Industry Update
Press Release13 August 2020

Hotel Quality Lab: Exploring Service Excellence

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Logo 'Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne'

Against the backdrop of relentlessly evolving consumer demands and technological disruption, what does service quality mean today? What is required to maintain the prerequisite momentum? And how can hoteliers reconcile brand standards with the varying needs and expectations of guests from around the world? Helping us find the answers to these questions and more, Richard Leuenberger, Managing Director of Badrutt's Palace in St. Moritz, joins us on a journey of discovery through service excellence.


Service excellence credentials

The success of Leuenberger's approach to service quality speaks for itself. Under his stewardship, Badrutt's Palace ranked first in TripAdvisor's 2019 Travelers' Choice Awards in the category "Top 25 Hotels for Service - Switzerland". Not to mention topping the charts for Swiss hotels overall.

Before assuming his role at the helm of this historical establishment - "family owned since 1896" - Leuenberger held leadership posts at the prestigious Shangri-La and Ritz-Carlton in Asia among others. He also happens to be an alumnus of our very own EHL, having graduated with honors in 2002.

Service quality as a differentiator

When asked what the words "service quality" mean to him, Leuenberger explains that service quality is what sets luxury hotel operators apart from others. With guest expectations at the center of this endeavor, it may be tempting to define how this should look in practice by means of standards.

Leuenberger, however, adopts a more holistic approach, defining service quality by its outcome: customer satisfaction. When a hotel's staff's day-to-day actions are oriented toward this outcome, service quality ensues as a matter of course.

Steadfast tradition in changing times

It goes without saying that consumer demands are ever evolving and technology has the odd disruption up its sleeve. A challenging set of circumstances for the hospitality industry. How does the GM work with this? He sees technology developments both as a shift to keep pace with and as an enabling factor. A tool with which to connect to staff and facilitate their work, leveraging the potential of Instagram or Facebook, for example, and using the hotel's own apps. This backdrop provides the hotelier with a strategic opportunity to refocus on where service quality should be felt and where it has changed.

While Leuenberger recognizes that guests expect fast Wi-Fi, for instance, he consciously chooses not to overload his guests with technology, emphasizing that the hotel's traditional charm is one of the key factors that attracts guests in the first place. As a vivid example, he explains how guests will come into the lobby for the pure pleasure of hot chocolate that is still made the way it always used to be. Hot chocolate done right. That's the kind of quality people are looking for.

Being a standalone hotel gives Badrutt's Palace a certain nimble agility to react to the times and continue to meet these quality expectations. So when his staff identify a way to improve the customer journey or enhance a guest's stay, they can execute it without getting tied up in hierarchical approval processes. And they do so using technology to its best advantage.

Maintaining a broad perspective

Leuenberger explains that suitable benchmarks are essential in successfully balancing tradition with innovation. He recommends comparing one's own establishment with other players in the industry, always ensuring you set your benchmark high, and being careful not to succumb to the temptation of comparing your current hotel to one you've helped shape before.

Employee engagement is half the battle

Alongside the undeniable draw of working at a hotel that was the world's first winter resort, where service excellence is simply part of the DNA, Leuenberger credits this constructive approach to technology with keeping employee engagement high. He believes that acknowledging that people have changed and that smartphones are omnipresent is key. The way we go through our days has changed. So, too, a hotel must change the way it communicates, the kinds of events it organizes for its staff, and what it focusses on in its daily briefings.

Building on employee engagement, nurturing a culture of excellence sets the tone for service quality, ensuring the required momentum is maintained throughout operations:

"If you have a culture of excellence, a lot of the service quality issues become redundant. It's just basics, right?"

Universal truths

How, then, to instill a "culture" of excellence across cultures? Across national borders? Leuenberger encourages us to focus on universal truths, such as: "When it comes to providing a luxury level of service, people are very sensitive to what's worth the most to them, and it's their time." He evaluates service provision from the guest perspective, asking himself whether that level is being reached.

Leuenberger considers the prevalent importance of the Three Steps of Service as formulated by the Ritz-Carlton to be another universal truth:

  • "A warm and sincere greeting.
  • Use the guest's name. Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest's needs.
  • Fond farewell. Give a warm good-bye and use the guest's name."

Let culture do the talking

When looking to run a hotel abroad, naturally, our interviewee recommends understanding what is relevant to the respective country and its citizens. He also believes, however, that hiring the right people, people who embody your corporate culture of excellence, will solve this issue for you, as they will want to achieve that excellence, automatically incorporating local relevance.

And at the end of the day, who knows? Perhaps the challenges of opening up shop on new continents will be overshadowed in the future by the dawn of space tourism? With experimentation being a sign of our times, we'd be well advised to heed Leuenberger's wisdom.


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About EHL Group

EHL Group encompasses a portfolio of specialized business units that deliver hospitality management education and innovation worldwide. Headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, the Group includes:

EHL Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne is an ambassador for traditional Swiss hospitality and has been a pioneer in hospitality education since 1893 with over 25,000 alumni worldwide and over 120 nationalities. EHL is the world's first hospitality management school that provides undergraduate and graduate programs at its campuses in Lausanne, Singapore and Chur-Passugg, as well as online learning solutions. EHL is ranked n°1 by QS World University Rankings by subject and CEOWorld Magazine, and its gastronomic restaurant is the world's only educational establishment to hold a Michelin Star.

EHL Swiss School of Tourism and Hospitality has been one of the leading hospitality management colleges for hotel specialists for 50 years. The school delivers Swiss-accredited federal diplomas of vocational education and training and of higher education in its 19th century spa-hotel in Chur-Passugg, Graubünden, to Swiss and international students from 20 countries.

EHL Advisory Services is the largest Swiss hospitality advisory company specializing in service culture implementation, business consulting, as well as the development and quality assurance of learning centers. EHL Advisory Services has offices in Lausanne, Beijing, Shanghai and New Delhi and has delivered mandates in more than 60 countries over the past 40 years.

Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne
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