My Week as a Room-Service Waiter at the Ritz

By Paul Hemp

Senior Editor, HBR


The author went through a two-day orientation and then spent a week as a room-service waiter at the Ritz-Carlton/Boston Common.   From this experience it drew some lessons about encouraging outstanding customer service.  

"One thing seems clear the great customer service should be based on that and principles rather than a rigid formula.  You don't mind that employees say, "certainly, my pleasure," until it feels right to them you don't nervously assumed every guest wants to be pampered; this some people just want to eat their dinners.  


"A recent study of hotel workers that researchers at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration found that, while job satisfaction plays a major role in employee retention, it isn't the key factor in a hotel's ability to provide excellent customer service.  Rather, it is employees' emotional commitment -- which is achieved in part through symbols and rituals that enhance employees' sense of identity with the company -- that contributes most to superior performance."  

This brings to mind Captain Abrashoff’s efforts, as told in Its Your Ship, to establish the tradition and history of the USS Benfold through stories of the bravery of the former naval officer for whom she was named, pictures of prior ships bearing that name, etc.  

In this article, the offer goes on to talk about how much effort to get splits into assessing job candidates for the qualities the company believes a crucial to its success.  They have a standard interview format, with a scoring system.  "Since instituting its candidate assessment system in 1991, Ritz-Carlton says it has reduced its annual turnover rate from 55%, roughly the industry average, to 28%."  What procedures and instruments do school systems typically have in place to assess the qualities of potential new teachers?  Based on the efforts of the Gallup organization and the Haberman Educational Foundation, it would seem many systems have very little other than the experience and judgment of a principal or some human resources personnel to go on.  

The article ends with the following:  

"Companies dedicated to providing what might be called ‘extreme’ customer service may need to recognize that -- like great military, government, or religious service -- it is, in the end, they truly selfless endeavor.  They may need to establish such practices as the formal invocation of a customer-centered credo.  They might even consider providing workers with a weeklong immersion in the experience of being a customer!  Whatever the means, the aim would be getting employees to leave their egos at the door and adopt the mind-set of the people they’re serving.”  

If this is true for being a room-service waiter, how much more so for being a teacher in any school in America !  

Harvard Business Review, June, 2002, pp. 50-62

This note written July, 2003.