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Ken Lucci, owner of Ambassador Limousine in the Tampa Bay region of Florida, is rewriting his training program to mirror “The Ritz-Carlton Way” after attending the luxury hotel chain’s training program. The investment is expected to pay off by showcasing a personalized style of service that exceeds all expectations of clients and employees.
The Ritz-Carlton brand sets the standard of luxury for its 79 properties in 26 countries worldwide through meticulous training of its employees at two training centers: The Ritz-Carlton Learning Institute and the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Some 50,000 executives such as Lucci have paid the $4,900 tuition to attend four five-day training sessions. The humble start dates back to the early 1900s when Cesar Ritz opened the Hotel Ritz in Paris. By 1917, Ritz had spread to North America arriving in New York and soon after, in Boston.
The hotels quickly became known as a place for well-to-do and high society guests. By the 1990s, the Ritz already was well established as a luxury high- end hotel. However, not wanting to rest on its laurels, the hotel set out to win a Malcom Baldridge National Quality Award, getting it in 1992 and 1999.
The hotel has consistently won numerous other awards on a worldwide basis for delivering impeccable service, including placing first place in guest satisfaction in the most recent J.D. Power and Associates Survey.
Tampa Bay operator Ken Lucci created new managerial positions to start a Ritz-driven culture change.
But the prestigious Baldridge Award is the most coveted, as a maximum of 18 per year are given out. Named after the Secretary of Commerce under President Reagan, the award is the only formal recognition program of public and private organizations awarded by the President. It was established in 1987 as a method of identifying companies that excel in the area of performance as determined by the Baldridge Performance Excellence Program. It promotes the sharing of successful performance strategies and benefits so that all companies in America may seek to improve the level of quality and service provided and remain competitive at home and abroad.
Empower Your People
One of the core values of Ritz-Carlton is to empower employees to resolve issues for their guests on-the-spot. The more times a customer has to explain a problem, the angrier the customer gets and the more likely the customer starts embellishing the story, Lucci says. Every employee of the chain has permission to spend up to $2,000 per day for guests who have an issue needing to be resolved or something to enhance their experience while staying at the hotel. Many businesses are racing to provide service but not necessarily excellent service, Lucci says. He felt that by attending the classes and learning the Ritz-Carlton way, he could develop a written training program for his employees that define parameters of what to do for certain situations. Such policies would avoid the need for employees to consult with management for situations that lead to the same outcomes. That way there is no need to have to retell the incident up the chain. After attending the first session, Lucci says he completely scrapped his original training program to focus on the empowerment model.
Ritz-Carlton Service Secrets
Nothing Ritz-Carlton does is so secret that it can’t be duplicated in any organization that focuses on customer service. It is probably no surprise that it all begins with hiring the right people through a vigorous interview process. This means identifying people who enjoy serving others and are committed to providing excellent service to those they serve. A mere 2% of applicants are actually hired, and previous hotel experience is not a requirement as much as the right attitude, says Judith Crutchfield, senior director of quality for the chain.
“We’re really looking for an individual’s natural talents,” Crutchfield says. “The indoctrination process includes making sure that new employees know that working at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is not just a job but a privilege. Employees are not “hired” but are “selected.” The company invests about $5,000 per employee in training, Crutchfield says. This begins with a two-day “company values” orientation where they learn the 20 Ritz-Carlton basics such as Rule No. 13: “Never lose a guest.” Next up is a 21-day course defining the employee’s individual job duties. They carry a plastic card at all times reminding them of the 20 basic rules. This same card has an “employee promise” related to the commitment to guest service. It includes such reminders as the 15/5 rule. At 15 feet away from an approaching guest, the employee must make eye contact and nod to acknowledge the guest. At five feet away, they must make verbal contact with the guest, preferably by name and ask if the guest needs anything to make the stay more enjoyable. The company celebrates employee birthdays and company anniversary dates which demonstrate that the staff is just as important to the company as the guests.