Whenever I enter a Ritz-Carlton hotel, I know “I’m not in Mediocreville anymore!” Walking through those doors transports me to a world unparalleled in service, with guest amenities and services consistently beyond my expectations. Unlike the Wizard of Oz, the hotel is everything it purports to be.
I’m not a shill for Ritz-Carlton hotels, but, like other quality professionals, I’m a fan of extraordinary customer service and of organizations that exude professionalism and exceed customers’ expectations, and The Ritz-Carlton is one of those organizations. In the July issue of Consumer Reports , the magazine’s subscribers agree that, “The Ritz-Carlton earns top marks in value, service, upkeep, and making problems go away.”
This two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award winner (1992 and 1999) has set the standard in the hotel industry for unparalleled service. In addition, Training magazine recently ranked it No. 1 for employee-sponsored workforce training and development. Based on those accomplishments, I wanted to discover what was behind the curtain, so to speak. How does this company of 40,000 employees maintain its mystique and what lessons can other companies learn from it?
First, I interviewed vice president for quality and program management John Timmerman, who is responsible for the hotel’s quality worldwide. I also interviewed area human resources director Laura Gutierrez, who is responsible for human resources in Dearborn, Michigan; St. Louis; Cleveland; and Philadelphia. Both are long-term employees, which is consistent with the company’s low turnover rate. I came away from both interviews in awe of their strategic-planning methodology and the manner in which the hotel and its ladies and gentlemen, as they are called, constantly look for ways to strengthen service.
By the way, no Baldrige applicant has achieved a perfect score of 1,000, and the final assessments always allow for many opportunities for improvement. In that regard, The Ritz-Carlton continually seeks best practices from other organizations and from their own properties that can be incorporated worldwide, and it listens closely to the needs, wants, expectations, and suggestions of guests.
As I reviewed my interview notes with Timmerman and Gutierrez, I decided to present nuggets of information that reflect the processes ingrained in the hotel and thus have those nuggets stand alone as benchmarks for other organizations. So sit back and enter a world of customer excellence with me.
Service values—I am proud to be Ritz-Carlton
1. I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
2. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
3. I am empowered to create unique, memorable, and personal experiences for our guests.
4. I understand my role in achieving the key success factors and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
5. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
6. I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
7. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
8. I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
9. I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
10. I am proud of my professional appearance, language, and behavior.
11. I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees, and the company’s confidential information and assets.
12. I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness, and creating a safe and accident-free environment.
These are outcomes that any company can infuse into its own internal processes. Who wouldn’t want to participate in plans to restructure their own work? Who wouldn’t want to feel empowered to fulfill the needs of customers? In this case, The Ritz-Carlton allows each employee to make corrections costing up to $2,000 each day. And guess what? The Ritz-Carlton tracks and publicizes employee acts of customer-service heroism and measures customer engagement, not the actual amounts spent. Finally isn’t it refreshing to know that there’s no buck passing? Whoever receives or hears about a problem, owns it and follows up to ensure its resolution.
Previous experience in the tourist industry is helpful but not a prerequisite, according to Laura Gutierrez. It’s more important to have a positive attitude. Gutierrez says that talents are formed between the ages of five and eight, and it’s the function of the hiring manager to identify those talents and make sure that they’re in sync with the goals and culture of the hotel.
Some guests make unusual requests because of the reputation of the hotel. “As long as it is not illegal or immoral, we will move heaven and Earth to fulfill requests,” John Timmerman says. That attitude has served the hotel well over the years, enabling it to rank consistently in the top tier of hotels worldwide. The Ritz-Carlton is currently ranked in first place by the Market Metrix Hospitality Index.
As a Baldrige examiner, I’m aware of numerous organizations that benchmark against the processes of The Ritz-Carlton, notably hospitals. It’s a simple equation—hospitals have rooms and processes to gain entrance to those rooms. Once a room isn’t occupied, how fast can the room be turned around for the next patient or guest? No one does this procedure better than The Ritz-Carlton, and hospitals are incorporating these procedures as their own.
Well, I think you can tell that I’m completely enamored with the processes at this award-winning hotel. I think that there are numerous processes that other organizations can copy that will allow those companies to distinguish themselves from their competition. There are many other techniques and processes that I could have touched on, but I think you have a flavor for this remarkable company. Meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations and fulfilling even their unexpressed wishes ought to be the clarion for all companies.
Several years ago, a reporter for a major newspaper attempted to test the customer service of the hotel and made unusual requests to gauge the response. One such request was to “Provide a room with seven pillows—four feathered and three foamed alternatively stacked, and a room facing south on a floor in the single digits.” The other requests were just as odd. He concluded, “I poked, I prodded, I tried to do everything in my power to drive those people crazy. Not once did they flinch, overact, or try to escort me out headfirst. They won.”
When a U.S. commander speaks to a group of soldiers, his words are often met with a hearty “Hoo-Ahh,” which means “Heard, Understood, and Acknowledged.” That’s what I wanted to say after my interviews with John and Laura, because everything they said resonated with me as a quality professional who has experienced the care and attention of the ladies and gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton. This company should be benchmarked and held up as a role model. You can learn more by reviewing its 1999 application on the Baldrige Web site. There’s a storehouse of knowledge and information in those 24 pages, and it’s free.
Now I’m off to my local Ritz-Carlton to test their processes. I ordered a Roman chariot to transport me up the road from the hotel to Greenfield Village. I’ll let you know next month how it turned out. In the meantime, ”Hoo-Ahh!”