Posts Tagged ‘service culture’

Service the Ritz-Carlton Way

Monday, August 31st, 2009

I recently had the opportunity to attend a one-day training seminar at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center in Chevy Chase, MD, to learn how they provide their “legendary service.”  The seminar was eye-opening and impressive.  The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is a management company that operates 61 properties worldwide for the Marriott hotel chain.  As most of you know, they serve the international luxury market and are celebrated for their high service levels and attention to detail.

While the instructor provided ample handouts to explain and illustrate the Ritz-Carlton way, I took over fifteen pages of notes.  I shall try to summarize the main elements of how they consistently provide such high level service.

First, Ritz-Carlton has a well-defined corporate culture of service built upon:

  • Mission and Vision statements,
  • Key Success Factors, revised and refined each year, and
  • What they call their “Gold Standards Foundation,” which is made up of the following:  The Credo, The Motto, The Three Steps of Service, The Service Values, and The Employee Promise.

The company culture is so important to Ritz-Carlton that they review aspects of it every day, every shift, in every property worldwide during what they call their “Daily Line Up.”  By this discipline all employees from the CEO and President down to each line employee are constantly reminded of their “reason for being.”

Second, Ritz-Carlton has devised a new hire screening process that focuses on 11 basic talents and every position in the company is indexed on how much of each talent that position needs.  For example, a housekeeper position needs high levels of “exactness” (attention to detail) because there are over 150 items or details that must be checked in every room every day; on the other hand, front desk and guest service employees need high levels of “relationship/engagement” skills to interact and engage guests in a multitude of ways.

The hiring process with Ritz-Carlton can take up to eight separate phone and face-to-face interviews to ensure they hire people with the right set of talents for the positions they seek.  One impressive element of the interview process is that specially-trained line employees conduct the first telephone screening interview to ascertain the candidates “Talent Index.”  If the candidate does not meet certain minimum levels in this interview they are eliminated from consideration.

The success of their screening process can be seen by their employee turnover rate.  When they first started the company in 1983, they experienced a 73% turnover rate.  Last year, it was 23% with 15 of that 23% being voluntary resignations for a variety of reasons.

Third, Ritz-Carlton invests in training.  Each new employee receives a two-day orientation which is heavy on company culture and values, then 20 days of on-the-job skills training for their position.  The trainers of the skills training are line employees who have been trained to train and who derive prestige and a higher compensation level for their role as trainers.

On day 21 of the initial training period, each employee without exception receives a recap of the values and culture, benefits enrollment, training in guest recognition and how to handle difficult guests.  The end of the day is a celebration of their completion of the initial training.  Finally, they are asked to fill out a questionnaire to ensure that the promises made to them at the outset of training have been kept.

Leaders are responsible for ensuring that all employees are certified in their positions.  Employees must be certified within 21 to 30 days of their orientation.  As Ritz-Carlton says, “We never want to practice on our guests.”

Each year, line employees receive 320 hours of ongoing and refresher training.  Leader/Managers receive 250 hours of training per year.

At the end of an employee’s first year, on day 365, each employee has a one-day refresher session designed to “psychologically engage” with employees and “figuratively hire” them all over again.  At the end of this day, they receive their one-year service pins.

Fourth, the company trains and empowers each employee to solve problems.  Any Ritz-Carlton employee can spend up to $2,000 a day per guest to solve problems and, not to just satisfy their guests, but to wow them with outside-the-box service.

Here’s an example:  an international guest at the Ritz-Carlton, Washington DC, checked out and flew to NYC to catch an international flight.  Upon arrival at JFK airport, he realized he had left his overseas flight tickets at the hotel.  He called the Ritz-Carlton in a panic.  The desk clerk with the OK of her supervisor and the hotel GM, took a flight to NY and personally delivered the guest’s tickets in time to catch his plane.

Fifth, Ritz-Carlton is heavily invested in benchmarking all areas of their operation to include conducting random surveys of guests each thirty days.  The results of their ongoing measurements of processes and guest feedback are used for continual improvement of their products and services.

Sixth, Ritz-Carlton has designed a proprietary software and database package called “Mystique,” to record guest preferences.  Each property has two designated individuals, the Mystique Manager and Mystique Coordinator, who have access to this confidential database.  Every employee carries a pad of “Guest Personal Preference Communiqués” with them at all times.  Any time an employee notices a personal preference of a guest or overhears a guest mentioning some detail that would enable the company to better serve them, the employee fills out and submits the communiqué to the Mystique staff, who enter the information in the database.  This system, designed to better help the company personalize their service to individual guests, is a central part of their building a strong service identity and a loyal base of clientele.

Overall, I was impressed with the thoroughness of the Ritz-Carlton systems; their training, treatment, and empowerment of their employees; and the degree to which everyone from the highest executive to the most recently hired line employee is dedicated to service – not just to their guests, but to each other in the performance of their duties.  As one employee said during our late-afternoon Q&A with line employees from the Washington DC property, “I’ve never worked anyplace where I feel like I’m such an integral part of the team, where my ideas and input matter so much, and where I feel like I’m part of a big, caring family.”

While there are clearly aspects of the Ritz-Carlton way that are beyond our reach in the private club business due to budgetary constraints and economies of scale, there is also much we can learn from them – probably the most important being their absolute dedication to high levels of service and their “will to make it happen.”


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – Management Resources for Clubs!

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Eight Key Basics to Successfully Operating a Club

Monday, July 27th, 2009

The club industry is facing difficult times and while we are all facing challenges, each club faces its own particular problems.  As is usually the case when facing difficulties, this is the time to get back to the basics of our business.  Here are 8 things each club should examine:

1.  Leadership.  Clubs need clear-sighted individuals to guide them through tough times – but not just at the top.  They need strong leaders at all levels of operations.  It’s also important that the leadership styles of club leaders at all levels are congruent.  Different leadership approaches can dilute or damage the General Manager’s service message when it’s not reinforced consistently by all managers and supervisors in both word and deed.

2.  Organizational values and culture of service.  Every employee needs to understand what, how, and why you do what you do.  The basics of what you stand for as an enterprise are of absolute importance.  Defining your values is only the first step.  They must be continually and consistently reinforced to all employees.

3.  Planning.  Haphazard planning results in haphazard operations and equally haphazard performance.  Your club should have a 3 – 5 year strategic plan focused on your competitive position in the marketplace.  The club should have an annual plan for what it expects to accomplish and the General Manager and all Department Heads should have detailed annual work plans.  As important, the requirements of work plans must involve measurable performance parameters.  Detailed benchmarking of all areas of the operation is the easiest and best way to do this.

4.  Benchmarks.  You need to understand the variables of business volume and average sale that underlie all of your revenues.  Without this knowledge you may be lulled by historical levels of revenue when they are actually made up of declining volume, but higher prices and fees.  Benchmarking in detail is also an excellent way to listen to what members are saying with their buying habits.

5.  Accountability.  The club business is too demanding not to hold individual managers accountable for results.  The performance of every manager and supervisor must be measured against their annual work plan and there must be consequences for failing to meet goals.  Poor performing managers degrade the efforts of the rest of the team and drive away good employees.

6.  Employee Turnover.  There is a high cost to turnover and it usually related directly to the quality of the club’s leadership at all levels.  It is particularly costly when you do a good job of training your people.  Do not become the minor league training ground for your competitors – both private clubs and local restaurants.

7.  Training.  There is much for employees to know in serving your members.  You cannot expect that your employees will inherently know what to do unless they are systematically and consistently trained.  Training gives your employees the knowledge and confidence they need.  Confident employees are more apt to engage your members and provide higher levels of service.

8.  Member feedback.  You need to understand what your members think about your club, the products and services it provides, and the service your employees render.  Surveys are an excellent tool to do this, but you must act on the information you receive in intelligent and thoughtful ways to make the most cost-effective decisions in satisfying wants and needs.

Getting back to the basics is a sure way to regain your footing during and after the current seismic shift taking place in our industry.  The good news is, and there’s always a silver lining, that the best leaders and their operations will inevitably rise to the top.

On another topic:  I would like to recommend to all managers of club food service operations that they subscribe to Jim Sullivan’s free newsletter.  Jim writes for the restaurant industry, but his wise counsel would be a great help to club operators as well.  You can visit his website and sign up for the newsletter at


Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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Service Breakdown: A Failure of Leadership

Monday, June 15th, 2009

After thirty-five plus years in the hospitality business in both hotels and private clubs, I can state categorically that poor service comes from poor leadership.  Show me an operation with poor, shoddy, inconsistent service, and I’ll show you an organization with a failure of leadership.  This observation flows from the understanding that leaders who recognize service problems in their organization will take corrective action.  They will establish a plan of action, set priorities, lead employees to execute the plan, and follow through to completion.

Why, then, is poor service so often the rule rather than the exception?  I have met many competent, hard-working, and professional general managers who voiced a clear and unequivocal service vision for their operations.  They understood the need for well-defined standards, thorough training of employees, and constant reinforcement of service ideals within their organizations.  Yet, they struggle to establish and maintain high standards of service.  While we all recognize the many demands on our time, the challenge of employee turnover, the training burden in a detail-intensive business, time constraints, and ever-present budget pressures, these are not the root problem.

In examining this challenge that never seems to go away, I believe I have discovered the most significant source of the problem – the lack of well developed and consistent leadership skills among subordinate managers, those who direct the day-to-day activities of the operation’s line employees.  While the general manager may clearly understand and articulate the requirements of service, unless that “gospel” is communicated faithfully, consistently, and continuously to line employees by their immediate supervisors, there is a breakdown in the service message.

Throughout my career I have inherited or hired front line supervisors whose background, experience, and education should have prepared them for the challenges they would face daily in our business.  While most had more than adequate technical skills to execute their responsibilities, they were often lacking in a critical aspect of leadership – how to direct and motivate employees to achieve high levels of quality and excellence.

While some front line supervisors demonstrated exceptional leadership skills, many did not.  Often my biggest problems were created by supervisors who did not treat their employees properly, who did not communicate expectations, and who did not seem to understand or follow the most basic requirements of leading or managing people.  These profound failings were crippling to the organization and required many hours of counseling, training, and, in some cases, terminations to remedy.

Over time I realized that any focus on training of line employees to smile and be friendly was a waste of time until I could be assured that supervisors developed basic leadership skills.  From that point on, I focused my efforts on training supervisors.  Regardless of background or education, I wanted them to learn to be effective leaders, to paint and preach a vision of excellence for their staff, establish goals, communicate expectations, provide support and training to their employees, and solve the inevitable problems that arise when people work in a service context.

The training called for a clear vision for hospitality operations and guiding principles that would shape our efforts.  I made it clear to supervisors that our employees were truly our most important resource, and they must be treated with dignity and respect.  Supervisors were told that their primary job was to provide direction, support, and training for their employees and that, based on their experience or education; I held them to a higher standard.  I also provided detailed guidance on how to develop line employees and correctly counsel and discipline when necessary.  Finally, I put a positive emphasis on communication and problem discovery.  In time these concepts were formalized into a leaders’ handbook which was issued to newly-hired supervisors.

How successful was I in achieving my ends?  I would frankly admit that the results were mixed.  While some supervisors responded positively, others seemed incapable or unwilling to grasp basic leadership principles.  These, typically, after much invested time and effort, were encouraged to take their talents elsewhere.  But on the whole, the effort yielded improved employee morale, lower turnover, better two-way communication, and a more upbeat team spirit among all staff.  We still struggled with budget and time constraints on training, but we were far better off than we would have been without the effort.

Consistency and high levels of service will always be a challenge in business.  Without competent and committed leaders at all levels, general managers will always be trying to “do it all.”  In time they will burn out or be forced to compromise their standards.   In either case the result is service breakdown.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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A Culture of Service

Monday, June 1st, 2009

We frequently talk about the importance of developing an organizational  culture of service.  What exactly do we mean by an organizational culture?

The dictionary defines “culture” as the sum total of ways of living built up by a group of human beings and transmitted from one generation to another.  With a slight modification of this definition we come up with the following working definition of organizational culture.  The sum total ways of working and interacting built up by a group of people within an organization and transmitted from one generation of employees to another.

The major benefit of establishing an organizational culture is that once adopted by the majority of people in an organization the culture takes on a life of its own and permeates the workplace.  As normal turnover takes place, new hires quickly learn that to be accepted in their new surroundings, they must embrace the culture and make it their own.  In the absence of a culture developed and disseminated by the organization’s leadership, a culture will arise on its own, usually fostered by a vocal few and often cynical and at odds with the purpose of the organization.

So how do you create a culture in your organization?  First, you have to define clearly and succinctly the aims of your organization and what it aspires to be.  These are most often found in Mission and Vision Statements.  Beyond these basic statements of intent, one must clearly spell out standards of behavior and performance.  These can be in the form of Guiding Principles, Operating Standards, Leadership Principles, Service Ethic, Principles of Employee Relations, Organizational Values, Service Pocket Cards, a Code of Professional Ethics, or any other formal statements describing the “What, How’s, and Why’s” of how organizational business should be conducted.

Yet publishing such principles and statements, no matter how inspirational and well-written, will only foster employee cynicism if the values are not enthusiastically embraced by the organization’s leadership.  On the other hand, when leadership demonstrates their commitment to the organization’s values by their daily example, employees will do likewise.

With well-defined values and the enthusiastic example of leaders, the ground has been prepared for the fruits of organizational culture, but just as in growing a garden, preparing the soil is only the first step.  The real work for a successful harvest is the daily tending – watering, fertilizing, pruning, weeding, and pest control.  In the case of an organizational culture, it is daily reinforcement at every opportunity with all employees that continues to focus individual attention on the values that underlie everyone’s efforts.  In some cases, it’s publicly recognizing an employee for embracing and utilizing the values in their work relationships or service rendered to members.  In other cases, it’s privately correcting an employee who has ignored or transgressed the culture.  In extreme cases, it’s terminating the employee who refuses to accept the group norm.  The key is to continually remind employees of the organization’s values and elevate them from words on a page to an animating spirit that permeates every aspect of the organization and its work.

From the process of continually accentuating and reminding one achieves a breakthrough similar to that described in Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great.

Sustainable transformations follow a predictable pattern of buildup and breakthrough.  Like pushing on a giant, heavy flywheel, it takes a lot of effort to get the thing moving at all, but with persistent pushing in a consistent direction over a long period of time, the flywheel builds momentum, eventually hitting a point of breakthrough.”

This breakthrough is reached when the organization achieves a critical mass of employee buy-in.  Though the process of establishing an organizational culture requires patience and persistence as well as leadership and example, when breakthrough is achieved, the culture takes over and is self-sustaining – with the employees holding the bar high and policing their own ranks.

In such an organization, employees understand what must be done and how.  Motivation and morale are sky-high as employees are empowered by their participation and contribution.  The leader, relieved of the burden of constantly following behind employees to ensure they are doing the right things, can focus on strategic issues and the future of the organization.

The importance of a well-defined and promoted organizational culture cannot be overemphasized or underestimated in its impact on quality, performance, and member service.  The only thing that can screw it up is for the leader to fail to show an ongoing interest or set an uncompromising example of the organizational culture and its values.

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

Club Resources International – where membership and all resources are FREE!

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