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Ritz-Carlton’s Focus on the Customer

By Kevin Meyer

We've often heard about the incredible customer focus at Ritz-Carlton hotels.  Now a Forbes interview with RC president Simon Cooper sheds some more light on the subject.

Ritz-Carlton has become a leading brand in luxury lodging by rigorously
adhering to its own standards. It is the only service company in
America that has won the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award
twice, and Training Magazine has called it the best company
in the nation for employee training. Its unique culture starts with a
motto: "We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen."

So what kinds of unique things do they do?

We entrust every single Ritz-Carlton staff member, without approval
from their general manager, to spend up to $2,000 on a guest. And
that's not per year. It's per incident. When you say up to $2,000,
suddenly somebody says, wow, this isn't just about rebating a movie
because your room was late, this is a really meaningful amount. It
doesn't get used much, but it displays a deep trust in our staff's
judgment. Frankly, they could go over that amount, with the general
manager's permission.

The concept is to do something, to create
an absolutely wonderful stay for a guest. Significantly, there is no
assumption that it's because there is a problem. It could be that
someone finds out it's a guest's birthday, and the next thing you know
there's champagne and cake in the room. A lot of the stuff that crosses
my desk is not that they overcame a problem but that they used their
$2,000 to create an outstanding experience.

There are stories
about hiring a carpenter to build a shoe tree for a guest; a laundry
manager who couldn't get the stain out of a dress after trying twice
flying up from Puerto Rico to New York to return the dress personally; or when in Dubai a waiter
overheard a gentleman musing with his wife, who was in a wheelchair,
that it was a shame he couldn't get her down to the beach. The waiter
told maintenance, who passed word, and the next afternoon there was a
wooden walkway down the beach to a tent that was set up for them to
have dinner in. That's not out of the ordinary, and the general manager
didn't know about it until it was built.

Pretty incredible.  Meanwhile how many of us have spending limits, even as experienced managers and executives, that preclude us from creating exceptional service.  I often joke with my CFO that our shop floor operators have more financial authority than the company President as they can make $40,000 accept/reject decisions every day without any oversight, and we trust them completely, but our executives require multiple approvals for far less.

How about the concept of stand up morning meetings:

We use what we call "lineup," which is a Ritz-Carlton tradition. The
concept comes from the early restaurants of France, where the chef got
his whole team and all the waiters and waitresses and the maitre d'
together at 5:30 in the evening. It's a sort of round table. Everybody
is there. The chef communicates what they are going to be serving. For
the Ritz-Carlton, we want every single hotel, everywhere in the world,
every partner, every shift, to utilize lineup, which typically takes
around 15 minutes every day. Part of the lineup everywhere around the
world is a "wow story," which means talking about great things that our
ladies and gentlemen have done. That is a wonderful training and
communication tool, where every department layers on the department
message. And it's based on having the same message everywhere, every
day, and then each hotel layers on its own message.

Not only are issues and policies discussed and aligned, but successes are celebrated.  That's a lesson and reminder for many of us who already have stand up meetings.

Finally, what is the key to their successful customer-centric culture?

A culture is built on trust. And if leadership doesn't live the values
that it requires of the organization, that is the swiftest way to
undermine the culture. No culture sticks if it's not lived at the
highest levels of the organization. It takes an extraordinarily long
time to build a culture.

Hear hear.  Trust, driven from the top.

Finally, does anyone want to sponsor me to stay at a Ritz for a few days so I can investigate in more detail?  I promise a great post will follow!

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5 Responses to "Ritz-Carlton’s Focus on the Customer"

  • Chris Clayton
    3 November 2009 - 6:38 am

    Great post but there is more as well… I regularly use Ritz Carlton as examples of how Lean is so compatible with a Service Excellence culture.

    Back in the old days Cesar Ritz used to make sure his hotel rooms were painted white so he could check they were OK with a quick glance… Visual Management 40 years before Ohno.

    They run SMED exercises… videoing how they set up for a conference and then sitting down with the team to see how they might eliminate some of the waste so they can set up more quickly next time.

    And they are constantly on the lookout for “Mr Biv”. Mistakes, Rework, Breakdowns, Inefficiences and Variations in standard processes… not quite the 7 wastes but a pretty sound base…

    There is lots more that they do that has a real link to Lean Thinking and many more fantastic stories…

    I’m currently working with a small hotel and using R-C as an ispiration for how they can improve the operation.

    If you get that sponsorship let me know and I’ll give you a hand with your bags :-)

  • Tim McMahon
    3 November 2009 - 7:51 am

    I really enjoyed that post for the self reflection. Training, empowerment, and trust. In that order is works as a system to change culture.
    I takes a very long time and that is summarized well by Jon Miller in a formula for sustainability, a measure of culture change effectiveness.

  • Andy Wagner
    3 November 2009 - 8:20 am

    My family and I had a chance (and it was sponsored!) to stay at a Ritz when my daughter was only a few months old.
    Most hotels have the crib set-up when you’re coming with an infant. At the Ritz we had a bag of goodies waiting just for the baby, a diaper, small package of wipes, etc, but also some fairly valuable stuff, a good quality LED night light, and an inflatable cover for the bath tub spout, both of which… we are still using a year later at home!
    Nice to know that was probably the staff’s initiative and probably not the manager’s.

  • Girl Dresses
    4 November 2009 - 4:53 am

    Pretty incredible. Meanwhile how many of us have spending limits, even as experienced managers and executives, that preclude us from creating exceptional service.

  • Clay
    5 November 2009 - 9:15 am

    I used to work for the Ritz-Carlton and every bit of the article is true. What a fantastic company and culture!!