Slaying Oxymoronos Maximus, the Great Dragon of Cheap Imitation in the Luxury Market

By Steven Ferry Chairman, International Institute of Modern Butlers | May 12, 2013

When it comes to luxury, nobody is under the misapprehension that a Ford, as good as it is in its context, can be passed off as a car that would cost $100,000 because it is built of the finest materials and is designed with a host of features that would warrant such a price tag.

The same goes for a hotel: as good as Hiltons are, for instance, few if any of them are rated as five stars/diamonds for the simple reason that their furnishings and appointments are not so designed: Their 5-star offerings are the Waldorf Astorias and Conrads.

So while the obvious features visible to the naked eye are clearly evident and determinable as to their quality, the less visible but no less palpable features of service levels receive less scrutiny when it comes to assigning quality. In one luxury resort that had all the trappings of a five-star (and was even rated so), I was forced to recommend to corporate that they close the place down because 90% of the employees were totally focused on tips as opposed to service, which emphasis was not lost on guests. Not surprisingly, corporate paid no heed (and never asked me back). But, I was encouraged to hear that another luxury chain in the same region, had done just that a few years later, shortly after opening at great expense, because they found they could not maintain their standards and did not want their brand to suffer. Kudos to them.

When it comes to service levels, butlers are really designed for hotels and resorts that are Five Star, or Four Star heading toward a Five. Why? For two simple reasons:

  • Butlers demand a premium in terms of rack rate for the host of added services they make available to guests, which added expense would be tolerable to guests not traveling with an eye to economy as the primary driver;

  • Butlers (should) provide a style of service characterized by discretion, panache and attention to detail, etc., which are more likely to be the expected and appreciated service levels for those moving in luxury circles.

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Guest Service: Empowering People

Excellent customer service is vitally important in all businesses but it is especially important for hotels where customer service is the lifeblood of the business. Outstanding customer service is essential in creating new customers, retaining existing customers, and cultivating referrals for future customers. Employees who meet and exceed guest expectations are critical to a hotel's success, and it begins with the hiring process. It is imperative for HR personnel to screen for and hire people who inherently possess customer-friendly traits - empathy, warmth and conscientiousness - which allow them to serve guests naturally and authentically. Trait-based hiring means considering more than just a candidate's technical skills and background; it means looking for and selecting employees who naturally desire to take care of people, who derive satisfaction and pleasure from fulfilling guests' needs, and who don't consider customer service to be a chore. Without the presence of these specific traits and attributes, it is difficult for an employee to provide genuine hospitality. Once that kind of employee has been hired, it is necessary to empower them. Some forward-thinking hotels empower their employees to proactively fix customer problems without having to wait for management approval. This employee empowerment—the permission to be creative, and even having the authority to spend money on a customer's behalf - is a resourceful way to resolve guest problems quickly and efficiently. When management places their faith in an employee's good judgment, it inspires a sense of trust and provides a sense of higher purpose beyond a simple paycheck. The April issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some leading hotels are doing to cultivate and manage guest satisfaction in their operations.