The Ritz Carlton Hotel Customer Service Way for Selecting, Training and Inspiring First-Rate Employees
Bill Lampton, Ph.D.
Hotel Customer Service
The Ritz-Carlton does not “hire” employees, as other organizations do. According to Gerard van Grinsven, Vice President and Area General Manager, and Laura Gutierrez, Director of Human Resources for the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn in Michigan, the hotel “selects” new members for the Ritz-Carlton team.
“When I helped open the Seoul, Korea Ritz-Carlton,” van Grinsven recalled, “we had 580 positions available—and 15,000 applications.” Even with an existing hotel, Gutierrez stated, typically there are 5-10 applicants for each spot.
PROCESS OF SELECTING EMPLOYEES
To choose from the numerous job aspirants, van Grinsven noted that the Ritz-Carlton studied top performers in other organizations, to develop the ideal “profile” for each position. “We looked at what made these employees give exceptional performance,” he explained. “Then we developed job descriptions, and detailed qualifications, for comparable jobs in our properties. Some might say we ‘benchmarked’—that is, we used workers in other high caliber companies as our models.” The result? Employee turnover declined. The Ritz-Carlton enjoys the lowest turnover rate of any hotel in the industry.
Additionally, for employee selection the Ritz-Carlton uses the services of Talent+, an international human resources firm, based in Lincoln, Nebraska. Talent+ adds objectivity to the selection process, and helps assure that new employees will bring full commitment to the Ritz-Carlton tradition and service.
Not all applicants obtain face-to-face interviews. “We do considerable screening by telephone,” Gutierrez said. Phone conversations indicate whether the applicant merits an on-site interview. She pointed to exceptions: An applicant for the pastry division or a painting job would get an opportunity to demonstrate those skills.
What about educational background? That differs with the position. Even so, the hotel encourages and supports pursuit of degrees, providing tuition reimbursement for college level work.
MEMBER OF THE VARSITY TEAM
Gutierrez emphasized that when an individual joins the Ritz-Carlton system, “they are playing on the varsity team. This isn’t a scrimmage, or a junior varsity game. You are in the big time now, performing at a level far beyond your previous experience. We want the best, and only the best.”
I wondered whether the Ritz-Carlton has become more lax about enforcing dress codes and general appearance, given the lowered standards other establishments allow. “No,” Gutierrez replied, “we tell applicants up front what we expect. And if someone answers that he or she will not stop wearing body piercing jewelry, we tell them they need to look elsewhere for work.” She added: “We maintain grooming standards, which are congruent with our claim to be Ladies and Gentleman.” She referred to the standard as “quiet elegance,” terminology that embodies the hotel’s image perfectly.
HIGHLY DIVERSE WORK FORCE
Does this imply that the hotel opposes diversity? Quite the contrary. In the Dearborn hotel’s housekeeping department, Gutierrez can identify twenty-two nationalities. And whenever you enter a Ritz-Carlton hotel, you see multiple examples of international and interracial employees—scattered over a wide age range.
Gutierrez said, “We look at people for what they offer, concentrating on their talents and abilities. We are very diverse overall.”
A CASE STUDY
Let’s assume an applicant—we will call her Katherine—makes it through the selection (again, not hiring) process. In most other organizations, she would sit through a day of employee training, then carry away an employee manual—most of which had been read aloud during the mind-numbing training session. After that, training would vary widely according to the supervisor. Here’s where the Ritz-Carlton departs dramatically.
Yes, Katherine will attend initial orientation, for two consecutive days. Next comes “Day 21,” when she must pass her first Certification Exam. By now, she understands and endorses what van Grinsven and other leaders affirm: “We are in business to wow the customers.”
THE GOLD STANDARDS
At this point, Katherine has become thoroughly familiar with the “Gold Standards,” called “the foundation of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, L.L.C. They encompass the values and philosophy by which we operate and include The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Basics, and The Employee Promise.”
Far from being secret codes, like a fraternity ritual, the Gold Standards appear on the hotel’s Web site, available for all viewers:
To really grasp the hotel’s service philosophy, you will want to read this page thoroughly.
The most easily recognized section of the Gold Standards? It’s The Motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Van Grinsven and Gutierrez pointed out that employees use this framework for dealing with guests and with their fellow Ritz-Carlton employees. They must treat workplace colleagues with the same dignity they incorporate with guests.
Almost poetically, The Credo pledges “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”
The Three Steps of Service call for giving the guest a warm and sincere greeting (using the guest’s name when possible), anticipating and complying with guest needs, and saying a fond farewell, again using the guest’s name.
The Employee Promise begins: “At The Ritz-Carlton, our Ladies & Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests.” Take note—the hotel’s pristine reputation does not come from the opulent surroundings, the gourmet food, the resplendent landscaping. The employees top the list of assets.
While Katherine, our prototype new employee, learns The Credo, The Motto, the Three Steps of Service, and The Employee Promise, she will spend every day of her Ritz-Carlton employment discussing one of the 20 Basics.
“Every day?” you ask. Yes, every day, in what’s called “The Lineup.” When I asked van Grinsven to tell me about this daily checkpoint, he responded, “I’m really glad you asked that.” He called The Lineup “our most important tool.” He elaborated: “Relationships only last if you communicate. Good communication is the reason why things work.”
Picture Katherine, who works with the kitchen staff, spending the first 10-15 minutes of the day in dialogue with her counterparts. Like everyone else in the hotel, they discuss one of the 20 Basics. For example, today’s discussion could center on Basic 10: “Each employee is empowered. For example, when a guest has a problem or needs something special, you should break away from your regular duties, address and resolve the issue.”
Simultaneously, van Grinsven meets with his top executives and Gutierrez with her Human Resources team. Dishwashers, doormen, and maintenance staff meet in their groups. They, too, address the meaning of Basic 10. They discuss situations, both hypothetical and actual. How does this team apply Basic 10 today? What initiative is in order?
Remember, the Dearborn hotel isn’t observing the Lineup alone. All 25,000 Ritz-Carlton employees are doing the same thing in their locales.
Van Grinsven told me that the now-popular term “empowerment” originated with the Ritz-Carlton. Gutierrez put a dollar figure on the employee’s resources for solving a problem immediately, without checking with a supervisor. Our new employee Katherine can commit up to $2,000 of the hotel’s funds to bring instant resolution to a guest’s problem.
Clearly, an employee cannot evade difficult situations by uttering, “That’s not my job.” Job descriptions become irrelevant when guest satisfaction is at risk. Ladies and Gentleman step outside job boundaries, and no one questions their right to act—because they have an overriding obligation to settle issues.
Back to the Lineup: What happens when the discussion cycle finishes Basic 20? The next day, everybody starts over, with Basic 1.
Not surprisingly, at the end of her first year, Katherine will learn the Gold Standards thoroughly, preparing her incrementally for her annual Re-certification on Day 365. Unlike an average student, she doesn’t “cram” the day before her test. She has been through 120 or more hours of training—which will never stop.
ONGOING EMPLOYEE FEEDBACK
You might wonder whether the Ritz-Carlton relies too heavily on top-down management, with so many repetitions of multiple regulations. Are we dealing with autocracy? That assumption would be off base. Not only does empowerment happen when occasional problems arise, the hotel’s executives encourage, and reward, ongoing employee input. In van Grinsven’s words, “If you don’t involve people, you never really get buy-in.” He adds that employees “really know what’s happening, and management needs to listen to them.”
So Katherine may hear this several times a month: “What’s your opinion about how we can improve our kitchen service?” Basic 7 establishes the framework for bilateral communication: “To create pride and joy in the workplace, all employees have the right to be involved in the planning of the work that affects them.”
To borrow an athletic term, many internationally known corporations “play without a huddle.” A few at the top make decisions, then their “reports” implement them without question. The Ritz-Carlton team—the entire team—huddles daily, and more often when needed.
Reverting back to the selection of employees—that’s a team effort, too. A supervisor, Gutierrez explains, won’t add an employee without seeking opinions from the candidate’s potential colleagues. Nor will Human Resources bring in a new person without group consultation.
Another positive point: Gutierrez said that dead-end jobs don’t exist at the Ritz-Carlton for ambitious people. “We like to home-grow new talent. A dedicated worker has ample opportunity for advancing within the organization.”
Possibly the most distinctive contribution the Ritz-Carlton Hotel has made to customer service worldwide finds expression in the second of the Three Steps of Service, which we referred to earlier: “Anticipation and Compliance with guest needs.” Elsewhere, a typical organization boasts about its Complaint Department, where disgruntled customers appear after an unpleasant situation. But Ritz-Carlton employees develop sleuthing skills, sniffing out problems in their nascent stages, and then solving them before dissatisfaction escalates.
EXPANSION DURING TURBULENT TIMES
When I asked van Grinsven what had been the major recent challenges for the Ritz-Carlton—while confronting an economic downturn, international conflict, reduction in travel, and mounting hotel vacancies—his response was remarkable: “During the last five years, while other major hotels were trying to maintain the status quo, we opened thirty new hotels, nearly doubling our size.” To him, the biggest challenge was “training that many new people that quickly,” making sure that every new employee went through the assimilation procedures that characterize the Ritz-Carlton. It worked. He said with obvious pride, “Our culture has kept us alive.”
SENSE OF BELONGING
With such a comprehensive customer service training program, none of us is surprised at van Grinsven’s view of the result: “When a customer comes in, he or she feels a sense of belonging, a home away from home. The customer feels, ‘I’m somebody special.’” Accordingly, when a customer leaves, even though his hotel bill may involve several hundred dollars, one phrase permeates his thinking: “It really was worth it.”
Bill Lampton, Ph.D., “Helps You Finish in First Place.” He spoke to the managers of the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun when the hotel celebrated its sixth anniversary, and he has spoken for conventions at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta and the Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island. Among his other hospitality clients: the Radisson Diamond Cruise Ship. He wrote a popular book, The Complete Communicator: Change Your Communication, Change Your Life! Dr. Lampton provides leadership in communication, customer service, sales, and motivation. Check his Web site: www.ChampionshipCommunication.com Call 800-393-0114 or 770-534-3425, and e-mail him: drbill@ChampionshipCommunication.com © Copyright 2003 ExpertMagazine.com
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