Benchmarking Service Quality - Benchmark Essay Example

Benchmarking Service Quality in the Luxury Hotel Industry: based on the examples of three Luxury Hotel Brands in New York (Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental) and their applicability to Luxury Hotels in Kuwait

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The hotel industry, a major sector of the travel and tourism business, has been growing vigorously over the last two decades. Though affected by incidents like the September 11 attacks, international terrorism, the bird flu, and the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the industry has continued to expand because of a number of causal factors that include increased affluence, growth in disposable incomes, cheaper air travel, globalisation of business and the emergence of a number of new business and tourism locations, mainly in Asia, East Europe and the other former Soviet Bloc states.

The hotel industry has grown exponentially to provide their services in hitherto unknown locations, a phenomenon that has led to the emergence of numerous challenges in most areas of the business. International hotel chains as well as local operators have to face and resolve numerous issues and problems in their mission of providing acceptable accommodation and service to the ever increasing numbers of foreign visitors in new locations. Hotels are in the business of providing service, and their primary business objectives and strategies focus on improving the quality of their service to their clients. They frequently gauge the quality of their service by comparing it with industry leaders and other hotels famous for their service quality, a practice commonly known as service quality benchmarking, in order to determine their current level of services, the difference in their levels and that of the best players, the different areas in which there is scope for improvement and the extent of improvement possible.

This thesis deals with the topic of luxury hotels in Kuwait benchmarking their service quality against the standards existing in three of the best luxury hotels in New York, The Ritz Carton, the Four Seasons, and the Mandarin Oriental. Based primarily on extensive research of published material, interviews with employees of the three New York hotels, and the researcher’s own knowledge of the Kuwait hotel industry, the thesis concludes that luxury hotels in emerging business and tourism locations are primarily disadvantaged because of the lesser availability of trained personnel as well as local labor pool. Overcoming this shortfall provides the biggest challenge to hotel managements who desire to improve their service quality to international standards.

1: Introduction

a. Background

Travel and Tourism is the primary global business of present times, in terms of turnover, and a major source of employment, as well as revenue, in many countries of the developed and developing world. The increase in global travel in recent years has been fuelled by numerous factors, which include the emergence of an enlarged pan European community, rapid improvements in the economies of countries like China and India, the gradual easing of the security situation in the Gulf Coordination Council (GCC) states, the resurgence in the economies of Southeast and East Asia, and the continuous penetration of the internet and e-commerce. The rapid proliferation in two major components of the travel and tourism trade, airlines and hotels, evidences these assumptions. A number of new international airlines e.g. El Etihad, British Midlands, Jet Air, Kuwait Airways, Jazeera Airways,  and others, connecting East Asia with West Europe, and the USA, have sprung up to service this growing demand.

“Jazeera Airways will be the first local competitor to debt-ridden state carrier Kuwait Airways and will end the national flag carrier’s monopoly on flights to and from Kuwait. It will fill a big shortage in the market, Boodai said. ‘The market is very big in Kuwait, demand is much more than supply,” he said. “Just try to book a flight during eid (Muslim feast) holiday, you will find no reservations … But in the long run there will be competition.’ Boodai said he expects Jazeera Airways will carry 500,000 passengers annually by early 2007, upon completion of its fleet.” (Kuwait’s first low cost airline, 2005)

There has also been a remarkable increase in international investments in the hotel industry, with most emerging nations putting private public global partnerships in place to improve and consolidate travel and tourism infrastructure. (Middle East: A Decade of Transformation for the Hotel Industry, 2005)

Kuwait, a small country in the GCC area, has seen significant increase in business and commercial infrastructure in the last few years, especially since the denouement of the Iraq crisis, and a resolution of the difficult security situation. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) A number of high-end hotel properties, owned or franchised by major international chains, have emerged in recent years, and more are in the pipeline. Investments in high-end luxury hotel properties, while increasing the availability of luxury rooms, have necessitated the creation of service skills, on par with those available in similar properties in North America, West Europe and East Asia, the three advanced global regions. The achievement of high levels of service in the luxury segment of hotels in Kuwait, is essential, not only for these properties to stand up to the competition generated by the hospitality industry in other GCC states, but also from that emerging from significant investments in hotel infrastructure in nearby countries like Turkey and India. Turkey, for example has seen tourist arrivals grow from 12.8 million arrivals in 2002 to 21.2 million in 2005, (Brian, R., 2006) lifting the country into the top ten tourist destinations of the world. The luxury hotel industry in Kuwait needs to match the standards and quality of service, available globally, to fulfil the needs of the local economy, as well as to achieve standards of excellence in its chosen business.

b. Definition of Problem

The hospitality industry is an integral component of the travel and tourism business. The industry is growing sharply in response to the vastly increased demand for high quality accommodation, caused by increasing globalization, the emergence of manufacturing and service businesses in Asia, and the enlargement of the European Union. Kuwait, as an oil rich GCC state can take advantage of this global reality and build a robust and thriving hospitality industry, because of (a) its strategic location in the middle of the East West air route, (b) its financial capacity to invest strongly in infrastructure, and (c) its growth as a regional trading and financial services hub.

Major international chains, as well as local investors, have entered the hospitality business, in the last five years, with owned and franchised luxury properties. These include hotels like the Meridien, Holiday Inn, Sheraton Towers, Crowne Plaza and the Bayan Palace. Other properties are in process and expect to be unveiled in 2007/08. (Middle East: A Decade of Transformation for the Hotel Industry, 2005)

Most of the luxury hotels that have sprung up in the GCC nations belong to major international chains, with well-defined standards of service and quality. Nevertheless, they need to operate with local employees and yet achieve and maintain excellent standards of service and quality. International visitors to these hotels will necessarily compare the standards of these hotels with those of similar properties in developed and competitive locations like New York, London, Tokyo and Hong Kong, and thereafter make their judgments and form their opinions. The use of benchmarking, a somewhat similar internal method for assessing the existing standards of an organisation in comparison with other well known and reputed establishments, is widely accepted to be an extremely effective tool for quality improvement through the setting and achievement of targets.

The Market Metrix Hospitality Index for 2006, based on 10,000 customer responses for hotels outside The United States, measures the performance of hotels through specific parameters, namely (a) Customer Satisfaction, (b) Emotions, (c)Very Likely to Return, (d) Loyalty Program, (e) Strength and (f) Reported Price. The Report, for the Third Quarter of 2005, states that hotels in the Philippines, Brazil and Greece are delivering the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Greece occupied top place in as many as 10 categories, with guests (at Greek hotels) reportedly feeling more “Comfortable”, “Pampered”, “Elegant” and “Hip/cool” compared to other countries.

New York is purportedly amongst the most competitive hotel markets in the world. It is home to all the major hoteliering chains, including the legendary Ritz Carlton. Other famous establishments include the Four Seasons and the Mandarin International. These hotels represent the very best of internationally existing hotel quality.

The Ritz Carlton, New York is a legendary hotel. Part of the large (approximately sixty properties) luxury Hotel Company, bearing the same name, it was founded in 1983 by William Johnson and is now a subsidiary of Marriott International. The name was acquired from Cesar Ritz, the Swiss Hotelier. (Bitran, G., 2004)

The Mandarin Oriental, New York belongs to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, an international hotel investment and management group and a member of the James Matheson group. It operates 8500 rooms in 17 countries and has about 30 deluxe and first class hotels and resorts with many more under development. (Mandarin Oriental International Limited, 2006)

The Four Seasons New York also belongs to another huge chain, Four Seasons Inc. The Company manages some 70 luxury properties in more than 30 countries. Most properties are operated under the Four Seasons name, but some fly the Regent hotels banner. It has ownership interests in about half of its properties, having shifted from being a hotel owner to becoming a hotel operator in the 1990s. (Four Seasons New York, 2007)

All three hotels belong to companies owned by large chains, which own and manage properties all over the world.  Sales for 2005 were USD 250 million for Four Seasons and approximately USD 400 million for Mandarin. The New York properties for all three are prestigious top of the line spa hotels and feature in the ten best lists of special hospitality and travel portals like www.gayot.com. It is relevant to note that the Ritz Carlton topped the Market Metrix rankings for 2005 in Hotels-Overall for 2005, with a 92.7 grade in Customer Satisfaction. (Market Metrix Announces Second Quarter 2005 Hospitality Index Results) and in the Luxury Hotels segment in 2006. Both the Ritz Carlton and the Four Seasons registered 62% in Customers Very Likely to Return in an industry scenario where the drop in Customer Satisfaction was the highest at -10.8% in the luxury segment. The Mandarin Oriental achieved the highest score in housekeeping amongst all hotels surveyed in 2006. The Market Metrix Hospitality Index (MMHI) is a quarterly report of customer satisfaction with hotel, airline and car rental companies based on 35,000 in-depth consumer interviews. The Index ranks top hospitality brands by industry and, for hotels, by categories such as luxury, mid-price and economy. The MMHI is known for detailed, in-depth and customized reports are and is widely acknowledged to be an authoritative information source in the hospitality industry. The MMHI reports for 2005 and 2006 have been studied for the purpose of this study.

The Kuwaiti hospitality industry can reach these levels of excellence, if proper measures for improvement in customer satisfaction are put in place on a sustainable basis. It is an accepted marketing paradigm that the cost of attracting new customers is five times that of retaining existing ones. The most important single criterion for measurement of service quality in a hotel is customer satisfaction. The industry in Kuwait needs to set and meet strong service and quality standards, especially vis-à-vis those existing in the most competitive markets of the world. This is essential to achieve excellence, reputation and business success.  The problem is thus to first localise areas, which are critical for customer service and satisfaction, and subsequently benchmark standards for these areas, for the use of luxury hotels in Kuwait.

c. Research Questions

The research questions relate to the establishment of benchmarks for assessing levels of service quality and customer satisfaction, which can thereafter be used to determine objectives, in these areas.

 The major research questions are as follows.

·         What are the benchmarks for service quality and customer satisfaction in the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Mandarin International hotels in New York?

·         How do the luxury hotels in Kuwait compare in achievement of these quality and satisfaction benchmarks?

·         What is required of the luxury hotels in Kuwait to achieve standards in service quality maintained by the best luxury hotels in the most competitive markets of the world?

d. Purpose of Study

The hotel industry in Kuwait is young, dynamic and expanding steadily. Even as expansion occurs, the industry suffers from the disadvantages of the lack of a hoteliering culture, and from the absence of a local talent pool of qualified and experienced hotel management professionals. While the staff employed by the hospitality industry needs to be local, it is the function of the international knowledge resources of the major hotel groups operating in Kuwait to provide technical and management inputs. The purpose of this assignment is to study the existing benchmarking standards adopted by the best hotels in the world, compare these standards with those existing in Kuwait, assess the differences, localise and analyse deficiencies, and suggest measures for improvement, in order to bring local standards in line with those achieved by the best players in the business.

The researcher hopes that this assignment, though also part of academic requirement, will contribute to the literature available on the Kuwaiti hotel industry, and help its improvement, in terms of service quality and customer satisfaction.

e. Limitations of Study

The assignment could suffer because of the vastness of the subject and the need for more knowledge of advanced management concepts and knowledge of the global hotel industry on the part of the researcher.

The study, apart from a detailed literature review, adopts accepted methods of social and business research for obtaining and analyzing data. While the researcher has tried to conduct the research sincerely, omission of some important material, (which could have thrown more light on the subject and enhanced its quality), could lead to deficiencies in the extent of material researched for the assignment, with consequent inadequacies in the validity of findings. While the practical experience of the researcher in the hotel industry has helped in understanding the complexities of the subject matter, the physical distancing of the researcher from the hotels chosen for benchmarking made access to operational people in the three hotels challenging. However substantial information is available on the quality policies and processes in these hotels in the form of journal and magazine articles. The researcher was also able to arrange for interviews with three employees in operational responsibilities, in all the hotels under study. The information available from these interviews has been used for validation of material researched and analyzed in the course of the Literature Review.

2. Literature Review

The Literature Review attempts to look at issues relevant to the subject under study in a chronological yet holistic manner. Primary and secondary material available from texts, journals, magazine articles and internet sources form the material used for the Literature Review. All sources used, cited in text or otherwise are available in the bibliography.

a. Economy of Kuwait

Kuwait is a small country situated in the Middle East and is a member of the GCC. It is an affluent and reasonably open economy, with proven crude oil reserves of 96 billion barrels. Petroleum accounts for nearly half of the country’s GDP, 95% of its export revenues, and 80% of government income. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) It holds 8 % of the worlds’ known oil reserves. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) Sharp increases in prices of petroleum products, during the last three years, have helped in significantly enhancing dollar flows coming into the country. The 1990s were disturbing times for Kuwait. Invaded by Iraq in 1990, and subsequently freed by US intervention, the damage to the country’s infrastructure was extensive during the First Persian Gulf War. Numerous oil wells were set afire and the country’s oil production halted in its tracks. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) Despite the expenses of the Iraqi invasion and the economic burden of post-war reconstruction, the state was able to regain its pre-invasion prosperity by the second half of the nineties. Much has changed since then. The Kuwaiti government has spent billions of dollars to construct an elaborate roadway system. In 2003, the telecommunication industry achieved an incredible growth rate. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) With the removal of Saddam Hussein, the region has now entered a period of stability, and oil revenues, riding on high prices, are driving the country into an economic boom. Travel and tourism is increasing rapidly.

Two recent developments have set off wide ranging change in the emirate. The unprecedented rise in the price of oil over the last three years has increased the wealth of the country. Revenues from petroleum sales, which have oscillated between sixty and seventy five dollars a barrel during the last two years, have crossed the projections made in the early years of the decade. As holder of 8 % of the worlds’ known oil reserves and with annual surpluses in the region of US $ 23 bn, Kuwait is awash with funds and learning to digest this windfall; a flood of dollar inflows which do not show signs of abatement. Currently the country has a GDP of 58 billion USD, a growth rate of around 8% and a per capita income of nearly 22,000 USD making it one of the most affluent countries of Asia. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005)

The death of the Amir, Sheikh Jaber, and the transition of authority to the new Amir, Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, has set the stage for significant economic developments, mainly focusing on better utilization of the emirate’s oil reserves. Revenues from oil make up 50 % of Kuwait’s GDP. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005) The new Amir is in the process of making significant changes in both the oil and non-oil sectors and with erstwhile neighbour, Saddam Hussein out of the picture there is greater confidence to invest. (Kuwait unveils a twenty-year master plan, 2004)  Kuwait City has numerous hotels and the skyline is dotted with skyscrapers and hi-rise building equipment. The Kuwait Infrastructure Maintenance Management System, which overlooks the country’s infrastructure, is busy building one of the world’s largest sea front projects at Madinat al-Hareer. This ambitious project, when completed, will include the world’s tallest tower, and numerous housing, health, education, environmental, business, and tourism centres. (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005)

b. Growth of Hospitality Industry in Kuwait

The hospitality industry owes its growth to a combination of factors, namely soaring international oil prices, an economy that is surging at 8 %, its central position in the air routes between Europe and Asia, and an energetic ruler. The country, in the absence of an agricultural or industrial base, is using its oil revenues to build a strong service sector economy. Kuwait has a number of hotels, which cater mostly to international visitors. As of now, there are more than twenty large hotels, which include international chains like the Radisson, the Crowne Plaza, the Marriott, the Sheraton Towers, the Hilton and the Holiday Inn, as well as others owned by local businesspersons. The hotels are mostly in the upper bracket, 4 stars, 5 stars, and deluxe. The construction and physical attributes of deluxe hotels are on par with the luxury hotels in the west. There is a dearth of cheaper accommodation, or bed and breakfast units, indicative of the location’s lack of appeal with budget tourists or back packers. Visitors tend to belong to affluent sections of society, or to the business world. While local citizens also patronise these hotels, their usage is limited to dining and entertainment, as well as for occasional hosting of guests.

The country is in the process of implementing a twenty year tourism master plan that focuses on the development of leisure and recreation, and incorporates development of scientific, ecological, and technical interest. “These developments will also influence Kuwait’s position as a family destination, in addition to plans for a leisure park in Salmiya, an entertainment project in Jahra, and a recreation park in Sabahiyah.” (Kuwait unveils a twenty-year master plan, 2004)

“The legislation authorizes foreign-majority ownership and 100 percent foreign ownership in certain industries including: infrastructure projects (water, power, waste water treatment or communications); investment and exchange companies; insurance companies; information technology and software development; hospitals and pharmaceuticals; air, land and sea freight; tourism, hotels, and entertainment; housing projects and urban development” (Investment Climate Statement-Kuwait, 2005)

Domestic tourism is the first priority and the government aims to see that Kuwaitis, 79 % of whom travel abroad on vacation, start spending more of their holidays within the country. “The next priority aims to position the country as “an inbound GCC tourist destination with a strong emphasis on business traveller meetings and exhibits and as an excellent family holiday destination for GCC residents.” (Kuwait unveils a twenty-year master plan, 2004) Other measures include relaxation of visa norms, visa on entry for citizens of designated countries, and relaxation of foreign investment norms in the tourism sector.

The central location of the country, coupled with a reasonably liberal economic regime, and the efforts of the government are helping to gradually develop the city into a regional financial services hub. The local stock market is active and a number of international banks have opened offices in the region. Significant efforts are going into developing tourism. Air Travel is considerable and increasing. While the national airline, Kuwait Airways has been functioning since the eighties, the privately owned and recently launched airline, Jazeera Airways, has helped in increasing local tourism and traffic from other GCC states. Owned by the Boodai group, it operates on a low price model and services 18 destinations in the Middle East and India.

Recent increases in investment in the luxury hotels segment has led to increased competition. As the country is yet to develop into a highly frequented tourist resort, most international visitors belong to the business segment. Business visitors, in general, have significant experience of good hotels and quality service, and are able to discern deficiencies in quality and service. While the political situation in the GCC countries continues to be somewhat disturbed because of the difficult climate in the neighbouring countries of Iran and Iraq, experts and gulf watchers expect business growth to continue apace in the coming years. In this scenario, it is normal to expect further intensification of competition in the luxury hotels sector.

c. Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality Concepts in the Hotel Industry

Luxury hotels need to have a number of distinguishing features to be eligible for classification. General norms, accepted by the global tourism and hospitality industry, expect such establishments to have an abundance of amenities and services, along with an attractive atmosphere.  These hotels offer 24-hour room service, fine dining, convention and partying facilities, access to swimming pools and equipped fitness centres, as well as a concierge service.  They mostly have limited numbers of rooms, normally ranging from 50 to 400, which enables them to provide more personalised services for their guests. (Ottenbacher and Goth, 2005) While luxury hotels try to include many extras to make guest visits comfortable and memorable, top quality customer service is their defining attribute, and intensive effort goes into enhancing its features. (Ottenbacher and Goth, 2005) With most hotels having similar physical infrastructure and amenities, service quality becomes the distinguishing differentiator between hotels, and the primary reason for their success, or otherwise.

“Delivering quality service will be one of the major challenges facing hospitality managers in the opening years of the next millennium. It will be an essential condition for success in the emerging, keenly competitive, global hospitality markets. While the future importance of delivering quality hospitality service is easy to discern and to agree on, doing so presents some difficult and intriguing management issues.” (Lazer and Layton, 1999)

Various studies have consistently confirmed that guests in high tariff hotels appreciate and expect excellent service, and that this feature plays a decisive factor in their choice of accommodation. “The two most important hotel factors perceived by guests of High-Tariff A and High-Tariff B hotels were ‘Room Quality’ and ‘Staff Service Quality’, while the top priority for hotel guests, staying at Medium-Tariff hotels was ‘Security’.” (Chu, 1999) A study conducted by Tat Choi and Raymond Chu in 2000 concluded that seven key factors, most of which are linked to service quality, determine the level of customer satisfaction among travellers.

“Using a principal component factor analysis with a VARIMAX rotation technique, this study identifies seven hotel factors out of 33 hotel attributes and determines the levels of satisfaction among Asian and Western travellers. The seven hotel factors derived from factor analysis are: staff service quality, room quality, general amenities, business services, value, security, and IDD facilities.” (Chu and Choi, 2000)

Customer satisfaction, a factor heavily dependent upon the quality of service, has over the years, become the mantra for success in the hotel industry, leading to extensive research into ascertaining its causes and in devising ways and means to improve it.

“Simply stated, customer satisfaction is essential for corporate survival. Several studies have found that it costs about five times as much in time, money and resources to attract a new customer as it does to retain an existing customer (Naumann, 1995). This creates the challenge of maintaining high levels of service, awareness of customer expectations and improvement in services and product.” (Pizam and Ellis, 1999)

The subjective nature of Service Quality and its various facets, some precise and some amorphous, has led to disagreement, debate, the emergence of many theories, and an absence of consensus on the issue.

Since service quality appears to set the stage for these customer evaluations, many researchers and practitioners have strived to define, measure, and manage service quality perceptions. However, due to the intangible nature of services, many of these efforts have led to differing conclusions and definitions of service quality that for years have impeded progress in the services literature. (Jones, 2005)

 “Customer satisfaction is a psychological concept that involves the feeling of well-being and pleasure that results from obtaining what one hopes for and expects from an appealing product and/or service” (WTO, 1985 P & E, 1994) Customer satisfaction is the primary objective of service quality efforts as also its final judge. Efforts in this direction essentially commence with obtaining knowledge of customer expectations and requirements, and then towards meeting, if not bettering them. The most widely used approach towards achieving customer satisfaction, developed originally by Richard Oliver in 1980, and subsequently tested several times by other experts, uses this reasoning. (WTO, 1985 P & E, 1994)  Oliver states that customers buy services with certain expectations and obtain strong satisfaction if the service meets their expectations. Heightened customer satisfaction occurs with the meeting and exceeding of customer expectations, while the reverse leads to dissatisfaction. “Satisfaction is caused by confirmation or positive disconfirmation of consumer expectations, and dissatisfaction is caused by negative disconfirmation of consumer expectations.” ” (WTO, 1985 P & E, 1994) Apart from Oliver’s theory of expectation confirmation, research has also led to the development of other theories, e.g. those of assimilation or cognitive dissonance,  contrast, assimilation-contrast, equity, attribution, comparison-level, generalized negativity, and value-precept.

Dr. Kano, a prominent Japanese quality expert, believes that customers experience value at 3 dimensions: the Basic, the Expected, and the Unanticipated Value. The Kano Model stipulates that only when companies provide well above and beyond what the customer expects they operate in the Unanticipated Value dimension. Only when companies operate in the Unanticipated Value environment they can build strong customer loyalty. (Starkov, 2006)

While these theories use different methods to explain and define customer satisfaction, the issue takes on a complex dimension because of its inherent subjectivity.

Expectations of people vary greatly and depend upon their needs, aims, and experiences. They could also depend upon factors like time, place or situation and vary for the same customer. A customer will obviously have different expectations from an eating experience at a railway station restaurant, and that at a fine eatery.  To a student on an inadequate budget, a meal at the local fast food cafeteria may be a highly satisfying experience, while the same experience could be dissatisfying to an affluent executive discussing a business transaction. Customer satisfaction is thus not a universal phenomenon and the same hospitality service could give rise to different levels of approval.

Companies like Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom, and Lexus can guarantee service that goes the extra mile because, in effect, they have programmed their organizations to foster customer-centred behaviour in employees at all levels. Although there is no single process for achieving high levels of customer satisfaction, four principles are common to nearly all top-performing luxury brand companies:

·         They create a customer-centred culture that identifies, nurtures, and reinforces service as a primary value.

·         They use a rigorous selection process to populate the organization with superior sales and support staff. The impulse to care about accommodating customers cannot be taught to people who are not predisposed to it.

·         They constantly retrain employees to perpetuate organizational values and to help them attain greater mastery of products and procedures.

·         They systematically measure and reward customer-centric behaviour and excellence in sales and service to enforce high standards and reinforce expectations. (Reppa and Hersh, 2007)

Service quality is central to customer satisfaction and being multifaceted and subjective, is intrinsically more demanding than product quality.

“Its delivery frequently calls for a combination of both production and consumption and is largely dependent on human factors, the actions and persona of the customer contact persons, and the customer’s sensitivity to their interface.  In contrast with manufactured goods, the service “product” cannot be stored or tested in advance of the moment of delivery.  Each client contact becomes a defining moment and contains all the intricacies related with such exchanges.  The milieu in which the service takes place and the competence of the provider is also extremely important in the determination of its quality.” (Baldridge Awards)

 Conformance to specifications also often does not suffice in a service industry.  The personal concern or added touch supplements accurate service and helps in defining quality. Jonathon Barsky and Lennie Nash state that despite the continual increase in high tech additions to improve service in the hotel industry, their research indicates that customer satisfaction is often shaped by low tech products and services and the attitudes of hotel employees.

Despite innovative products, services and technologies available in hotels, people still share a basic set of requirements critical to their experience. Surprisingly, loyalty is strongly influenced with basic, often low-tech products and services.

Our research has shown that most guests share a basic set of requirements critical to their hotel experience. Here are the top five things that drive loyalty across all industry segments:

·         Value for price

·         Room cleanliness

·         Employees’ can-do attitude

·         Friendliness of front desk staff

·         Comfortable bed and furniture

Value for price is based on all elements of a guest’s stay compared to the total price paid, and is affected by many variables. The next two elements central to hotel loyalty are a can-do attitude of employees and the cleanliness of guestrooms. (Barsky and Nash, 2006)

The many difficulties in pinning down service quality into identifiable and assessable parameters led Parasuraman, Zeithaml and Berry to take up the issue for detailed investigations. Over a period of four years, 1985 to 1988, they came up with a number of assessable attributes and finally focussed upon five major factors that define service quality. These consist of (a) Reliability, (b) Responsiveness, (c) Assurance, (d) Empathy and (e) Tangibles. (Starkov, 2006) While the first four parameters are self explanatory, tangibles represents the physical component of service and could comprise of physical facilities, equipment, personnel and similar other real items. (Starkov, 2006) Parasuraman, et al, state that customers are most likely to have expectations vis-à-vis these five variables and their satisfaction level would depend upon the service meeting these expectations. (Starkov, 2006)

While most aspects of customer service manifest themselves inside the hotel premises, the proliferation of the internet has made online contact an important and often initial avenue between customer and hotel. Customer service thus starts when a customer accesses the website of a hotel. The better hotels use a number of strategies to make customer visits to websites satisfying and enjoyable experiences. “Customization tools used by some major brands and airlines allow website users to actively personalize their website experiences using over 250 criteria.” (Starkov, 2006) Service quality, in the current scenario, can move much beyond the physical dimensions of hotels and impinge upon the customers’ consciousness in their environments.

d. Service Quality as defined by the Ritz Carlton and the Mandarin Oriental

The Ritz Carlton is an international hotel chain, famous as much for its tradition of fine hoteliering as for the high quality of its service. The company has an illustrious past and its hotels have been home to royalty, as well as to numerous other famous men and women. Its legendary standards of service, and management style, have distinguished it from other luxury chains and have been instrumental in making it a byword for quality. The Ritz-Carlton company has won the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award twice, the only service business to do so. It needs mentioning that the Baldridge is possibly the most coveted performance and quality award in the world and that Baldridge award winners outperform other companies by 2.5 times in the stock market.

What distinguishes a stay at the Ritz-Carlton from a night at a comfortable, midlevel hotel chain? A room at the Ritz offers superior luxury and creature comforts, of course, but its most important differentiator is an unsurpassed level of service, as reflected in the company’s top rankings for guest satisfaction by J.D. Power and Associates and its two Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards — U.S. government–sponsored citations for rigorous attention to and delivery of quality. (Reppa and Hersh, 2007)

An analysis of service quality practices followed by the Ritz provides a practical and ground level perspective of the complexity of the process and its importance to customer satisfaction. The motto of the company, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen”, denotes the importance the company attaches to its staff to deliver quality service. While luxurious settings and opulence define Ritz Carlton hotels, their service standards set them apart from the rest. These standards, (as elaborated by its Area Marketing Director, Bruce Seigel) focus on certain critical issues, some of which may not be apparent but come from years of customer experience and study. They form part of the company’s well-known “three steps of service” and twenty “basics”.

·         From greeting guests to bidding them goodbye, always use their name. The bellman sees the name on luggage as the guest checks in; the server sees the name on the credit card slip.

·         Service begins with training. “The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t hire; it selects its staff,” Siegel says. “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. 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.” Siegel gives an example: A room service waiter places a breakfast tray on the ottoman as requested by the guest, and on the way out of the door, he tilts the TV toward the guests’ viewing direction. This is taking service to the next level, addressing unexpressed wishes

·         If an employee can’t support the company, they should find a job elsewhere

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

·         Do not 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

·         Do not 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 a lifetime

·         Be aware of your language when communicating with guests. As an expression, “no problem” is perceived as insincere. Train your employees to use correct language

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

When working the phone, answer on three rings. “The customer isn’t calling to ask about the weather or to wonder if you are there,” says Seigel. Never screen calls. And use the guest’s name when you speak to them.   (Cooper, 2000)

The Ritz Carlton, because of its near legendary status in the hospitality industry has been the subject of much study by hospitality management experts. The company has policies, which, over time, have become well known in the industry. The company values its employees and encourages them to provide quality service. Training managers and senior hotel personnel provide short two-day exhibitions of “Gold Standards” to all fresh staff. Once initial training is over employees become “Ladies or Gentlemen at The Ritz-Carlton.” (Cooper, 2000) Training is continuous and intense, with new recruits and managers receiving upto 310, i.e. nearly 40 days of training in their first year. Company policy stipulates that any employee receiving a guest complaint owns the complaint and is primarily responsible for its solution. Even first line employees have the authority to spend up to USD 2,000 to immediately correct a problem. The limit for managers for this purpose is USD 5000. (Cooper, 2000)

The company believes in achieving a state of preparedness for every eventuality and takes detailed steps to ensure its readiness. Documentation is detailed and attention paid to minute details. “For example, to meet its goal of total elimination of problems, Ritz-Carlton has determined there are 970 potential instances for a problem to arise during interactions with overnight guests and 1,071 such potential instances during interactions with meeting event planners. Customer service standards have been established for every instance.” (Reppa and Hersh, 2007)

At the Mandarin Oriental, which won the highest ranking for Housekeeping in the Market Metrix Hospitality Index ranking for 2006, customers expressed their satisfaction on various facets of housekeeping services.

The perception of a clean room also is critical to retaining customers and attracting new ones. Mandarin Oriental’s housekeeping received the top score among all brands. With twice-daily service, including evening turndown, Mandarin’s housekeeping gets rave reviews from its guests (“Flawless housekeeping” and “We could have eaten off the bathroom floor”). Here are guest comments from different hotels where housekeeping was perceived as outstanding:

·         “The housekeepers brought fresh towels to our room after they had already cleaned the room.”

·         “Housekeeping used a scented spray on the carpet daily.”

·         “The turndown service was probably the most notable aspect that made me feel pampered. All of the nice notes (on the robes in the closet, the bed stand, etc.) also contributed to that atmosphere.”

·         “They replaced any shower items that were used daily.” (Barsky and Nash, 2006)

e. The Use of Technological Advances in Service Quality

Recent decades have witnessed unimaginable advances in technology and its application in most areas of human activity. Computer technology and the proliferation of the internet, in particular, have added another dimension to the hospitality industry. Technology has helped to increase efficiencies, reduce costs, boost customer satisfaction, augment sales, and improve the competitive advantage of industry members. While the absorption of technology has been far from uniform, its impact has been multifaceted and multifunctional, leading to large scale changes in the ways of doing business. (Hartman, 2006)
Computerisation and the internet have enabled hospitality establishments to take customer service to new levels, and introduce services that did not previously exist. Numerous hotels, and all airlines, have websites, which provide customers with detailed knowledge. Airline websites give information about fares, discounts, and locations serviced, and provide links to other companies that provide services to travellers. Hotel websites contain information on rooms, amenities, restaurants, and other facilities, as well as data on availability, tariffs, discount structure and payment options. (Hartman, 2006)
The emergence of e commerce has allowed customers to surf the net, decide upon airlines, hotels, or restaurants, of their liking, make online reservations, pay though credit cards, and organise their requirements from their desktops, and even from portable laptops, in areas with wireless connectivity. (Hartman, 2006) E commerce has revolutionised the hospitality industry by giving the customer a range of choices, (in near and distant locations), access to discount structures, and the option to book and pay through the internet. It has enabled customers to act independently, increased their flexibility in decision making, and reduced their dependence on travel agents, service facilities that were unimaginable even a few years ago. (Hartman, 2006)
The website of the Ritz Carlton at www.ritzcarlton.com provides information about their hotels in USA/ Canada, Asia, Europe, Mexico/Caribbean/ South America, and the Middle East, in graphic detail with pictorial and text inputs. The website provides information about room availability on a real time basis, allows a client to log in, make reservations, and pay by credit card. The site has special sections designed to excite imagination, like the current ones on exploring the streets of Hong Kong, and enjoying the benefits of its many spas.
Software systems and applications enable hospitality companies to store enormous amount of client related information, allowing them to anticipate customer requirements and provide personalised service. Visitors can be picked up from airports and rooms can be stocked with items of guest preference. Little extras that make guest stays memorable can be provided in a routinely planned manner. In-house training modules aimed at increasing staff efficiency and customer service make great use of computer technology and enable hospitality establishments to raise their service thresholds.
The Ritz-Carlton Chicago is also trying to maintain its leadership in offering technological services. High speed internet access is available in all guest rooms, and all suites also have printers. When staying in guest rooms without printers, guests may still obtain hard copies of their documents by using a program called Please Print Me. This program, which is available through the internet connection, allows a guest’s documents to the printer in the hotel’s business centre, and then a staff member hand delivers the print out to the guest’s room. (Enz and Siguaw, 2003)
In addition to computer oriented services like e commerce, online reservation options, guest data management systems, and easier and faster check-in and checkout facilities, various technology based gadgets like automatic coffee makers, trouser presses, self-contained Jacuzzi fitted bathrooms, interactive television with hundreds of global channels, and state of art global communication, also help in enhancing customer delight and satisfaction. . (Access all areas: the in room revolution, 2006) Electronic surveillance systems and chip based entry cards help in improving guest security and safety. Luxury resorts spread over acres of landscaped gardens own fleets of electrically powered vehicles enabling customers to move independently, at ease and in comfort, and thereby take full benefit of spectacular settings. In long distance aircraft, technological advances have made it possible for travellers to enjoy multiple channel music and video, individual cinema screens, chairs that recline to 180 degrees, and a wide variety of appealing cuisine. (Access all areas: the in room revolution, 2006)
Advances in catering technology have helped companies to combine mass production techniques with personalised preferences, and offer a range of choices in hot and cold, as well as raw and cooked foods. Apart from airlines, this has helped in catering to the needs of patients in hospitals, who have, until now, had to live on the mediocre, boring, and insipid food prepared by in-house kitchens. (Hospitality catering service, 2006)
Technological advances and further sophistication in applications will continue to emerge in the hospitality industry, and be used for enhancing customer satisfaction. However, it needs to be understood that customer satisfaction is an inherently subjective issue and changes, with time, and from customer to customer. It, per se, depends upon customer expectations being matched and surpassed by the hospitality providers. In such scenarios, customer service and satisfaction primarily depend upon committed and trained employees who are able to deftly combine technology with care, concern and empathy.
f. The Introduction of Quality Service Tools

While service quality in the industry has traditionally been associated with personalised attention, courteous waiters, smiling housekeepers, and cheerful reception staff, recent years have witnessed changes, which have been of enough significance to add completely new dimensions to these age old concepts. The travel and tourism trade, of which the hospitality industry is an important segment, has seen frenetic expansion during the last decade, a phenomenon that has led to enormously increased global and local competition, more demanding and knowledgeable customers, the emergence of numerous new properties, shortages of trained staff, ecological and environmental constraints, cutting of tariffs, and pressure on costs and profitability. Rapid development in the availability of numerous new products and applications, technological advances in information technology and internet usage, and the application of new and innovative management practices, have pitchforked the industry into an era of uncertainty, marked by suddenness, redundancy, and obsolescence. (Blakeslee and Smith, 2002)   Inefficient units, irrespective of the scale of investment soon find themselves on the sidelines waiting to be sold or taken over.

Hospitality managers, working under intense competitive and operational pressure, have been researching ways and means to maintain and differentiate their service quality both through customer fronting functions like reservations, room service, and restaurants, as well as in internal operations like kitchens, laundry, vendor management and maintenance. More simply put managers need to ensure that along with a host of other qualities their hotels have reservation systems that are fast and courteous, waiters who can listen and suggest, kitchens that produce safe and delicious food on time, laundries that clean and do not  burn tuxedos, and checkouts that happen pleasantly and without delays. The need to achieve all this and yet keep costs down adds enormously to the complexity of the task, forcing managers to constantly look for management aids that can help them in driving the organisation to newer levels of efficiency and profitability.

This high pressure, intensely dynamic and highly competitive scenario has led a growing number of companies in the hospitality industry to realise the implications of quality control tools, not just as facilitators of improved quality, but as engines to accelerate implementation of corporate policy and organisational transformation. Control tools, which include complex and integrated quality approaches like Six Sigma, as well as other methodologies like quality circles, HACCP, FMEA, control charts, and fishbone diagrams are now often used at the operational level to help cut costs, improve processes and reduce business cycle times. (Blakeslee and Smith, 2002)

 Less known is the fact that their appropriate use can also help in

“formulating, integrating, and executing new and existing business strategies and missions, dealing with constantly changing and increasingly complex customer requirements, accelerating innovation, globalization, and global integration efforts, driving revenue growth and systemic, sustainable culture change, and enhancing and condensing the corporate learning cycle; the time it takes to translate market intelligence and competitive data into new business practices.” (Blakeslee and Smith, 2002)

HACCP, as a case in point, is a particularly relevant quality enhancement tool for functions related to food preparation in the hospitality industry. (Hartman, 2006) Kitchens are responsible for the performance of one of the most important operations of hospitality establishments. While their functions are not customer facing their efficient and effective working leads to significant customer satisfaction. On the other hand improper kitchen operations can lead to material spoilage, contamination of foodstuffs, use of adulterated materials, and wrong food preparation procedures. (Hartman, 2006) These factors can (a) be causal in the preparation of unpalatable and furthermore unsafe food products, (b) lead to serious kitchen complaints and (c) have potentially disastrous effects upon customer satisfaction, institutional image, and repeat business, apart of course from throwing the company open to legal damages. (Hartman, 2006) Problems in kitchens can arise from various factors involving the quality of raw material, storage practices, and preparation procedures. Furthermore, these problems can increase manifold in case of large kitchens with many workers, as is common in hotels, caterers and flight kitchens. Many kitchens in London, for example, have abhorrent and totally deficient operating practices, in spite of being well known for their food, style and ambience. An alarming media article (Food poisoning peril for parliament, 2007) on the food served in the Westminster parliament complex reveals that a recent regular food inspection visit found appalling conditions in the eight kitchens serving food to MPs. Apart from four day old sandwiches, the inspectors found mice activity, high risks of food poisoning, and deliberate flouting of many food safety rules.

Four-day-old sandwiches, “mice activity” in a cupboard near one restaurant and a high risk of food poisoning because so many food safety rules had been broken. This is not the description of a run-down back street cafe but what was found at the very heart of Britain’s government – and inside the 13 kitchens that produce more than 8,000 meals a day. There were numerous problems found by a council food inspector when he examined food hygiene and cleanliness in the Houses of Parliament. In a catalogue of “appalling” conditions, he also found food being cooked at the wrong temperature and unacceptably filthy handles on doors within a Parliamentary annex, which was opened less than six years ago. The official report – compiled by Westminster Council – tells how Government ministers, MP’s and tens of thousands of visitors to Parliament have run the risk of contracting food poisoning due to a series of serious failings. (Food poisoning peril for parliament, 2007)

The standard approach, on the part of many hospitality establishments and regulatory agencies is to subject the prepared final products and established kitchen procedures to periodic checks, which can be physical as well as microbial. Periodic checks however prove to be extremely inadequate because hazards are detected only at the time of checking and negative reports result in improvements, which at best are temporary, and at worst cosmetic and ineffective. “End-product testing has several other limitations, the greatest being that that the number of samples collected may not be sufficient to provide a high confidence that the product under investigation is not contaminated.” (Bryan, 1999)

Progressive managements in the hospitality industry are solving these problems with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) approach, a quality tool that uses concepts, which originated from diverse areas like food technology, quality control, microbial ecology, epidemiology, military science, and space exploration. HACCP works on the principle of prevention of contamination of food at all stages of production and preparation, rather than on inspection of the final product. (Hartman, 2006)  The process helps in locating and eliminating unsafe and risky practices, and consists of seven specific principles, namely, (a) conducting hazard analyses, (b) identifying critical control points, (c) establishing critical limits for each critical control point (e.g. specific minus temperatures for inward receipt of meat and poultry) (d) establishing monitoring requirements for each critical control point  (d) establish corrective actions, (e) establish procedures for keeping records, and (f) establish systems aimed to ensure the correct functioning of HACCP procedures. (Hartman, 2006)

British Airways faced a similar situation 28 years ago when salmonella poisoning affected many first class passengers and led to thousands of pounds being spent in legal expenses and customer settlements. The incident, which even today, prevents many passengers from flying Brit Air, resulted in the imposition of stringent controls and the introduction of HACCP audit and procedures at all of their catering units, as well as the sharing of  information with all associated airlines. (Banks, 2007)

Apart from HACCP, hospitality managers use TQM (Total Quality Management) techniques like quality circles, work processes, and FMEA (Failure Modes and Effects Analysis), as well as e-CRM processes, reservation and front office quality tools, C Charts, and Fishbone Diagrams. (Smith and Blakeslee, 2002) FMEA works on somewhat similar principles to HACCP and helps in systematic identification of potential failures in systems and processes. (Smith and Blakeslee, 2002)  While it is widely used as a decision support tool in manufacturing enterprises, its use can help policy makers in hospitality enterprises to assess the various points at which failures may occur, as well as the seriousness of the consequences of such failures. (Smith and Blakeslee, 2002)

Smith and Blakeslee (2002) also state that other quality tools like quality control charts, (commonly known as C charts), and fishbone diagrams, also help hospitality managers in resolving difficult problems and in putting appropriate policies in place. C charts use statistical tools to monitor variances in processes over time, and to account for the frequency of defects that cause lapses in service quality. Their use help managers by alerting them to undesirable process variances or to unacceptable frequencies in occurrences of lapses or defects, allowing them thereby to take proactive decisions and make timely policy and procedural changes. The fishbone diagram, a brilliant concept invented by Dr. Kaoru Ishikawa, helps managements in situations where (a) problems need studying for determination of their root causes, (b) possible reasons behind process difficulties, problems or breakdowns need study, (c) areas for data collection need identification, and (d) reasons for processes not yielding desired results need investigation. (Eckes, 2003) The fishbone process is reiterative. It makes use of charts that resemble fish bones, facilitate the breakdown of problems into individual components, and help in tackling individual areas intensively until desired answers are obtained, for subsequent use in policy modification and formulation. (Eckes, 2003)

“Fortune magazine noted some years back that one of the main causes of business collapse is the inability of companies to carry out their strategies, however sound, effectively” (Eckes, 2003). Quality control tools, in their essence, rely on factual data, statistical measurement techniques, and robust feedback mechanisms to drive policy making. These factors unite managers behind standard terminology and accepted data, making strategic planning and policy making efficient and successful. (Eckes, 2003)  They also align employees behind agreed targets and help them achieve new levels of effectiveness, service, and profitability, in defined and measurable time frames. (Eckes, 2003) While the efficiency of control tools has come to be widely accepted and they are being used, in different versions, in many hospitability establishments, their implementation requires thought, planning and commitment. Success largely depends upon the commitment of senior managers to deploy them in core business areas, develop internal expertise in data analysis, and drive employee engagement robustly.

g. The Need for Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality in Hotels in Kuwait

Asia is home to some of the finest hotels and resorts in the world today. A Business Class of Their Own: The Votes Are in and Business Travellers across the Region Have Had Their Say on Asia’s Best Hotels, 2004) The significant increase in traffic, in recent years, fuelled by globalisation, increasing business and tourism demand, higher incomes and cheaper travel have created a sharp spike in hotel properties across Asia. (Hayden, 2006) Practically each major town in China and India is seeing hectic hotel building activity, with existing properties charging exorbitant dollar linked rates for ordinary, sometimes mediocre service. (Hayden, 2006) Industry watchers expect a room glut to occur in two years, in most of these cities, a situation similar to what could happen in GCC countries, including Kuwait. (Hayden, 2006) Enhancement of demand, on a pan global basis, has led to a shortage of experienced and trained workers, despite the mushrooming of new colleges and training institutes. A combination of these causes, i.e. increasing demand, lack of experienced workers, and lower expectations from newer travellers, could result in lowering levels of service across the spectrum of Asian hotels, and usher in a general mediocrity, where normal service would appear to be extraordinary. (Hayden, 2006) It is important to refer to the history of western hotel chains, especially the great ones like the Ritz Carlton. These companies have been through these cycles of slump and boom, endured difficult times and yet continuously focussed on improvement, innovation and quality.  International hoteliering chains like the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons, the Hilton and the Marriott, have emerged from western economies and built up worldwide operations with extravagant and opulent establishments in cities and tourist spots across the globe. Over the years, hotel management has become a complex and detailed management discipline, with researchers at famous academic institutions delving into the various aspects of the subject, and constantly adding to existing literature. The fundamental tenets of hotel management, the concept and importance of service quality, the various factors that contribute towards the success of luxury hotels, and the standards and benchmarks that need definition and achievement, are essentially western in nature, and owe their conceptualisation and propagation to the enormous hoteliering business that has emerged from the metropolises of the USA and Europe, and spread across the globe. The concept and importance of Customer Satisfaction and Service Quality, as defined by hotel chains like the Ritz Carlton, have become universal standards, emulated and benchmarked by hotels elsewhere.

The sharp rise in the hospitality industry in Kuwait, as well as in other countries in the GCC area, has led to the demand for availability of trained and expert hotel staff. The shortage of this key hospitality requirement, in Kuwait, is due to the naturally low population base of the Middle East, the absence of good local educational facilities, and sharp increase in demand. Apart from western expatriates, the bulk of foreigners working in the GCC countries come from the Indian sub continent, and are engaged in lower skill jobs in construction, retail and administration. Shortage of skilled workers is one of the main constraints facing the hotel industry.

The phenomenal growth of the hospitality sector in the region means there will be pressure on human resources. With constant additions to the hotel stock in every city in the region, quality standards will become a vital benchmark to enable individual properties to maintain their competitive edge (Fernandes, 2005)

Quality standards will obviously play a key role in the success of luxury hotels in Kuwait, and managements will need to be able to provide services of excellent quality, and that too with the help of local staff.  While the clientele is obviously international in nature, an overwhelming majority are accustomed to the high levels of service provided by the best luxury hotels in metropolitan cities like New York. Occupancy rates, which had gone up sharply in Kuwait during the Iraq war have shown signs of slight declines, caused not by reduction in traffic but by addition of extra rooms. With increasing room availability and enhanced competition, Luxury hotels in Kuwait will have to be able to provide excellent service quality comparable to those available in such establishments to maintain and improve their competitive advantage.

3. Research Methodology

a. Overview

Benchmarking, has, in recent years become an integral part of modern management practice, much in use by corporations the world over for effecting improvements in operational and management practices. Service Quality, a concept that has become increasingly relevant in recent years in the hotel industry, is now seen as a sine qua non for continuing and increasing success.

This dissertation aims to investigate the importance of service quality in luxury hotels and set down areas where service quality benchmarking can be used with great effect after studying the management practices of three world class hotels in New York, the Ritz Carlton, the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental.

While the issue is surely being addressed by in house and external analysts and consultants it is very possible that this research exercise may well throw up some fresh perspectives and solutions. A comprehensive study of material available both in physical and electronic media have revealed a number of issues that will need to be addressed by Luxury Hotels in Kuwait. It is now appropriate to validate this information through primary research with respondents and assess the responses to obtain a better understanding of the subject.

b. Framing of Research Questions

The undertaking of a research project requires the framing of appropriate research questions. The four primary research questions elaborated in the introductory section have been comprehensively addressed in the Literature Review and the findings need to be further validated through primary research with actual respondents.

The primary research questions are as follows.

·         What are the benchmarks for service quality and customer satisfaction in the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Mandarin International hotels in New York?

·         How do the luxury hotels in Kuwait compare in achievement of these quality and satisfaction benchmarks?

·         What is required of the luxury hotels in Kuwait to achieve standards in service quality maintained by the best luxury hotels in the most competitive markets of the world?

c. Methodology

Research assignment methodologies are largely adopted after an assessment of the various methodologies available, the suitability of different approaches to the topic at hand, and the resources available with the researcher. The methodology for this assignment involves a detailed investigation of primary and secondary data. A number of information sources, in print and electronic medium, have been studied to locate and analyse secondary data relevant to the questions under investigation. The bulk of secondary data has been obtained from information available on the internet, in the absence of a great amount of learned publications and treatises on the subject. The Literature Review contains the findings obtained from the study of relevant published and available material on the subject.

Primary research, in this case, will consist of a series of steps that will include (a) deciding upon the appropriate research methodology, (b) laying down the research procedure, (c) selection of researchers, (d) localizing respondents for in-depth interviewing and for participation in focus groups, (e) preparing the questionnaires (f) carrying out the interviews, (g) interpreting responses and arriving at findings and lastly (h) arriving at conclusions and preparing the final report

d. Choice of Primary Research Methodology

Primary research strategies can comprise of Quantitative and Qualitative methodologies for obtaining and analyzing data. Both these methods use specialized techniques and require detailed planning, preparation and knowledge of methods of data collection, ability to analyze collected data, both statistically and interpretatively, validate results and arrive at appropriate conclusions. Researchers often choose to adopt one of the two methods; sometimes they use a mix of both, concurrently or sequentially. “Mixing methods has been the subject of considerable debate in the social sciences and has variously been regarded as anathema, as the outcome of everyday pragmatic research decisions, or as appropriate in some situations but needing to be carefully justified.” (Darlington & Scott, 2002, p. 119)

Both research methodologies need examination for a decision upon the one that would be most appropriate for the subject assignment. Methods of data collection and choice of analytical strategies support the execution of research and, in the first instance, depend upon the objectives and reasons for the research. In this case, the research questions form the basis for assessment of the suitability of the two methodologies and for determination of the final course of action.
The use of quantitative methods in marketing and operational research is widespread and practically indispensable when information about large samples is required in tight time spans. Many researchers feel that quantitative research forms the core of social research because measurements are scientific, rigorous, and representative and the underlying principle of quantitative research assumes that results are an accurate representation of the population under study.

Concentrating only on quantitative strategies does however subject the research assignment to certain limitations. Standardization of questionnaires and interviewing techniques tend to limit the research to testing of predetermined hypotheses. The design of questionnaires intends respondents to react to specific question lists created by the researcher, thus eliminating potentially interesting, spontaneous or tangential responses.  The subject assignment encompasses an investigation into Service Quality in Luxury Hotels in Kuwait, and in assessing the setting of benchmarks, with reference to the management practises adopted by three top class luxury hotels in New York. Furthermore, the research questions specified do not need quantitative responses. Rather than focusing upon objective measurement, they deal with issues like “how”, “why”, and “what”. In such instances it is appropriate for researchers to use qualitative techniques and suitable methods for gathering data.

Qualitative research has an important role to play in understanding this world and in complementing other forms of knowledge. Qualitative research methods have descended from several disciplines and belong to twenty or more diverse traditions (Darlington & Scott, 2002, p. 2)
Qualitative techniques involve the understanding of human behaviour in depth as well as the reasons that govern such behaviour i.e., the how and why behind attitudes and consequent decision-making. Samples are therefore small and focused and techniques incorporate skilled and extensive interviewing of respondents, observation, and examination of documents.

Qualitative research produces in depth and comprehensive information. The researcher uses subjective data, and observes respondents and participants, to describe the variables, as well as the interaction between the variables, in order to obtain a greater understanding of the matter under study. However, this very subjectivity in approach leads to difficulties in establishing reliability as in depth recording requirements necessitates the need of small samples. The quality of research depends largely upon the sincerity, objectivity, and freedom from bias, of the researcher or interviewer. It is not difficult to doctor reactions to meet hidden agendas, and qualitative results thus need stringent validation. (Bryman, 1992)

An examination of the distinct requirements of this dissertation and the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative methodologies indicate that use of qualitative methods will serve the purpose of research better. This is primarily because the research will need in depth information from individuals, as well as small groups of people with specific attributes, rather than straightforward responses from a large respondent base. As stated before, the adoption of qualitative methods for research assignments is a complex and demanding task and certain aspects will need careful conceptualising and planning before the commencement of the study.

e. Factors to be considered in formulating Primary Research Procedure

The success of the research assignment depends upon a number of aspects, namely the proper selection of respondents for in depth interviewing, carefully considered conduct of interviews, accurate and painstaking data collection, the logical interpretation of responses, analysis, and conclusion. The data needs of qualitative research are very different from those required for quantitative research assignments. Methods of data collection are strikingly dissimilar and focus on functioning with individuals or small focus groups. In-depth interviewing is the most commonly used data collection approach in qualitative research. This is hardly surprising, given the common concern of qualitative researchers to understand the meaning people make of their lives from their own perspective. The in-depth interview takes seriously the notion that people are experts on their own experience and so best able to report how they experienced a particular event or phenomenon. (Darlington & Scott, 2002, p. 48) Qualitative research requires significant time, both for in-depth interviewing and for interaction with focus groups. In-depth interviewing works on a one-to-one basis, whereas focus groups involve interaction with a small group of respondents, and the use of participative conversation to elicit representative responses.

The three chosen respondents work for three top class hotels in New York chosen for benchmarking purposes. It has been extremely difficult to locate the respondents and obtain their agreement in participating in this research assignment, because of corporate restrictions and policy on sharing of information. Many telephone calls and follow up emails were required for this purpose. The respondents finally agreed to freewheeling interviews on the topic but refused to answer specific structured questionnaires with numerous cross validating questions. This was acceptable because cross validation of questions is required more in quantitative research where large numbers of respondents are approached and interviewers do not have the liberty to or time for in depth interviews.

The purpose of the research along with the benefits expected to accrue from the exercise has been explained to the respondents and their consent obtained. While all three respondents had requested their names to be kept confidential, it was explained that this would not be possible. They have been assured that their comments will be reproduced without any embellishment or manipulation of answers

Completed interviews from the three respondents are available in the appendices. The nature of the interviews has been modified in accordance with the nature of each respondents assignment and his/her experience in the hotel industry.

f. Limitations of Research Methodology

The adopted research methodology is based on study of available material and interviews with three respondents, who while they are involved in service functions in the hotels chosen for benchmarking are not in serious positions and have thus been able to give function specific information rather than about basic objectives, policies and strategies. Their functions not being very senior and their experience somewhat limited the nature of the information shared by them may not be as extensive as required to obtain truly representative findings. Attempts to counteract this possible deficiency have led to an extensive study of available material for the preparation of the Literature Review.

While the findings, analysis, and conclusions for this assignment are based primarily on the information collected from available material, the responses of the respondents have been very helpful in validating/ contradicting the findings of the Literature Review.

4. Findings and Analysis

Information accessed from available research and primary research conducted through interviews with employees of three New York luxury hotels leads to the following findings and analysis.
a. Benchmarks for Service Quality and Customer Satisfaction in Luxury New York Hotels

Without being patronising or condescending it needs to be mentioned that the three hotels chosen for benchmarking, the Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons, and Mandarin International hotels in New York, are in another league altogether and prima facie it appears to be somewhat unfair to establish the standards established by them for the hotels in Kuwait. In many ways, it could be attempting too much too soon, and it would have been possibly more relevant to compare them with good hotels in smaller and lesser advanced locations.

It is also questionable whether Greece, for example, as well as Turkey, (which are today’s star performers in the hotel fraternity, are experiencing phenomenal growth, and have changed the pace of tourism growth in their countries), have followed the New York example, or have preferred to chart out their own courses for developing excellent levels of service quality. The Taj Group of Hotels, on the other hand, which is more than 100 years old and now has numerous properties all over the world, has preferred to enter into an agreement with the Ritz Carlton for knowledge exchange and has adopted its three steps of service as its service credo.

“The Taj group benchmarked with Ritz Carlton on Customer Satisfaction Measurement in luxury hotels. It has also adopted its “Three Steps To Service” philosophy which is used for defining performance requirements of employees at all levels: Warm welcome, anticipatory service and fond farewell. Adds Mr Shrinivas, ‘we have also installed, Customer Listening Posts as practiced by Ritz Carlton to update guest history data which is deployed in all guest contact areas to deliver anticipatory service.’”(The new view from Taj Hotels, 2001)

Notwithstanding these issues, service quality in all three New York hotels have two facets, the facilities available, represented by the actual physical ambience and employee and system service quality.

The physical ambience is extremely important and the hotels outdo each other to enhance the luxury experience and to keep on adding small touches to enhance customer indulgence. In this respect the Mandarin Oriental positions itself at the absolutely top end of the luxury experience and, apart from brilliantly shining crystal and silverware, provides indulgences like distributed antennas, heated bathroom mirrors, and the ability to display ipod broadcasts on the TV. A thousand little things make up the Mandarin customer experience. All hotels have large rooms, terrific Central Park views, huge TV sets, enormous choice of music and DVDs, swanky bathrooms, fancy and really excellent cuisine.

All three hotels have their individual methods of providing service quality. However, all three agree to the criticality and importance of the hotel staff in effecting service delivery and great stress is provided on the selection process. All hotels have rigorous selection policies, where apart from qualifications and experience, great stress is given to the attitude of the candidates and their “talent” for providing high quality service, a trait that depends primarily upon personality and character traits like openness, transparency, friendliness, and desire to provide service.

Training is also an area on which all three hotels pay great stress. The Ritz Carlton of course has an extensive training structure, comprising of training fresh recruits, periodic retraining, and senior manager training, train the trainer schemes, and compulsory certification. Both Four Seasons and Mandarin have rigorous training programmes, classroom as well as on the job.

Service quality standards exist in all client facing operations including telephone handling, check-ins and check outs, norms for all house keeping functions, laundry delivery, and functionality of gadgets in guest rooms and bathrooms. All hotels pay great attention on the personal touch, which starts with the guests being addressed by their names by all employees, starting from the bell hops, and going up to the senior managers. Personal touches like personalised messages on the TV, personal choice of fruits and cookies, are also standard practice. “Can do” attitudes of hotel staff are extremely important for retaining customer loyalty.

Service quality measures include coordinated and planned efforts to know guest preferences and try to provide them individually and systemically. Individual guest preferences are located for first time guests at the time of booking, both on line and personally, while data for repeat guests is available on the system and accessed before the guests check in and used to provide for their likes.

Apart from individual preferences, an ongoing process ensures that systemic changes are made to add to service quality. Four Seasons has over time systemically provided for twice a day laundry, home style food, gymming equipment in the rooms, specially cooked vegetarian food and a missing clothes facility, enabling guests to get access to items that they have been unable to bring from their homes.

 Employees’ at all three hotels have instructions to drop whatever they are doing in case any guest has a problem and resolve the problem on their own before doing anything else. The Ritz Carlton has a list of more than a thousand problems that can occur and resolution suggestions. It is not enough for the staff at these hotels to know how to identify problems. Problem resolution is equally important. Most problems, especially if they occur because of hotel lapses are immediately followed up with flowers, wine, fruits and cookies to the room and all staff members are expected to own responsibility for problems, not pass them on.

The Ritz believes that excellent standard service has now become passé and is unlikely to be remembered. Guests will only remember special occasions, where the hotel staff took emergent action or went out of the way to enhance the quality of stay. Staffs are constantly asked to look for such opportunities and make their guests visits memorable.

All three hotels have very strong guest feedback systems, which are collected verbally, and in writing, from various sources, collated and analysed for effecting improvements in service quality. Service quality analysis involves investigation of guest feedback, as well as of all quality standards on a periodic basis, at various levels and with full participation of staff to

b. Status of Luxury Hotels in Kuwait

The researcher is based in Kuwait and belongs to the hotel industry. Primary information about the Kuwait hotel industry is thus first hand and directly experienced.

The hotel industry in Kuwait has a number of famous names, as elaborated earlier, managing locally owned properties. Most hotels are in the four and five star category and there is a dearth of both economy and super luxury accommodation. There are two kinds of traffic, comprising of international business travellers and local Kuwaitis.

The sharp increase in the number of new upper end hotels following the conclusion of the Iraq war and the removal of Saddam Hussein has led to significant capacity, which is yet to be fully utilised. Room occupancy is low, at around 50%, but restaurants and cafes witness a good deal of traffic.

The hotel industry has to operate within specific environmental and regulatory controls, which create unique and difficult problems. Problems arise because of three issues, low international traffic, poor availability of local manpower, and regulatory control on pricing. The low international traffic occurs because Kuwait still remains a specific business destination, and unlike nearby Dubai does not draw cosmopolitan tourists from the west and the east. Visitors tend to be male, if they are not transiting. All hotels offer more or less the same facilities. Furthermore tariffs are regulated and do not differ significantly between establishments, reducing the initiative for competition and service differentiation.

Significant foods business is generated from local clientele who visit the hotels frequently for dining experiences. While restaurants do good business, the banquets area is also fairly active, again mostly because of local patronage, and hotel banqueting and catering services are frequently used.

Availability of high quality labour is restricted and even five star hotels are staffed with cheap and ill trained labour. A number of workers from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka work in the hotel industry in Kuwait. These workers come from largely agricultural and semi educated backgrounds. They come to Kuwait to earn greater incomes rather than to take up careers and are thus happy with whatever jobs are assigned to them. Whilst their comparatively cheaper costs are the major reasons behind their recruitment, such workers are obviously very difficult to train, and mould, into efficient and effective hotel employees.

Expenditure on training and other HR activities is also inadequate with the result that service quality is very poor. This is further exacerbated by the disinclination of hotel managements to invest in improving quality and their tendency to cut costs.

This, unfortunately, results in poor service quality, inadequate maintenance, and system breakdowns. Adequate attention is not given to ensuring top class facilities, rigorous cleanliness, food hygiene, and guest rooms.

5. Recommendations and Conclusions

The current situation in the Kuwait hotel industry is exceedingly common in business cycles, wherein any substantial expansion in capacity is necessarily followed by a period of overcapacity and inadequate business and underutilisation of facilities, until business catches up again. The continuous expansion of worldwide business and of course of the tourism and travel sector should lead to increasing business over the coming years. At present, the situation of too many hotels chasing limited customers, combined with inadequate revenues, has created a difficult situation that will need to be handled with steadfast policies and unwavering commitment to quality.

In these circumstances, service quality needs to be given the highest priority; in a situation where hotels have similar facilities and tariffs, the main differentiating factor will be service quality and hotels will need to introduce benchmarking of service quality standards in various areas if they wish to obtain and maintain competitive edge.

·         One of the main problems arises from the lesser availability of high quality labour. Hotels must therefore focus on introducing benchmarks in the selection and training procedure. These must necessarily incorporate framing of guidelines for selection, which apart from prescribing minimum qualifications, focus on the suitability of candidates for service jobs and concentrate on basic personality traits like appearance, outgoing attitudes, friendly personalities, inclination for hard work, and desire to make careers in service industries. Candidates need to be imbibed with the potential and prospects of taking up employment in the hotel industry, preferably with customised and attractive presentations. The selection and recruitment procedures need to be elaborated in detail, clearly laying down corporate objectives, the reasons for these objectives, and detailed procedures for holding of interviews and assessing suitability of candidates.

·         Intensive attention needs to be given to establishing training procedures and manuals with the involvement of HR, customer service and operational managers. Considering that HR departments are likely to be understaffed, multi disciplinary teams of managers from various departments need to be formed to create training manuals and schedules that take up orientation, entry level training, periodic retraining, senior management training, and train the trainer sessions. Benchmarks in this area must incorporate various service functions and set down targets in areas of customer contact like telephone operators, reservations, front office, concierge, restaurants, banquets, room service, banquets, housekeeping, laundry, health clubs, beauty salons, business services, and maintenance. A critical area in this area is to enforce two primary necessities, namely promptness of service and quality of service. Benchmarks must provide for norms in these areas that include answering the telephone promptly, courteousness of interaction, providing the required service within established time frames and assuring quality of service provided. These would include, for purposes of illustration, time required for food from order to delivery, resolving guest room requirements, and attending to housekeeping requests.

·         Improvements in the area of recruitment and training need to be formalised and institutionalised through the preparation of recruitment and training manuals. Preparation of manuals is a complex and expert assignment and it would be advisable to use the services of expert HR industry professionals for their preparation. Appointed consultants will need to be briefed in detail and their terms of reference and responsibilities clearly defined. It would be advisable to inform them about the levels of service quality desired, which should serve as the starting point for their consultancy exercise.

·         All the hotels surveyed in New York insist that guests be addressed by their names by hotel staff. This standard needs to be introduced with rigorousness and hotels need to find ways and means of accomplishing this through changes or modification in their guest information availability systems. Personalising attention to guests needs to be formalised through systemic changes in operating procedures in all customer facing functions.

·         All the surveyed hotels in New York pay great attention to cleanliness and hygiene. Each and every staff member, irrespective of rank constantly remains alert for any sign of dust, dirt or lack of polish and attends to the issue immediately. Insistence upon cleanliness is not just a standard; it is an obsession with these establishments. The need for spotless cleanliness needs to be made imperative with each member of the staff being responsible for keeping the hotel clean. This must be taken up in all training sessions, in orientation and in retraining. Also this fetish with cleanliness and hygiene needs to spread to every department, from kitchens, to housekeeping, to room service to laundry.

·         It is essential to develop and further systems for obtaining feedback from guests about their opinions, things they like, dislike or are indifferent to. Feedback can come from written and verbal sources, from areas like restaurants, health clubs, room service, or even from questions posed by the staff during casual conversations. The feedback needs to be standardised into various relevant segments and analysed periodically for defining action points to improve service quality. Feedback also needs to be analysed and collated not just for residential guests but also frequent restaurant guests, in order to carry out improvements.

This research assignment establishes the need for hotels in Kuwait to introduce measures to improve service quality significantly. The standards set by luxury hotels in New York may possibly be somewhat difficult to achieve right now because of the numerous dimensions in which these hotels engage the issue as well as established procedures and much higher ability of hotel staff. However, there are many areas, especially those elaborated above, where earnest efforts are very likely to yield excellent results. It would also be a good idea to gauge the responses of guests, those in residence as well as those who use the restaurants, about a few major issues like cleanliness, staff attitude, housekeeping and room service response, to get a firmer idea about areas that need to be attended immediately.

Appendices

Appendix A

Questionnaire

1. The questionnaire is designed for a one to one in depth interview and incorporates the sequence in which issues need to be taken up. The questionnaire is not meant to be filled up by the interviewee and as such indicates a broad framework for each question to be used at the time of the interview. The interview is meant to be proactive and should cater for deviations from the planned script if the interviewee wishes to expand on a particular topic.

2. Issues to be taken up for interviews

a. Background and experience of the interviewee

b. Function of the interviewee

c. Understanding of Service Quality

d. Methods of ensuring Service Quality

e. Standards of Service Quality

f. Monitoring Service Quality

Appendix B

Interview with Frank Butler, Assistant Training Manager at the Ritz Carlton, Central Park, New York

Q.1. Thank you for agreeing to speak about your work at the Ritz Carlton

A.1. Pleasure, It’s a privilege to participate in your research

Q2. Will you give me some details about your background and experience?

A2. Sure, I am 28, and have been working at the Ritz for three years. I have a degree in hotel management and joined straight from campus. At the Ritz I have worked in four departments, in concierge, front office, housekeeping, and now in training. This is just the beginning. I have a long way to go.

Q3. Please provide me with details of your life at the Ritz.

A3. I wouldn’t know where to start, especially in a long distance conversation. Anyway, the major thing at the Ritz has been the learning experience and a completely different understanding of customer service. Training programmes, as you know, are extensive and continuous. Additionally, there is constant exchange of information, news about methods being used at other Ritz hotels. When I was in other departments I was a recipient of the training and am now getting involved in its preparation. The hotel management focuses on quality all the time, and the process begins with the interview where the interviewers assess whether the candidate has a talent for service from his body language, attitude, and communication. Once the candidate is employed the focus never moves away from customer service. Work is hectic and rigorous. I had to work odd hours before but in training the day begins at 9 and gets over at reasonable hours.

Q4. What are your functions now?

A 4 At training the schedule is hectic. We have various training programmes on, for new people, retraining for more experienced staff, and again for separate programmes for senior managers. Coordinating these training programmes, communicating with other hotels, preparing literature, all this is part of the job. Right now I am preparing resource, evaluating off-the-shelf versus customised solutions, creating effective support material and learning tools, establishing interactivity through five-sensing, and incorporating multi-media and other attention-getting devices to make it more interesting.

Q 5 What is Service Quality, as you understand it at the Ritz?

A5. I am sure you know that we have won the Baldrige award and that too more than once. The world knows about our service quality from literature available on the net among other places. I am sure you do too and I don’t know whether I will be telling you anything new. Our basic philosophy works on the three steps, which other hotels are now adopting. First, give a warm and sincere welcome, second, provide the quality of service demanded by your guests, and third, say thank you and ask them to come again.

Q6. Isn’t that too simple?

A6. Possibly, maybe that’s why it works. Of course these are the essence. They are backed up with extensive research work so that we can satisfy customers all the time. We have 20 basic policies, then we have gold standards, which are reinforced through training. Every employee goes through 120 hours of training every year, that’s three weeks of full time work. These standards cover all areas of service delivery; they are our benchmarks, evolved over the years.

Enormous material is available, the hotel has prepared a list of customer problems that may occur normally and there are more than a thousand of them with guidelines for solving these problems when they arise.

While the steps may look obvious, implementing them opens up a number of issues. We strongly focus on problem resolution. If a guest has a problem the nearest employee has to drop what he or she is doing and ensure that the problem is taken over and resolved, without going to anyone else; spotting and resolving a problem, that’s an important job.

Q7. What do you think guests really appreciate luxurious facilities or service quality?

A7. Both, they would definitely be unhappy if the establishment were less fashionable, less luxurious, the Ritz is associated with luxury and all the things that go with it and the management pays great attention to see that things are quite bling. But service quality makes a real difference. And I am not talking about normal things. Normal excellent service is considered standard and nothing special. Excellent response when a customer wants something slightly out of the way makes a good impression. Delight comes only when we can do something really out of the way.

Q8 How do you monitor Service Quality?

A8 Various forms of feedback are important, both written and verbal, all the guest feedback we have is immediately transferred to our database and analysed for future guest visits, problem analysis and resolution. This data is analysed very regularly, and provided to us as feedback.

Q9 What do you think is the greatest strength of the Ritz Carlton Service Quality philosophy?

A9. Undoubtedly our enormous stress on staff, selection, training, motivation, advancement policies. Please don’t that the staff is stress free and has a great time. There is significant pressure, to measure up to the standards set by our HR people, assessments are regular and the focus is on performance.

Appendix C

Interview with Nelson Wong, Lobby Manager at Four Seasons, New York

Q1. Thank you for speaking to me

A1. Not at all, It’s a pleasure. I am sorry it took so much time.

Q2. Thank you again, I would like to begin this session with asking you about your background and experience

A2. Sure, As you can make out I am Chinese by origin. My parents came over from Hong Kong before I was born. I have a marketing diploma from NorthWestern and have three years of experience in hospitality. I joined the Four Seasons at New York two years back and work as lobby manager. I have spent time both in reception and in customer services before I was given this responsibility.

Q3. The Four Seasons New York is reputedly one of the finest hotels in the world. Do you agree and why?

A3. I don’t know about the world but I feel it is certainly among the best in NYC. It has a terrific location, bang on Central Park. It is really a super luxury hotel, the rooms are terrific, the lobby makes people stand and stare and the food is extraordinary.

Q4. What about the service?

A4. Yes, of course service is a priority area, but it’s not the only thing in the hotel, At Four Seasons, service is more than being nice to guests and smiling at them. It’s a combination of a number of things, large rooms, huge TV sets, enormous choice of music and DVDs, swanky bathrooms, great views, fancy and really excellent cuisine. We believe service has 2 facets, the hardware and the software, and both are extremely important. Dining options, for example, are extremely important. Four Seasons is essentially a business hotel group and our clients stay away from home regularly. We even give them a choice of traditional food, cooked the way it is at home when they get a bit tired of fine dining, which also is there in ample measure.

Q5. Do you make any efforts to differentiate your service quality?

A5. of course, so many firsts, we were the first people to give full 24 hour room service, the laundry gets collected twice a day, we provide ironing within two hours, we try to innovate and give service that is useful, takes effort, and puts our hotel apart. Creative vegetarian food, not just salads and boiled vegetables, guests can get their gymming machines right in their rooms, if they don’t want to go to the health club.

Q5. At no extra cost?

A5. Everything has a cost, but nothing is exorbitant. If you are making a service too expensive than it doesn’t form part of the service range.

Q6. How do you benchmark Service Quality?

A6. While we have our Service Quality standards, the whole purpose is to keep on putting ourselves in the guest’s shoes, that of a successful business traveller, and check what service will be useful. All our innovations come from that approach. Customer research, for instance, told us that guests often leave something at home, could be a shirt, a tie, some nice shoes, which they need for their meetings. We put in a missing luggage facility, our customer service people ask each guest whether we can offer something that may have been forgotten at home, and provide it. These things delight customers; it goes far beyond regular customer service.

Of course, we have detailed standards, standards in every area of customer service, telephone etiquette, check in and checkouts, housekeeping response, time to table at restaurants, number of customer challenges in each area of service, equipment malfunctions, standards are laid down in each area that are monitored and assessed every month for red alerts.

Q7. What about training?

A7. Yes, of course, the whole organisation depends upon employee excellence, Selection itself is rigorous; it’s not easy to get a job at the four seasons. Training is continuous, job rotation is regular. There is an extremely efficient feedback system, which is obtained from guests, analysed and passed on to the employees every month. The company pays great emphasis on staff empowerment and this treatment reflects in the positive attitude of the employees. The company’s golden rule for employees is “ do unto others, as you would have them do unto you” and this is followed with sincerity.

Q8 How do you monitor Service Quality?

A8 Primarily from guest feedback and of course there is a continuous exercise on to check repeat customers, their opinions, comparative figures with other hotels. Customer feedback is taken across a huge spectrum from physical facilities, to quality of food to room service. Most of it is taken verbally but some guests are kind enough to write also. In customer service it is part of my job to check for problems and locate avenues for better service. Japanese guests, for instance, may want some specific TV channels. We ensure that they get it immediately, not later.

Appendix D

Interview with Norah Bowen, Assistant Manager, Guest Relations, Mandarin Oriental, New York

Norah Bowen has been with the Mandarin for more than three years. She is a hotel management graduate.

Q1. Thank you, Norah, for agreeing talk to me, I am obliged.

A1. Absolutely my pleasure, please tell me how can I help you?

Q2. The project on Service Quality in the Hospitality industry, a quality for which the Mandarin Oriental is very well known

A2. Thank you, actually we live and breathe service quality, in fact our bosses tell us, no service, no profit, and we make good money, I presume our service is good.

Q3. What do you understand by Service Quality?

A3. We try to blend the oriental concept of extremely personal and caring service and elaborate luxury with western efficiency and delivery. A comparable service is what you see on first class on Cathay Pacific. We are a super luxury hotel and our rates are higher than most other hotels in NYC. Guests come for experiencing the genuine high life by way of luxury, in rooms, in amenities, and of course in service.

Q4. Can you elaborate on these aspects?

A 4 surely, our rooms are absolutely brilliant, the last word in luxury, every amenity that we give is top class and meant for finicky guests. Our TV sets are huge and the last word on clarity and availability of global programmes. We have built in a system to ensure that your cellphone’s signals never drop, irrespective of where you are, in the bathrooms we have put in heaters behind the mirrors to see that they don’t frost over. We believe in caring through taking care of a 1000 details.

Service starts right from the time you make your booking. If you are a new guest we take down your preferences in your preferred temperature, your choice of food, cars, entertainment, and try to see that we can better your requirements. If you are an old customer we will know every little thing and take care.

Our service starts from the moment our limos pick you up from the airport to the time we drop you. At every moment we see that very polite, gracious and efficient service is next to you.

Q5, do you benchmark your services?

A5. Benchmark against what? Of course, we are fully aware of the standards of service that exist in other luxury properties but our style is very much our own. Our philosophy is to pamper our guests with huge amounts of service with a combination of equipment and staff and we do that. Our service is extremely personal. Every staff a guest meets will know his or her name and will come up and greet without being obtrusive. The staff is very important. Our training regimes are elaborate and there is continuous training to ensure that the employees are technically knowledgeable, extremely friendly, caring and gracious. We also pay our staff very well. They get excellent incentives for good performance and bonuses are handsome. They are chosen with great care. There are some things that cannot be trained. They come from background, education and attitude. We check for these things during the interview.

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