The fight not only pits new ways against old, it also reveals modern-day ruptures in the labor market.
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.
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.
The education process includes a mind erasure of the word “complaints” and replaces it with “opportunities.” The company believes that a quickly resolved situation stays in the guest’s mind longer than if there was no problem at all during the visit, says Linda Conway, learning liaison at Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Each day, all employees report to a 15-minute “lineup” meeting to talk about what is going on at the property, who is arriving and departing, and a focus on one of the 20 basic rules. This happens every single day with 25,000 employees discussing a core value of the company for the day. One of their secrets is for bellmen to quickly scan for luggage tags as they unload them from vehicles and then, using a headset or earpiece device, they provide the guest name to the front desk for entry into the Customer Loyalty Anticipation Satisfaction System that stores guest preferences. The training program is successful because it teaches that service is attitude.
Each employee is taught to use a system called Mystique, a database program that stores information about returning guests and their preferences. The Ritz-Carlton in Marina Del Rey has a guest who prefers a specific kind of shower head, says Russell Carter, a frequent guest of the hotel. Carter, a restaurant owner and businessman, has been invited to attend the 15-minute “lineup” while staying at the hotel to experience how they make his stay perfect each time he visits the property. Carter himself has special requests for the type of toiletries in his room; these items are placed in the room before his arrival each stay.
Mystique also provides information about a preferred appetizer that he likes to be in his room on arrival. Shortly before his stated arrival time, the food is placed in his room. Carter says he loves the fact that there is no real check-in process. They simply hand him the key to his room while cheerfully greeting him with, “Welcome back Mr. Carter.” The Mystique system is used to document the smallest of details such as if a particular guest orders a martini dry and stirred, not shaken, it is entered into Mystique and the next time they appear at the bar, the bartender can ask, “Would you like a martini today Mr. Carter?” The perfect martini will be made with no further instruction. This might be called an obsession with pleasing guests. While anyone can deliver service, delivering service at this level requires keeping meticulous notes of anticipation.
Livery Industry Application
While you may have read the above as being about luggage tag identification and how to make sure a martini is mixed right for a guest, the core principle involves the delivery of service and making a customer feel good about their decisions to use your service.
Greeting a client by name is easily applied in the limo industry. If a client likes a particular beverage, make sure it is in the vehicle. This takes astute observation, note taking, and reporting. If your client emerges from his home with a raspberry flavored Arizona Tea in a tall can, make sure you have a few of those in the vehicle next time you provide a ride. Carter usually travels by limousine to his favorite Ritz-Carlton location. He said that while he may not touch or consume a beverage while in the vehicle, he appreciates knowing it is there, and more importantly, he appreciates the effort to try and anticipate his needs. Instead of a client reflecting on how much you charged, providing impeccable service changes the focus to how much value the client received regardless of the cost.
Lucci, for example, has promoted two employees to the positions of director of internal operations and director of external operations, to implement the culture change to deliver this personalized service level.
“You must walk the talk,” Lucci says. He adds that similar to the daily “lineups” of Ritz-Carlton, he wants his staff to “reaffirm measurements of service on every single trip performed.” That will include a follow-up call to each client to evaluate the level of service provided for each trip and to learn how to provide even better service. Lucci already has received a written compliment from Rick and Kathy Hilton, owners of the Hilton line of hotels and parents of Paris Hilton, recognizing Ambassador for the hospitality measures already taken. Lucci thinks there is still room for improvement through “hyper-focusing on service” and seeking a client market that values service over price.
Does all this service really matter? Yes, Carter says. He owns two restaurants and has headed to The Ritz-Carlton several times a year for the past 15 years. It is not a vacation spot. It is his place to relax. Carter says he stays loyal to Ritz-Carlton because he appreciates the extra steps the staff take to make his four- to five-day stays enjoyable. While Carter is aware some people stay several hundred nights a year at the hotel, all guests are treated the same. His typical relaxation stay includes having breakfast in the hotel restaurant followed by a walk around the property and then a day by the pool. As LCT strolled the property with Carter for this article, every employee that passed by greeted him by name and asked if he needed anything, proving they truly “walk the talk.” As Carter left the hotel, a staff member said, “Good-bye Russ. We can’t wait for you to return,” as if he was leaving a family member’s house after a visit.
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