Anyone who has stayed at a Ritz-Carlton property appreciates why the company is twice a winner of the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award winner. And if you are fortunate enough to frequent the same hotel, the next time you arrive they make you feel like they missed you — really missed you.
A law firm client held a panel discussion last week as part of a business development series for lawyers. The panelists were Alexandra Valentin, Corporate Director – Leadership Center, Ritz-Carlton, Cordell Parvin, a client development training leader who was a practicing lawyer for 35 years, and me.
Alexandra Valentin has held her position at Ritz-Carlton’s Leadership Center – a corporate university open to the public – since 1999. She spends most of each year on the road, traveling around the world talking to business audiences about how Ritz-Carlton does it – “it” being providing and sustaining exceptional quality, creating memorable experiences and guaranteeing unparalleled service.
Here are a few points from our speakers that resonated with me (in the order we discussed them):
1. As important as guest engagement is, employee engagement is even more important at Ritz-Carlton. Alexandra said, “We are clients of each other.” It ensures respect, even if there is disagreement.
2. The Ritz-Carlton customer service culture is non-negotiable. Meaning, if you don’t like it or don’t agree with it, find another job. So, culture is mandatory – and learning the goals of the culture is part of everyone’s job.
Does it work? Yes – hotel industry personnel attrition rates are as high as 65-80%. For the last 15 years, the turnover rate at R-C has been 15%.
3. Up and down the R-C organization, they hold short daily meetings where they talk about some aspect of the culture. Every single day. They believe you can’t absorb it without this repetition. This includes every person on the service staff up to and including the senior executives.
During these meetings they review what went wrong and right the day before. They don’t point fingers or blame when there are issues – they focus on the process that resulted in a problem, not the person.
4. The employees create the company’s strategic plan.
5. Every three years, Ritz-Carlton does a relevancy survey to ensure that they are focusing on the right things. They keep refreshing their thinking, processes, methods. R-C has had this reputation of customer service for decades – but these hotel employees are masters at making their luxurious properties feel both classic and new.
6. R-C has a variety of incentive programs for its employees. If a guest writes a letter praising the service of an employee, these “wow letters” are published and read at the daily meetings. They recognize “5-star” employees and have a program called, “Lightening Strikes,” which recognizes employees who go above and beyond. R-C also has a “First Class Card” that employees can win for exemplary performance and service, which they can redeem for trips anywhere in the world, including airfare (and of course, complimentary stays at glorious R-C properties).
R-C does accountability and feedback sessions every week.
7. Cordell has followed the success stories of companies like Apple, Ritz-Carlton and Starbucks – and recommends that law firms apply elements to their work. Find elements that can be adopted in law firm service delivery.
8. He reviewed the websites of the AmLaw 200 firms to glean their client service commitments and found that 60 of them don’t even have the word “service” on their websites.
9. Cordell concluded by telling the audience: “Just suppose . . . Just suppose you are the gold standard for client service in the legal industry – you are the best. What would it look like and what would you do differently?”
A GREAT question. It’s one I am now asking myself about my company.