Luxury Service: Why is it so hard to get it right?


IdontknowWith over 90 properties and over 40,000 employees Ritz-Carlton consistently earns top honors in most rankings of luxury hotels. And so it’s no surprise that Ritz Carlton earned top honors a study conducted by Luxury Branding, a London-based consultancy that specializes in the global luxury market. Yet other well-recognized luxury hotel brands, such as Four Seasons and Peninsula, did not fare so well (13th and 20th, respectively), with the Waldorf Astoria rating an embarrassing 50th. By using TripAdvisor rankings as its data source, the study examines whether luxury hotels are truly delivering 5-star service or are just resting on their laurels. The study’s results are sampled from over 2.25 million public reviews on TripAdvisor. (The study is available as a free download from the website).

Determining whether luxury brands can deliver consistently exceptional performance across multiple properties and across international markets was one of the key reasons behind the study.

We wished to understand whether the big brands are able to deliver their luxury promise consistently across large and expanding portfolios. Can a luxury hotel concept be translated with integrity across multiple properties, cultures and geographies?

It’s a good question and one I’ve asked myself on more than one occasion. Several weeks ago I checked into a well-known luxury brand hotel in Panama City, Panama. (Not the Ritz-Carlton). The greeting I received was sub-par, the service was spotty, and associates seemed more focused on what they were doing than on their guests. My stay in Panama did not measure up to my own experience with this same hotel brand in other cities such as Manhattan and Munich.

This forces the question—if Ritz-Carlton can continuously rise to the top, why are other luxury hotels barely making the cut? One word: consistency. As far as I’m aware, Ritz-Carlton is the only hospitality provider, outside of Disney, with its own brand university that teaches other companies how to develop, improve and sustain service standards. And according to their own description:

Consistency is the key ingredient.

So why is it so hard for luxury brands to deliver consistent customer service? It’s because they are not investing in the right type of training. The right luxury customer service training creates:

Passionate Brand Ambassadors: Associates who are not only familiar with the history and heritage of the brand, and are able to articulate the brand’s value, but who can also transform those values into customer-focused behaviors.

Emotional Intelligence: Associates who understand and anticipate customer needs, know how to act with diplomacy and tact, and go out of their way to create the luxury experience for their guests.

Consistency – Associates who not only know what the brand’s service standards are, but who fully embrace those standards.

Stephen Cloobeck, Chairman and CEO of Diamond Resorts, has gone stealth twice now on the show Undercover Boss so he can see firsthand how his employees represent the brand. Diamond Resorts’ motto is: We Love to Say Yes™. In both episodes Cloobeck encountered some unpleasant surprises, and each time he arrived at the same conclusion — it’s about the training and delivering a consistent guest experience.

It’s all about great communication. It’s all about training. It’s all about creating an unbelievable team.

So the answer is that it’s really not that hard to deliver consistently excellent customer service. You just need to:

  • define and uphold your service standards
  • keep the lines of communication open
  • deliver the right training to your associates

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