When you opt for a five-star hotel, you expect luxury. Marble, not granite. Silverware, not stainless steel. Crystal rather than glass. A high thread count. You expect the receptionist who welcomes you on arrival to speak your language. You anticipate valet parking or someone to show you to your room, relieving you of the burden of your heavy suitcases. You presume the hotel restaurant, or indeed restaurants, will serve exquisite cuisine at your beck and call. You want access to additional facilities – a business center or spa, perhaps.
Of course, hotels have to jump through certain standardized hoops to qualify for their five-star ratings. But what really makes a hotel stand out, other than superb design, an architectural edge or unbeatable location, say, is far less concrete in nature. Far harder to quantify. It is the way a hotel makes you feel. This abstract criterion relies on one thing above all: service excellence.
The Ritz-Carlton: best in class
It is no coincidence that the Ritz-Carlton logo alludes to royalty, for this is a hotel chain fit for the Queen herself: Best Luxury Hotel Chain 2017, Condé Nast Gold List 2016, Forbes Travel Guide 2015 Star Awards… The list is seemingly endless.
What practices underpinning day-to-day operations at the Ritz-Carlton make it worthy of award after award? This is your step-by-step guide to emulating its service excellence best practices.
Step 1: Define your gold standards
The first step towards any goal is clearly defining that goal. Achieving service excellence is no exception. To obtain it, you must know exactly what you are striving for. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. provides this clarity via its Gold Standards, chiefly consisting of:
- The Credo: In this de facto mission statement, the Ritz-Carlton defines guests’ care and comfort as its number-one priority, describes the kind of atmosphere it wishes to cultivate (“warm, relaxed, yet refined”), and sets out its expectations for the Ritz-Carlton experience. Seeking to “enliven the senses, instill well-being, and fulfill even the unexpressed wishes and needs of guests”, this credo is clearly oriented towards service excellence.
- The Motto: Its spirit of service excellence is boiled down to one succinct, memorable statement: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
- Three Steps of Service: Demarcating the customer journey, these three steps outline the must-dos of all hotelier-guest interactions, from (1) a warm welcome, (2) addressing guests by name and anticipating and fulfilling their needs, to (3) a fond farewell.
- The 6th Diamond: This additional goal seeks to capture how the Ritz-Carlton differs from other five-star hotels: it has a certain “mystique” and practices “emotional engagement”, all while providing “functionality”. Perhaps we may consider these aspects in combination to be the luxury hotel chain’s USP.
Step 2: Hire people who embody your standards
Once you have defined the framework for your culture of service excellence, you will need to ensure your staff are able to deliver on your promises. This starts as early as the selection process.Micah Solomon, author of The Heart of Hospitality, recommends the “WETCO” approach in recruiting the kinds of people who are best suited to delivering service excellence. They should possess the following strengths:
- Optimistic explanatory style
Step 3: Equip and empower them
You can assist your employees in embodying a service excellence mindset by formulating “service values”. The Ritz Carlton has formulated twelve one-sentence service values, written in the first person singular, consolidating the attitude its employees are expected to assume. They are oriented towards taking pride in one’s work and professional conduct, exercising responsibility while also appreciating the matrix of roles that lead to corporate success, and, above all, being tuned in to guests’ needs – whether they voice them or not – and proactively seeking to provide them with “unique, memorable and personal experiences”.
Training is crucial in delivering service excellence. This is why the Ritz-Carlton requires a minimum of 250 hours training of each employee each year and maximizes its impact by catering to different learning styles.
Embracing your service values and drawing on any training should put employees in good stead to deliver a “culture of yes” (another of Solomon’s recommendations), always striving to make things possible, rather than explaining why they aren’t. The Ritz-Carlton takes this one step further by providing each of their frontline employees with a discretionary budget of USD 2,000 to solve any guest issues or take steps to improve guests’ stays.
Step 4: Get out of their way
The next step is to commit to a leadership style that is conducive to the desired culture of service excellence. Horst Schulze, co-founder of the Ritz-Carlton, understands how tempting it may be to give direct orders or overly specific instructions in the heat of daily business, but recommends handing the baton back to employees whenever possible. Consult the respective podcast archives here.
Step 5: Ensure consistency
Having laid the foundations for service excellence and given your employees the leeway to explore how they can optimize it, ensure your customers will encounter the same outstanding service every time they come to you.
The Ritz-Carlton takes the hospitality industry’s traditional “daily lineup”, which sees employees huddle at the start of every shift to ensure a smooth transition from team to team, to the next level by compiling tried-and-tested service solutions in a database, accessible by its international hotels. This ensures that any guest, visiting in any country, gets that Ritz-Carlton experience. And it is this trademark excellence that truly separates the wheat from the chaff.