staff at the Goring to enhance their own skills. The aim was to create a five-star service within a three-star establishment.

Keen to take his mission even further, Peter enlisted help from the highest source in the form of customer service guru Fred Sirieix. Fred is general manager at the London Hiltons 28th floor restaurant Galvin At Windows and starred alongside Michel Roux Jnr in the BBC2 series Michel Rouxs Service.

He has brought a new understanding of what it means to serve and is keen to get his message into every corner of Britain.

He told me he thoroughly enjoyed visiting Suffolk.

"The White Lion already possesses many ingredients to success such as enthusiasm, kindness, generosity and an appetite to be best at what they do," he said.

In the glorious Suffolk village of Monks Eleigh is The Swan. If you want good, home-produced local fare you wont be disappointed. If you rightly expect excellent customer service on top of that, you wont find a better pub.

Walk through the door and youre nurtured like a weary traveller in need of some TLC. Go again and the welcome is that of a trusty old friend who has your best interests close at heart.

Nigel and Carol Ramsbottom have that way of making you feel that its your very own local and you wished you lived just round the corner. Nigel has a keen sense of community and civic pride and both work very hard to keep the customer satisfied. Poke your head round the door and youll see just what I mean.

The sporting community

Nothing is more in the 2012 spotlight than sport. My Suffolk niceness radar left no stone unturned as I picked on the Suffolk Football Association. Did it keep pace with the rest of Suffolks good service reputation? I asked its chief executive, Phil Knight. "Good customer service is absolutely fundamental to our organisation. Weve recently embarked upon a well-defined vision of improving and enhancing the levels of service we employ to all of our stakeholders. Were passionate about football and want to harness its power to change peoples lives for the better so yes, improving facilities, implementing mystery shopper procedures and breaking down entry barriers by identifying underprivileged youngsters with ability are all-important."

Suffolk FA understands that 2012 could increase its customers and that a multi-layered company such as it is must have a care system thats implemented and reviewed with honesty.

Who are your Suffolk customer service heroes and how did they go that bit further to make you feel well looked after? Tell us about them at

If its a food or drink business you could also nominate them for a Suffolk Food and Drink Award at

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