For Ritz-Carlton, It All Begins with Customer Knowledge

In the hospitality business 20 years ago, "customer relationship management" may have meant a file of dog-eared index cards, a Rolodex and a chalkboard with repeat guests' names scrawled on it so that the staff could be extra nice to regular customers.

Those days are gone. Today, especially in the luxury segment of the market, specialized software is used to help hoteliers identify, profile and please their most valued guests. Besides great rooms, excellent locations and lovely landscaping, luxury hotels must provide a superior level of service. Guests who frequent these properties put a high value on the fact that hotel staff knows their name, which table they prefer at the restaurant, and what room they like to stay in when they visit. Providing this sort of personalized service requires a solid system for storing and accessing information.

For Ritz-Carlton, superlative service has long been a competitive advantage. To extend that advantage by automating the customer service process, the company in 1998 implemented a guest relationship management program called CLASS --"Customer Loyalty Anticipation and Satisfaction System." According to Nadia Kyzer, corporate manager of guest recognition, "We needed to bring more consistency and ease of usage to the process and CLASS was our answer."

At each of Ritz-Carlton's 32 hotels, a guest recognition manager is the repeat guest "expert," and all other hotel staff are responsible for noting guest preferences and sharing them with the guest recognition office. CLASS was designed by integrator Cambridge Technology Partners with considerable input from all the people who would be using it, so the system was seen from the start as something that would make everyone's jobs easier.

When a booking is made, the relevant profile information (smoking and bed-type preferences, for example) is available to assist in the reservation process. At that point, the guest's current reservation is linked to his or her existing profile. The information is accessed again when the guest recognition office prepares for upcoming arrivals, up to ten days prior to actual check-in. The guest recognition team reviews the profiles of incoming guests and prepares an arrival report in CLASS to distribute throughout the hotel. This report specifies each department's responsibilities regarding each repeat guest.

CLASS is fully integrated with the Ritz-Carlton's property management system and allows users to do most of their work at one time in one application. All the guest preference information is funneled through guest recognition department staff at each hotel. This team is then responsible for reviewing and inputting the information into the system and then disseminating it back out to the rest of the hotel as guests return.

Currently, much of the information that is fed into CLASS is gleaned in a low-tech but reliable way. A "guest preference pad" is part of each employee's uniform. Any guest preferences are noted on the pad and routed to the guest recognition office. Employees can also call a hotline to share the information. The company vision, however, is that all employees throughout the hotels will soon be able to access CLASS directly. To that end, the company is now investigating the benefits of using portable technology, such as handheld devices, to assist in widening staff access to the database.

Kyzer is quick to point out that the most important component of the Ritz-Carlton's KM system is the company's employees and the process built around them. "Our people supply the initial information that is added to the system as well as carry out the services detailed within the system. If our employees didn't put the information to real, concrete use the system would be worthless."

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