lap of luxury
Posted by Sheila Shayon on June 21, 2010 10:30 AM
The Ritz-Carlton is still considered the gold standard in customer service — and not just among well-heeled business travelers and jetsetters. At the core of this prized moniker: its employees, who are the face of a brand whose product is service. What's the secret to how the Ritz, and its employees, build loyalty to the brand and their locations?
Marketing and pricing can be competitive and close in the hotel business, but there's one factor that makes the Ritz stand out in the luxury hotel market.
As Brian Bennett, area director-performance improvement for Ritz-Carlton, tells Ad Age: "It's the positive experience that will make a guest who visits us five times a year visit us six or seven times. The experience is what triggers change in customer behavior and that change is pure profit."
The key to creating an outstanding customer experience, he says, is practice and training — daily. Every morning all Ritz employees (there's 32,000 of them worldwide) must bring their personal copies of the Ritz-Carlton credo to a meeting where 12 Service Values and three steps of service are reviewed, as "the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission." Service Value No. 1 states: "I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life."
The morning meeting includes a list of VIP guest arrivals, taking note of personal likes and dislikes down to allergies and blinds open or closed preferences. At the concierge desk they are prepared for anything. "The more affluent the guest, the more outlandish the request," said one concierge who’s received requests “to have playgrounds shipped to Saudi Arabia and has arranged a lavish Thomas the Tank Engine-themed party for a 4-year-old that included opening up FAO Schwarz early just for him.”
Ritz-Carltons compete amongst themselves weekly for top “gallop” – each horse icon representing one of six hotels in the northeast. "The staff takes that very seriously," said Aziz Bendriss, the hotel's assistant rooms executive. "Depending on where we post our horse, you can see the joy or disappointment on their faces."
Another key Ritz value is employee empowerment: if an employee doesn’t have an answer for a customer inquiry or complaint, they get assistance rather than passing it off to somebody else. For this they receive $2,000 every time a situation is satisfactorily resolved.
Dr. Joseph A. Michelli, author of bestselling business books including The Starbucks Experience, will publish his latest management tome, entitled The New Gold Standard: Five Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience in July in partnership with the Rtiz-Carlton hotel group, which is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Marriott.
The framework for The New Gold Standard is based upon five leadership principles espoused by the Ritz-Carlton: Define and Redefine; Empower Through Trust; It’s Not About You; Deliver “Wow”; and Leaving a Lasting Footprint.
Even if the crown jewel in this crown of brand success happens to be a rarified, five-star hotel that caters to the rich and pampered in their 259 rooms with a staff of 460 employees per hotel, the lessons are much more far-reaching.
The bottom line: Efficient service, pleasantly served, with civility always works. And how to acquire those skills? Training, practice, and incentive. This is the rule of "Putting on the Ritz" – and one wonders why more companies don’t do it.