Cris Vlad (below, CV) traveled to The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa to interview Director of Room Mr. Takeshi Hara (TH) and Front Office Assistant Manager Ms. Chiaki Harada (CH) about their service management concepts and how they continue to innovate.
CV: Mr. Hara, what is your vision of The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa future?
TH: Simply put, becoming the most coveted luxury golf and spa resort in Japan.
CV: Oh, that’s really simply put. While doing so, I believe that you have a strategy in mind, some concrete plans to address the modern guests. Have you observed any major trends in guest profiles over the past few years? And how do you best prepare for these changes?
TH: Well, traveling back in time a bit, in 2013 the foreign guest ratio was a mere 15%, but it has been growing gradually ever since. In 2017, 35% of our guests were coming from countries other than Japan. As a result, we have had to rapidly improve our foreign language abilities. Many of us are now taking English classes while working here at the resort. We are also making a conscious effort to hire international associates, people who were born or who have lived abroad and who can bring their language skills and experience to play in our effort to create and deliver an ultimate guest experience. We are also mindful of the need of communicating written information in more than one language – most of our written announcements, our menus, etc. are bilingually written in Japanese and English. We are now making efforts to add Chinese and Korean language signage as well.
CV: That really sounds like a lot of work. While working on creating a multi-lingual and multi-cultural environment, there are elements of the global Ritz-Carton culture that you also need to bring in. What are your challenges in helping employees connect with the Ritz-Carlton Credo?
TH: Thank you for bringing this up, Cristian. This is an on-going effort to help everyone here at The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa understand, connect with and deliver upon our Gold Standards, including, of course, the Credo, which, we believe, are the foundation of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and, ultimately, of the Ritz-Carlton experience. When joining the Ritz-Carlton family, we all go through a fully-immersive orientation session, which lasts for two whole days. However, the immersion does not stop there. We review the Gold Standards daily with extreme rigorousness. We take this all very, very seriously because we firmly believe that this has always been and should always be the core of our foundation, the platform of our employee engagement, the strong mindset that binds us all together. Without it, it would be very hard to create an authentic Ritz-Carlton experience and we couldn’t even talk about creating any competitive advantage. We have created Credo cards and we have encouraged our staff never to go out without them. Our staff attend morning meetings with the Credo card as part of their uniforms. We frequently cite the Gold Standards during training sessions, meetings, and internal communications. This is how we see that the Credo becomes an integral part of our culture.
CV: Culture and innovation are two elements sustaining growth. How do you innovate operations at The Ritz-Carlton in Okinawa?
TH: First of all, we always look for quality talent and the personal traits that might enable them to best fit with our culture, the innate affinities they might have, and the potential of expressing those core values in-person. Furthermore, we implement the so-called “Three Steps of Service Training” periodically. This is an essential part of the Gold Standards and it is important in our efforts to bring the Credo to life. As part of this effort, we unleash empowerment, problem-solving and, of course, the whole mindset of always being a step ahead of our guests to meet, greet and welcome them with warmth and courtesy. Recognition of great behavior and best practices also play an important role. We implement various initiatives, such as the First Class Card, the WOW Stories, the 5-Star Employee Awards, and so on.
CV: It sounds like your work never ends!
TH: It never does, Cristian. As long as we have customers coming back to us, we are in the business of delivering ultimate delight and hospitality with a genuine touch of our customary Okinawan spirit.
CV (turning to Ms. Harada): Ms. Harada, how do you help your guests "FEEL" Ritz-Carlton?
CH: Well, first of all, I personally always want to make sure that, when greeting guests, I don’t just put on a polite smile, but that I smile warmly from the bottom of my heart. This is such a simple thing, but it helps convey genuine intentions and an utter readiness to welcome our guests into our resort, here in Okinawa. Then, I always try to think ahead of time and see whether there is anything we can do to exceed even the smallest expectation. It might be a flower or a cookie, it might be an unrequested early check-in or a late check-out. It is all about anticipation. In Japanese, we call this “saki-yomi,” which is always being one step ahead of the guest: anticipating their next move and being there ahead of them to meet, greet and assist them with anything they might need. This is what I do. I always try to anticipate every single interaction, be there and be ready to welcome our guests as warmly as I can. Then I consider whether there is anything more, any extra step that any one of us here at Ritz-Carlton can take in order to ensure that we have created yet another small surprise, another “wow” moment. One other thing I always try to do is, at the time of checking in, to call the guests by their name, at least three times. This helps our guests feel my personal attention. Customizing our service to the smallest effect is something that we are all committed to doing, and I always do my best to deliver our Ritz-Carlton promise through such personal interactions.
CV: I guess that your guests really enjoy that. I wonder, though, how do you help your guests FEEL Okinawa? How do you remind them that they are not staying at any other Ritz-Carlton property around the world?
CH: Well, first of all, The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa is the only Ritz-Carlton resort in Japan. Therefore, we do every single thing we can to help our guests enjoy the resort, to relax and to disconnect. In every personal interaction we have with them, we make a point to talk about the Okinawan weather, people, culture, local products, and activities. Whenever walking together with our clients on the facilities we make sure to walk slowly, to induce the mood of the resort and the feeling of the slow and peaceful life in Okinawa to our guests. We take time to admire views from various parts of our facilities, structures and less obvious parts of the resort together. Our resort is developed ontologically, with the human at the center, as we want our guests to be able to appreciate and take all that in during their stay with us. It is not only physical relaxation, it is also a psychological reset while absorbing the whole atmosphere of Ritz-Carlton and Okinawa.
CV: It sounds to me that there has been a lot of thought put into this process. Is this all unique to The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa?
CH: Much of it really is. Many of our events are indigenous to The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa, without a doubt. I will give you a quick example. We have many guests coming over trying to plan a wedding. After they have tasted a few samples from our menu, they are invited into a private room of the restaurant at the time of the dessert and they are presented with a surprise: a small wedding cake and a knife for them to rehearse cutting the real wedding cake at the time of their wedding. Needless to say, at this point, their minds are nearly made to celebrate this special event of their life at our resort.
Another initiative that I am particularly proud of is the information-sharing scheme we have developed internally in order to be able to share any information related to our guests across our various teams. This kind speedy information sharing helps us all create an ultimate experience for our guests during their stay with us. We all strive to understand our guests’ needs from gestures, personal interactions, and conversations. Then we do our best to deliver extraordinary experiences based on our “reading” of our guests’ expectations. It is all pure teamwork and it takes every personal effort to anticipate, create and deliver these ultimate Ritz-Carlton experiences.
For example, we sometimes decorate the guest rooms one way or another, differently from the standard setup, in an attempt to deliver a pleasant surprise. If we know that our guests are celebrating a special occasion, we might want to "dress-up" the room in a festive manner or deliver a surprise message together with a special dessert at dinner time. If we hear a guest coughing, we might offer some warm drinks good for the throat, maybe even set up a humidifier in the room. And the story goes on.
CV: Utterly impressive! I am sure that you have so many more stories to tell, Harada-san. Thank you so much for letting us have a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtains here at The Ritz-Carlton, Okinawa.