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Why Ritz-Carlton Provides the World's Best Service

Stashed in: Culture, Management, Values, Customers!

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Why? Because empowered employees make for happy customers.

Solomon: The easiest way I know to terrify an audience of business leaders is to describe to them how the Ritz-Carlton allows any employee in your organization to fix any guest problem, without asking for permission–even if it costs up to $2000 to do so. Yet at The Ritz-Carlton you continue to offer this responsibility and autonomy to your employees every day of the week and it works out very well. Can you talk with me about this? 

Herve Humler, President and Chief Operating Officer, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company: This is what we’ve always called here at The Ritz-Carlton, for decades before it became a popular buzzword in business, “empowerment.“ Empowerment is often manifested as the power of our employees to break away from the routine. This requires attention to seek out the moments where a break from the routine brings value to the guest: If you are server, you listen to the customer, and if he expresses a desire for something different from what you are currently doing now, you cater to it. If you are an [maintenance] engineer and you are painting the wall or changing a light bulb and a customer says “Hey, how are you? I need to get to the airplane,” you can stop what you’re doing and say “Sir, I am going to take you to the airplane.”

The attitude I strive to get across to my employees is this: “You are not servants, because unlike a servant, I want you to be engaged with the customer—you have a brain, you have a heart and I want you to use them.” This is why we say, and have always said, that we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. We mean this. I believe in the power of recognition and empowerment leading to great employee engagement. And employee engagement is critical to guest engagement. Employee empowerment and recognition is the core of our culture and how we achieve outstanding service.

Why? Because Ritz-Carlton is in the business of providing exceptional service.

Solomon: The focus on core values and other essential service standards at The Ritz-Carlton is clearly much more than lip service: My impression is that every employee in your organization–and I mean housekeepers as well as executives–knows every one of your brand’s philosophical principles by heart. Yet there are by contrast so many other companies that also have mission statements, but theirs become nothing more than paper on the wall.  Can you talk about this?

Humler: I encounter executives sometimes from other companies who tell me, “Oh, yes. We have a mission statement–it’s about four or five pages long. It’s somewhere in the CEO’s office, and accumulates a thicker layer of dust every year.” The problem in these cases is that the vision or the mission of the company isn’t shared with the employees! The executive attitude they’re showing here is that employees don’t work to create excellence, they only work for a paycheck.

I disagree with this wholeheartedly–in fact it makes me feel, in cases like this, that it’s the CEOs who should be reformed today, not the employees. It’s what you make of your employees. My feeling is that, by and large, there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers.

Here at The Ritz-Carlton, everything is well-defined and thoroughly communicated. Our concept of service is not only well-defined, but through our Gold Standards, daily lineup [see my article here for an in-depth look at daily lineup], and continuous training, we re-energize our ladies and gentlemen to serve our guests consistently.

They’re the absolute opposite here of just being words on a piece of paper.  They are brought to life by the employees. At The Ritz-Carlton, we have 16 service values and three steps of service, and each one of our 40,000 ladies and gentlemen know them.  They learn during orientation, and the values are then reinforced every day of the year at Lineup. We even provide them on a laminated card that each Lady and Gentleman has on their person for reference.

It is my job, and the job of every leader in this organization, to remind ourselves and those who work for us daily that we are not in the business of selling hotel rooms or F&B [food and beverage].  We are in the business of providing exceptional service. The privilege of serving our guests is the highest priority of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. If we do that well, the rest of our job is easy and we will by default sell rooms.

Energizing a global workforce has to be a daily commitment, and is the reason that we conduct lineup three times per day, every day, all over the world. We remind our ladies and gentlemen what is important to our customers and  reinforce this regularly through onboarding, training and regular communications like daily line-ups, repetition is important.  This keeps it alive throughout the company: The same service value we’re reinforcing in New York will be focused on in Los Angeles and Beijing as well, that very same day. It’s important to our success that we commit ourselves every day, day in and day out. Not whenever we want, just always. We pledge to commit ourselves to deliver excellence to our guests every day.

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