Service is so outstanding at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company that it has won the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award twice, the only service business to do so. At the recent Food and Beverage (FAB) conference, participants found out some of its secrets of legendary service and success.

 Listening to Bruce Seigel, the word “dynamo” comes to mind. The man is like the energizer bunny that never winds down. He loves his job, which was clearly evident at the recent Food and Beverage (FAB) conference. As he wove his way around participants’ tables, Seigel gave the impression that he was talking specifically to each one of us, giving each participant his undivided attention. And rightly so. As area marketing director for several Ritz-Carlton properties, Seigel strives to keep the company synonymous with superior service.

At the FAB conference, Seigel shared with participants the Ritz-Carlton’s philosophy and business practices, which all “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” (the Ritz-Carlton motto) are expected to know: its Gold Standards comprise The Credo, The Motto, The 3 Steps of Service, The 20 Basics, and The Employee Promise.(The Ritz’s Gold Standards can read in full at www.ritzcarlton.com.)

Seigel likes to use analogies when referring to the company’s success such as “We make the bar of soap bigger and charge more”, but make sure it takes a lot of work to do it.” His philosophy translates into putting customers first to justify the Ritz-Carlton’s expensive room rates. “Giving more and charging more is part of our philosophy,” says Seigel.

 He reiterates the importance of the Ritz-Carlton brand. “A brand is more than identity, it’s a promise, unique,” he says. “A product can be outdated but a successful brand is timeless.” The Ritz-Carlton is now branded as a “lifestyle company”: it manages golf resorts and spas, and even sells bedding. To become known as the place to call for exceptional service and a dependable product, “You have to be relentless about service commitment, you have to do it every day,” says Seigel.

In the 3 Steps of Service, Seigel stresses the importance of using names. From greeting a guest to bidding him or her goodbye, always use his or her name. The bellman sees the name on luggage as the guest checks in; the server sees the name on the credit card slip.

And service begins with training. “The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t hire, it selects its staff,” Seigel explains. “A candidate must look you directly in the eye, be warm and friendly during the first interview…we are looking for ability to show empathy,” he continues. “If they can’t do that in the first interview, how are they going to react with our guests?”

 The Ritz-Carlton looks for potential employees who can detect unexpressed needs. Part of its Credo states that it “fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.” Seigel gives an example: A room service waiter places a breakfast tray on the ottoman as requested by the guest and on the way out the door the TV is tilted toward the guests’ viewing direction. This is taking service to the next level, addressing unexpressed wishes.

Seigel highlighted some key success factors from The 20 Basics.

 · If an employee can’t support the company, make new plans (i.e. find a job elsewhere)

· Don’t say “It’s not my job”. It is everyone’s job: Whoever receives a complaint from a guest is responsible to resolve it.

· Don’t reply to a request by saying “Our policy says we can’t do that”. Solve the problem.

· Make sure your environment is surgically clean. It’s the responsibility of every employee to pick up discarded cigarette butts when they walk by.

 · Don’t ever lose a guest. Think about how much money is spent on marketing to acquire a new guest. An average guest spends $100,000 at the Ritz-Carlton over his or her lifetime.

 · Be aware of your language when communicating with guests. “No Problem” means “no profit”: this expression is perceived as insincere. Train your employees to use correct language.

 · Escort guests to another area of the hotel instead of pointing out or giving them complicated verbal directions. “When you take your customers somewhere, that demonstrates care and concern,” Seigel explains.

 · Phone manners: answer on three rings. “The customer isn’t calling to ask about the weather nor to wonder if you are there” says Seigel. Never screen calls. If you must, use voicemail with an appropriate message. And use the guest’s name when you speak to them.

 And lastly, Seigel points out the most important factor. The Ritz-Carlton is famous for its “daily line-up.” At every shift change, every employee, without exception, participates in a 10-15 minute line-up. This time is used to review the company’s objectives, to discuss commitment to quality, and to keep everyone informed of the daily travails. What’s on the menu, who’s coming in, all the daily goings-on are discussed so that everyone is on the same page. “This program energizes,” says Seigel. It’s crucial to know your people, he explains. And this is what the line-up does; “You get to know everyone on your team, their desires, where they want to be.” At the FAB conference, Seigel asked for a show of hands from every participant who talked with his or her employees on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. As expected, a few hands were meekly raised when it came to monthly, none for daily or weekly. At the Ritz-Carlton, everyone would raise their hands. They walk the talk of Bruce Seigel.