Four towers, two thousand rooms, 450,000 square feet of convention space, a golf course, ten restaurants, and a massive maze of pools.
How does the largest Marriott in the world provide exceptional customer service in such a large-scale operation?
During the IHI National Forum excursion I attended last year, leaders at the Marriott World Center, the Orlando hotel that hosts the IHI National Forum, offered insights into this very challenge. As an MD/MBA, health care consultant, and former maître d’ at a renowned New York restaurant, I’ve seen how health care can improve patient experience by leveraging principles of hospitality.
(Editor's note: You can still join this year's Forum excursion by signing up here.)
Hospitals are not restaurants or hotels, and patients are not diners on vacation, but the health care industry can take lessons from other settings, adapt them to our own unique environment, and improve our operations and patient experience of care.
Lesson 1: Engage staff to improve customer service
J. Willard “Bill” Marriott, founder of Marriott International, is well known for saying to his managers, “take care of associates and they'll take care of your customers” – a phrase that serves as the guiding principle of the company’s culture.
This motto plays out in customer-facing roles and with staff who work behind the scenes.
In the banquet kitchen, managers encourage creativity and ownership, for example, developing an interesting Latin-inspired dish based on food that several cooks prepare at home. The housekeeping department celebrates successes, for example, sharing the story of a new housekeeper who found and returned a child’s wallet filled with over $200 in birthday money to its distraught young owner.
The highly visible reception staff face a flood of emotion from customers, just as health care does with patients. Customers may be excited for the event they’re attending, cranky from hours of travel, or frustrated because their room isn’t ready. Marriott’s hiring process seeks staff with an innate service mentality, using such interview questions as, “Tell us a story showing how and why you take care of people.”
Lesson 2: Use data to improve performance
The Marriott Corporation utilizes the concept of wildly important goals (or “WIGs”).
WIGs are valuable because they provide just a single overarching goal with clear metrics. Annually, each department chooses a WIG, and managers help associates identify tangible sub-goals, track success, and compete to win. Every WIG at every level must contain a clearly measurable result and an end date so managers and staff have a way to track progress. In accordance with their customer focus, most WIGs are tied to specific satisfaction scores that are followed closely.
Lesson 3: How to respond when things don’t go well
Danny Meyer, founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group, where I used to work, likes to share a lesson he learned from Stanley Marcus of retailer Neiman Marcus: “The path to success is paved with mistakes well handled.”
Marriott’s approach to customer service is based on this principle. The organization uses the LEARN acronym for service recovery:
- Listen to what the customer says to identify the problem
- Empathize with the situation
- React by offering a solution
- Notify the rest of the team about the problem so they can follow-up with the customer, and escalate for resolution if necessary
To facilitate this, associates have authority to do whatever it takes, at whatever cost, to resolve an issue, as long as it is ethical and doesn’t harm the company. For example, a server in the Mikado Japanese Steakhouse who noticed that a couple had been waiting a long time brought complimentary soups with an update on their meal.
With this approach, team members can benefit as much as guests. Associates are given the tools they need to provide a great experience for customers, which empowers them and builds ownership and pride in their work.
Gayle Squires, MD (www.gaylesquires.com) is a consultant who works at the intersection of health care and hospitality.