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How to Implement a Ritz-Carlton Level of Service in Your Hotel


As a hotel manager, ensuring that your customers receive excellent service should be your top priority. Good service is a major contributing factor to customers’ brand loyalty; it can help your hotel stand above the rest to attract and retain a loyal guest following.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is not only world-renowned for being a premier provider of luxury lifestyle experiences, but also for providing legendary customer service – so much so that a book was written about it. Their reputation for going above and beyond customers’ expectations and cultivating brand loyalty has made devotees of their service model in the hospitality industry and beyond.

Recently, I reached out to Kelly Steward, General Manager at The Ritz-Carlton, Cleveland, to find out how other hotel managers can achieve a level of service that meets The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s famous standards. Steward also serves as a speaking ambassador for The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Training Center, where she hosts courses, workshops and seminars that teach both internal and external customers – from hotel managers to leaders of healthcare and financial institutions – how to improve their customer service. Here are five tips she shared:

1. Have a Written Service Strategy

“I would venture to say that most staff, across many organizations and industries, don’t know what their company’s vision or mission is,” Steward says. “We have 38,000 Ladies and Gentlemen who are all very aware of what their vision, mission and purpose is every day. That’s why and how we’re successful.”

It’s important to have a core mission, vision and philosophy that is part of your company culture and embraced by everyone in the hotel – and you also need a strategy for how to execute on it. At The Ritz-Carlton, there is a written service strategy that everyone from the President and COO, Herve Humler, to the housekeeping staff knows and upholds, called the Gold Standards. The Gold Standards are comprised of five elements: the Credo, the Motto, the Three Steps of Service, the Sixth Diamond and the Employee Promise.

Ritz-Carlton Motto

The Ritz-Carlton Motto.

During training, employees – whom they refer to internally as “Ladies and Gentlemen” – are steeped in the company culture and The Ritz-Carlton service strategy, which must be “known, owned and energized” by all team members. Training at Ritz-Carlton Hotels covers everything from basic etiquette to how to create unique and memorable experiences for guests to service psychology. And the hotels invest significantly in this training: an average of 280-350 hours per person per year.

It’s the company culture, says Diana Oreck, Vice President of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, that “creates passionate advocates of our employees… we don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customers be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.”

This process, Steward says, represents “the power of a cultural transformation” in which employees come to embody The Ritz-Carlton’s service philosophy.

2. Tell, Show, Do and Review

If you really want to lead, you need to be one with the rest of your team: you need to get down in the trenches and really understand what they do. Other team members who are on the floor want to actually see their boss and have a chance to give feedback, and it’s important that you have relationships and dialogue with them.

Before starting each of the day’s three shifts, 38,000 employees at Ritz-Carlton hotels around the world participate in what is called the “daily lineup” for their department. This is an opportunity for managers to get feedback from the rest of the team about what their successes have been and what needs to be improved upon. A “message of the day” from the corporate office about current events within the company is also delivered to employees.

These daily lineups may be led by managers, or by employees who sign up or are assigned to lead. Regardless, everyone is always involved, and they always include a discussion of the Gold Standards and how they are being applied.

“It is a daily renewal of our service mission and execution,” Steward says. “It is about the guest experience and how we come together as an operational team to deliver excellence… [and] it is a way to get our shot of energy and daily dose of philosophy.”

This type of interaction is critical for managers who want to build a strong and enthusiastic team. Steward also emphasizes that managers should engage in an ongoing process called “tell, show, do and review”:

  • Tell your employees how to do essential day-to-day processes.
  • Show them how to live your company’s philosophy.
  • Do the work with the employees, offering assistance or guidance.
  • Review everyone’s progress and the experiences of both employees and guests.

The Ritz-Carlton is “a process-oriented company,” Steward says. “The talented Ladies and Gentlemen who are selected and the processes they follow are key to delivering exceptional service.”

It’s important that all staff members have the opportunity to see their daily processes done right, so that they can effectively replicate them on their own. And by following Steward’s process for managers, you can build a team that works hard for you – and, most importantly, for the company, the owners, the customer and the brand.

3. Inspect What You Expect

Steward notes that there is one area in particular where many hotel managers could improve their level of service: Do not think you can just come into your hotel and sit behind a desk all day. You need to get out on the floor, roam around your hotel and inspect everything and everyone: in other words, “inspect what you expect” out of your hotel, its employees and its guests.

“Everyone, not just managers, bears a big responsibility every day,” Steward says. “Everyone has to care for and nurture our brand so that it will succeed in the future.”

Here are a few examples of how to inspect what you expect on the floor:

  • Look for light bulbs that have burned out, and get them replaced;
  • Check the grooming standards of your employees;
  • Ensure there is a smile on everyone’s face;
  • Keep your eyes out for guests who may be lost or need assistance, and step in;
  • Listen to your employees about what’s working, and what needs improvement;
  • Listen to the guests about their positive experiences, and the ones that could have been better; and,
  • Look for staff members who may need some backup, and help them.

Being out on the floor and regularly taking the pulse of the hotel, its staff and its customers leads to success. And you must ensure that your employees are doing the same: they, too, should be taking the pulse of hotel customers, their co-workers and what is going on around them.

“There is a lot of learning… and uncovering that you’ll find watching guest behavior,” Steward explains. For example, when watching the lobby, a manager might observe that “if there was an iPad at the front desk to visualize guest rooms, if a guest walks in… they could easily view and see what type and style of room they would prefer.”

This kind of careful observation can lead to innovation: iPad technology is, in fact, currently in place at the front desk in many Ritz-Carlton Hotels, and is often used in their restaurants for guests who want to visualize the food and drink menu or browse suggestions and pairings.

Ritz-Carlton Kuala Lumpur

One of The Ritz-Carlton’s many global locations: Kuala Lumpur.

4. Anticipate Customers’ Unexpressed Needs 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center focuses heavily on teaching employees to provide the legendary service its hotels are famous for. One of the key tenets of this service is to “surprise and delight” guests by going above and beyond what might be expected out of the average customer service experience.

The Ritz-Carlton strives to always anticipate customers’ unexpressed needs – an approach they call “Radar On – Antenna Up.” Essentially, they train employees to know what customers will want or need before they even know it themselves. This approach is one of the most frequently cited takeaways by attendees of the Leadership Training courses, whether they’re internal employees or external business owners.

In these courses, Oreck explains, they provide scenarios in which employees can practice anticipating the unexpressed wishes of hotel guests. In one scenario, for example, a young couple brings a two-year-old baby into the restaurant. The employee should not only serve the couple, but should also bring a high chair, crayons and the hotel’s stuffed lion, Carlton, for the baby (without the customer having to ask). By doing so, the employee has anticipated the couple’s need to keep the baby happy and occupied so they can enjoy their dinner.

One guest provides a perfect example of this type of service in action on The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center website: After 20 years of being a regular hotel guest on business trips to Washington, D.C., upon his last visit, he informed the staff that he was retiring and likely would not return. The hotel staff surprised him by leaving a gift of five red velvet cupcakes and a Ritz-Carlton bathrobe in his room, along with a personalized note of congratulations on his upcoming retirement.

Here’s an excerpt from a letter he wrote the hotel afterwards, regarding the experience:

The emotions felt at that moment were, as I stated earlier, simply overwhelming! Customer service is one thing. This is quite another. This is genuine. This is authentic. I no longer felt like a customer. I felt like family.”

5. Empower Your Employees

To be truly motivated, employees need to see that their work matters and that it’s within their power to make a difference – and this has been proven to increase job performance. Best-selling author Daniel Pink, in recent release To Sell is Human, notes that giving workers autonomy and allowing them to demonstrate their purpose and their impact on customers has a positive impact on productivity.

The Ritz-Carlton strives to empower employees by involving them in planning the work that affects them. In addition to the daily lineup, there are regular departmental meetings in which managers ask employees to suggest things the hotel could do to improve the guest experience. And their suggestions are often incorporated into daily operations.

For example, at The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland, the front office team noticed that guests had to essentially leave the property to access the hotel’s ATM, and wanted one that was closer to assist the guests. The team noted that the hotel still had plenty of phone booths – which are rapidly becoming a thing of the past – and suggested that one of them be replaced with an ATM. Not only did Steward take this suggestion, she involved the front office team in everything from picking the machine’s cabinetry colors to choosing its exact location. As a result of this conversation, the hotel also converted some of its other phone booths to business centers, stocked with essential supplies, computers and printers for guests to use.

“We want to involve the Ladies and Gentlemen,” says Steward, “and who knows [better] than our front-line Ladies and Gentlemen?”

Steward also emphasizes the idea of ownership: she wants her staff to take initiative and be proactive instead of reactive. Employees are encouraged to use their personal power to own situations with guests, and they are given the authority to do whatever it takes to deliver quality customer service. As an added bonus, when employees are empowered and passionate about what they do, turnover is reduced, making the hotel a better place for employees, managers and guests alike.

Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

Employees of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong.

Measuring Service Success

The Ritz-Carlton has seen its legendary customer service recognized by twice being the recipient of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, bestowed by members of Congress and presented by the President of the United States for performance excellence. Organizations in the business, health care, nonprofit and education industries are eligible each year  – and The Ritz-Carlton is the only hospitality company ever to receive the award.

Managers at Ritz-Carlton Hotels also know their customer service strategies are working based on regular metrics for tracking success. Once a month, the Gallup organization sends out a poll to a randomly-chosen 38 percent of guests who stayed at each hotel the month before. The poll consists of about 30 questions, including:

  • How likely are you to recommend The Ritz-Carlton?
  • Were you delighted and satisfied with your stay?
  • If there was a problem, did The Ritz-Carlton take care of your problem?

Generally, there is an eight to 10 percent return on these polls. If there is a positive response, the guest engagement number goes up – and the hotel knows that its training programs and customer service strategies have been successful.

“We put great value on that guest engagement number,” says Oreck.

Steward notes, however, that they shouldn’t ever wait on the comment cards to engage guests or to inquire about their experience at the hotel and whether their needs were being adequately met.

“With ever-evolving technology, we have to remain more engaged than ever before,” she says, “and if we don’t, that’s a missed opportunity. It’s really about being with the guests, understanding their needs and communicating with them in the manner they desire.”

As a hotel manager, you, too, should engage your customers and employees, get out on the floor and work every day to improve the service experience for your guests. By following the recommendations of The Ritz-Carlton, you too can improve the level of service in your hotel and increase brand loyalty among your customers.

To sign up for a Leadership Training Course at your local Ritz-Carlton, or for more information, visit their website.

Thumbnail image created by Jason Paris.

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Holly Regan

About the Author

Holly Regan is the Content Editor for Software Advice. Her work has appeared on many notable sites, including The New York Times, PRNews and oDesk. She has also contributed to works on top-tier publications such as Entrepreneur, the Wall Street Journal and Business Insider.

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