What Ritz-Carlton Can Learn From Limo Operators

Posted on June 12, 2013 by - Also by this author

MARTIN ROMJUE: Customer service and technology were the major topics at this year’s LCT Leadership Summit in Miami Beach, which wrapped up yesterday afternoon. The Big Tech Panel and the Disney Institute dug deep into these topics, as the service industry changes at warp speed in the 21st Century.

Mobile app business models, cloud-based fleet management technology, and “I want it now and it better be perfect” are creating the competitive pressures that are shifting the balance of operations in the chauffeured transportation industry.

I got to thinking about this after I had an experience staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in South Beach, which was the site of our conference. Overall, the Ritz is the model example of good, attentive customer service. This was my third stay at the Ritz-Carlton in South Beach — a fine hotel I would gladly visit over and over again. They fixed my room safe within minutes, brought me a cereal bowl and spoon each day, and the housekeeper who provides the nightly turn down service was one of the friendliest and most helpful hotel employees I’ve ever dealt with. [She showed me where everything was, such as the coffeemaker, which I had no clue about].

But one small detail makes me wonder if hotels overall need to fully adapt to technology-driven planning and expectations, as the limousine industry is increasingly expected to do in the age of Uber.

I had asked when I checked in on Saturday if I could have a late-check out for Tuesday, around 2:30 p.m. or 3 p.m. They told me it depended on room availability that day, but noted my request and told me to check back on Monday. My motive was purely one of personal convenience. I wanted to keep my bags in my room so I could finish packing and have a place to change clothes and put my feet up after the conference ended until my ride to MIA at 3:30 p.m. I had a five-hour flight back to L.A. leaving at 6 p.m. That way I could remain focused on the conference in the morning instead of hassling with packing, checkout and bag storage.

When I asked on Monday for the late checkout on Tuesday, the front desk attendant said they could extend my checkout time from 11 a.m. to Noon. I explained I was attending (actually, working) a conference at the hotel that ended between 1 and 2 p.m., and would prefer 3 p.m. Not wanting to be difficult, I suggested, “How about 2 p.m.? The attendant’s reply came back, “We can do 1 p.m.”

What’s with this negotiating, aside from the fact that I’m not really good at it? I hadn’t checked in until 5 p.m. on Saturday, so I couldn’t get a few more hours on the back end?

Which brings me to my point: Limousine operators are increasingly expected to be flexible with customers, using the latest technology to schedule vehicles, adjust to schedule changes, and get vehicles to clients as quickly as possible. And they are accommodating to clients who ask a chauffeur to stop to get a cup of coffee, go to an ATM, or some other place along the way. [A chauffeur I once asked to do this did so readily].

So why do so many major hotels still stick to the antiquated, 20th Century general 3 p.m. check-in time/11 a.m. check-out time model? Why aren’t they more flexible with granting hours on either end, either way, especially if a guest checking in at, say, 6 p.m. would prefer to check out at 2 p.m.? Why can’t housekeeping routines at a major hotel be 24/7, or at least 18/7, more like the 24/7 availability of limousine service, 24-hour restaurants, airlines, taxis, shuttles, call centers, etc.?

If it’s a revenue issue, the hotel could charge a small hourly fee for a late check-out. [I know all about the snickering stereotypes of “hourly hotel and motel rates,” but this is the 21st Century, so get over it. On-demand customers nowadays like flexibility].

Using spreadsheet-based software that cross-tabs with housekeeping schedules, room reservations, client profiles, and room rate lists would make the above options possible. The hotel chain that figures out hourly/daily flex pricing and/or check-in/out times will be one completely in sync with the techno-driven ethos of an increasingly flexible and mobile travel client base.

— Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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