Puttin’ on the Ritz

"Whenever I enter a Ritz-Carlton hotel, I know ‘I’m not in Mediocreville anymore!’”  That’s how Bill Kalmar begins his Quality Digest article on the Ritz-Carlton Hotels.  Kalmar’s article describes the "love fest" between him and the upscale hotel chain.  Of course, there’s no question that "the Ritz" sets the standard for quality service.  Even the name itself brings luxury to mind.  The phrase "put on the ritz" means to live in elegance and luxury.  (Dictionary.com). 

But it takes more than just a "ritzy" name to create a "ritzy" experience in more than 60 hotels with more than 40,000 employees. 

How do they do it?  The Ritz has a system in place that allows each of those 40,000 employees to duplicate the experience in each of those 60 hotels.  The system is very much the same in every single location yet it allows each employee the freedom to make sure that each guest is treated exactly the way they want to be treated.

The Ritz has won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice, in 1992 and 1999.  More important, they use the Baldrige criteria as the basis for their quality system and use the feedback from the Baldrige examiners as a blueprint for improvement.

How do we know it works?  One way is to take a look at what it costs to stay in a Ritz-Carlton Hotel compared to the competition.  A rate comparison of the R-C in St. Louis, MO with the  competition shows that the least expensive rack rate (for a "quality room") is $279.00 for one night, July 16, 2007.

A deluxe room at the five star Chase Park Plaza Hotel is $189.00 for the same one night.  While the Ritz is located near the St. Louis County Government Center, The Chase is across the street from St. Louis’ Forest Park and convenient to downtown.  There must be a reason why travelers are willing to spend $90 more per night at the Ritz.

Personally, I’ve never stayed at either hotel (too rich for my blood), but I have attended events at both and there’s a certain customer-first attitude that’s present at the Ritz from every staff member that you meet.  (They refer to their associates as their "ladies and gentlemen".)

You might think that it’s easy to be good when you’re charging an extra $90 per night per room.  But I like to think the reverse.  It’s easy to charge an extra $90 when you’re that good.  The R-C is so good, in fact, that you can attend a session at their Leadership Center where they’ll teach you how they do it.  A one day session will set you back between $1,400 and $1,700 per day.  The price does include a continental breakfast and lunch.

If those prices scare you, you can get an idea of how the Ritz does things by reading their 1999 Baldrige Application Summary.  It’s available from the Baldrige web site.

But, to boil it down to just its simplest points, the Ritz-Carlton system focuses on satisfied customers, no matter what it takes, and empowered employees who are trained to make the customer happy, no matter what.  They use what’s called the CLASS database to keep a record of what the customer likes and doesn’t like.  Once you’ve stayed at the Ritz and mentioned to the housekeeper that you like an extra feather pillow on your bed, every time you stay at one of their hotels in the future, that extra pillow will be waiting for you when you arrive. 
And every employee has the ability to make entries in the database.

We can all take a lesson from this high-end hotel chain.  Customers like to be pampered.  They’re flattered when you remember what they like and don’t like.  They’re loyal to businesses who take care of them the way they want to be taken care of.  And they don’t mind paying for it.

There are a number of tools on the Baldrige web site that you can use to evaluate and improve your own business.  Check them out.   

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