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December 8, 2016
December 8, 2016

Take Your Practice From Marriott to Ritz Carlton Quality

Mark Opperman

Have you ever thought about what distinguishes a Ritz Carlton quality hotel from a Marriott quality hotel? You might say it is the physical facility and, in some cases, I would agree. Yet for the most part, Ritz Carlton hotels are not significantly nicer than Marriott properties. You could also say price - but we’ll talk about that later. What really makes a hotel a Ritz Carlton is the consistency of service and the sincere desire of the hotel’s employees to exceed your expectations and provide you with an amazing experience, not just a night’s stay.

Not too long ago, I was staying at a Ritz Carlton hotel when there was an unexpected snow storm.  I went down to my rental car to warm it up, brush the snow off and chip the ice off the windows, only to find I did not have a snow brush or ice scraper.  As I sat in my car contemplating what to do, there was a knock on my window.  I opened the door to find a Ritz Carlton employee asking me if he could clean the snow off my car and scrape the windows.  It turns out that the Ritz had anticipated that the snow might be a problem for guests and already had people in the parking lot to help.  The young man cleaned the snow off my car and scraped the windows (a lot better than I would have done).  When I offered him a tip, he refused to take it, saying, “This is why we are here. It is my pleasure to assist you.”  Wow!  So, will I return to that hotel next time I am in the area?  You bet I will! 

What does it take to go from a Marriott to a Ritz?  Of course the answer is customer service - but it goes even deeper than that. I think the first thing that must happen if you are going to “become a Ritz” is that you need to have the vision of what that is and the conviction and determination to make it happen. It all starts from the top. The owner must provide the vision and direction for the practice.

During that same trip, I consulted with what I would consider a Marriott quality veterinary hospital that wished to become a Ritz Carlton in the veterinary world. The hospital already had a very nice, modern building, good team members and an owner who sincerely wished his practice to be the Ritz but they needed some help making that transition.

The first thing we did was develop phase training programs for every team member in the hospital and re-train each employee. Team training and consistency of experience are paramount in achieving the Ritz experience. Team members must know what they are supposed to do and clients must receive a consistent experience.

We also implemented what I call the creed card. Ask any employee in a Ritz Carlton to “show me your card” and they will pull a card out of their pocket that states the core values of the Ritz Carlton and what is expected of them as an employee of the hotel. We took that concept from the Ritz Carlton and modified it to the veterinary profession. Our creed card starts with our creed or mission statement. An example of this might be:

“The practice is a place where genuine care, comfort and quality veterinary medicine for our patients and clients is our highest mission.

We pledge to provide the finest client service, a kind word, and a “can do” attitude in all our communication.

The practice experience celebrates a love of pets and people, instills a sense of well being, and honors the best in each of our clients.”

A mission statement is critical because it is the heart of who we are and what we stand for--it is the rallying cry of the practice. However, these are not just words written on a card. It is truly who and what we are - and all employees embody our mission statement.

Next, we state the Three Steps of Service. This is what we expect to happen each and every time a client enters our practice. It is our standard of care and what is expected of each and every employee. Our Three Steps of Service are:

  1. Make clients feel welcome by greeting them with their name and their pet’s name.
  2. Anticipate each client’s needs by looking for ways to make their visit to the practice special.
  3. Let each client know you appreciate their visit and look forward to seeing them again by wishing them a fond farewell.

Of course, we also “inspect what we expect,” so we must make sure this happens with every client interaction. In a “Ritz” environment, employees are anxious to exceed clients’ expectations and provide excellent service. Employees support each other and make sure the three steps of service are consistently experienced by clients.

Naturally, the cornerstone of the Ritz Carlton experience is our employees.  Printed on our creed card is what we call the Employee Promise, which states:

“Our team members are the most important resource in our service commitment to clients. By applying the principles of trust, honesty, respect, integrity and commitment, we nurture and maximize talent to the benefit of each individual and the practice.

The practice fosters a work environment where diversity is valued, quality of life is enhanced, individual aspirations are fulfilled, and the practice is enriched.”

The last component of our creed card is probably the most important. It is what we term “The Practice Basics.” This is, again, our standards within the veterinary hospital and the concepts we as a health care team all agree to abide by.  These are as follows:

  1. Our commitment to helping pets live healthier, longer lives must be known and energized by the entire team.
  2. As service professionals, we treat our clients, their pets and each other with respect and dignity.
  3. The three steps of service are the foundation of the practice and must be used in all client interactions.
  4. The employee promise is the basis for our practice culture and will be honored by all team members.
  5. All team members will complete phased training for their position and yearly training certification.
  6. Our practice polices are communicated to all team members. It’s everyone’s responsibility to support them.
  7. Each team member is expected to make the practice the best it can be by making suggestions and actively participating in projects.
  8. It is the responsibility of every team member to create an environment of teamwork that meets the needs of our patients and clients, as well as each other.
  9. Uncompromising levels of cleanliness are the responsibility of each team member.
  10. Client satisfaction is the responsibility of each employee. Whoever receives a complaint will own it and resolve it to the client’s satisfaction.
  11. Smile – we are on stage. Always maintain good eye contact. Say “Thank you,” “I would be happy to…,” “it would be my pleasure…” or “may I…?”
  12. Be an ambassador for the practice and speak positively of where you work. Communicate concerns to your manager-- we want to know.
  13. Helping pets and owners is why we are here. They are never a bother or an imposition.
  14. Be courteous. Escort clients to the reception area or to an exam room. Do not point the way or give directions.
  15. Use good telephone etiquette. Ask to put a client on hold, answer the phone within three rings and use the client’s and pet’s name whenever possible.
  16. Everyone is responsible for presenting a professional image of the practice. Take pride in your appearance.
  17. Think safety first. Each team member should be aware of all safety rules.

Again, this creed card is not just words written on a card or piece of paper; it is who we are, what we are and what we stand for. What would it be like to be the Ritz of veterinary hospitals in your area? What would it be like to provide an exceptional client experience paired with an excellence of medicine and surgery? How proud would you be as the practice owner or employee of such a practice? This is the Ritz Carlton experience. Love your clients so much, care for them and their pets so well that the client does not want to leave your practice for fear of a harsher world outside your door.

Elevate your practice and bring your entire team to Mark's "It's What's Up Front That Counts!" one day seminar.

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