Norfolk estate sets the standard for customer care

Jonahtan Denby of sponsor Greater Anglia presents the award to Holkham's Celia Deely (left) and Sara

Jonahtan Denby of sponsor Greater Anglia presents the award to Holkham's Celia Deely (left) and Sarah Hiner Picture: I Do Photography - Credit: Archant

From the historic hall to the nature reserve's modern visitor centre, Holkham has perfected the art of making people welcome - scooping the Customer Care award at the Norfolk Business Awards.

Staff across the estate make visitors feel valued and welcome Picture: Holkham

Staff across the estate make visitors feel valued and welcome Picture: Holkham - Credit: Archant

Sharing the jewel in North Norfolk's crown with the public could be a daunting task, yet the Holkham team manage it so successfully they won the customer care category, sponsored by Greater Anglia, in the 2019 Norfolk Business. What's their secret? "Sometimes a team builds to a peak and it feels like we're there," explains general manager Celia Deeley. "It's great to receive the award, for the staff to have their hard work recognised."

A large team is needed to look after the 25,000-acre estate: with the part-time posts totted up, it takes the equivalent of 280 full-time roles to keep all areas of Holkham ticking over. "We'll have more part-time workers in some areas of the estate than others, plus we have seasonal workers as well," Celia explains.

Delivering an award-winning consistency and quality of customer care with such a varied staff make-up is an impressive achievement. "We spend a lot of time getting the recruitment process right," says Celia. "Not just the induction but also with settling people in to really understand Holkham. If someone works in one area, we'll give them the opportunity to see what happens in other departments. It means everyone has a better understanding of how things work. Then if visitors have a question about another part of the estate, our staff can probably answer them."

That may sound simple, but it's hard to imagine achieving it on this scale. Holkham has the huge Palladian hall that's still home to the Earl of Leicester and his family, the gardens, the acres of rolling parkland, the nature reserve and the beach - not to mention the award-winning farming business, the cafés, shops and the Victoria Inn. Then there's the cycle and boat hires to handle, a rope course and a woodland play area to manage, the nature trails and footpaths and visitor centres...

Holkham's guides provide a welcoming experience Picture: Holkham

Holkham's guides provide a welcoming experience Picture: Holkham - Credit: Archant

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In other words, there are dozens of opportunities every day for staff and public to not quite hit it off - yet that simply does not seem to happen at Holkham. "You only have to track us on social media and you'll see visitors saying the same thing: it's so friendly and welcoming," Celia says.

The number of people who are saying that looks likely to rise in the coming year. "We have already seen a gently positive Brexit effect on the North Norfolk coast, as people move towards domestic tourism," Celia confirms. "We're expecting to see higher visitor numbers through the next two or three years. We need to manage those numbers and spread visitors across the area."

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Can Holkham adapt to the increase in demand? "We can't get everything right, but if there is a negative comment we do our best to learn and improve," Celia says. "We did a detailed survey after our Christmas opening period, contacting 1,300 visitors, and the result was overwhelmingly positive. So the Customer Care award reflected what our visitors were experiencing.

"The Norfolk Business Awards were good because we were up against some strong competition," she adds. "With an award like this, you can be competing with different industries and it's interesting to see how they approach things."

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Holkham is also nominated in two categories of this year's Norfolk Tourism Awards (having already won the championship class and the livestock cup in the 2019 Norfolk Farm Business Awards).

"It's always good to put yourself forwards for an award," Celia suggests. "It lets you review the progress you've made and celebrate your successes with your staff. That's a very positive process. If you do then go on to win the award, that's the icing on the cake."

Holkham Hall is open on Sunday, Monday and Thursday from March 22 to November 1; the grounds are open every day. For full details and to book your visit, click here


Holkham is a still very much a family home, the extensive estate encompasses the stunning landscape of the Holkham National Nature reserve in Norfolk. Their team's vision is to see Holkham recognised as the UK's leading rural estate against which others will measure their own success. They understand that their employees determine their reputation and they work hard to create an environment where people feel valued and respected. This creates a happy workforce where people are inspired to give their best, resulting in exemplary customer experiences.

Jonathan Denby, Head of Corporate Affairs, Greater Anglia

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