1. What is it like to stay at a Four Seasons? Your survey should categorize elements of experiences into two categories: tangible (what) and intangible (how) elements of service.
When I was about ten years old I had the pleasure of staying in a Four Seasons hotel in Miami, Florida. My family decided to go down for the week to visit my relatives and just enjoy the beautiful Miami weather. To this day I have never stayed in a superior hotel than that Four Seasons. Every element of that hotel was absolutely stunning and even though you may think it was because I was young that I am saying this, I can assure you the Four Seasons will “wow” you.
To start, right when we pulled up to the hotel there were people opening our car doors for us and greeting us with a friendly smile. I had never seen this before and thought it was very exciting. As we went inside I was amazed at how elegant and spacious the lobby was. It looked like we were staying in a castle. Next, right away we were up to the reception desk almost instantly, which usually never happens, and were then given our room. Our bags were brought up for us and the room was incredible. The rest of our stay was a blast. They had the most extravagant pool that I still remember to this day, and everything was about 15 to 25 minute from us. We had so many memorable experiences in the area, and each time we returned the doormen genuinely seemed so happy to see us. The restaurant was delicious and so was the room service, which seemed to come immediately after you ordered it. All of these amenities made our stay at the Four Seasons a vacation to remember.
It’s easy to list off the tangible things but what about the intangibles, the things that you cannot see or touch. I would say the most interesting intangible quality was the atmosphere of the hotel. Every time you came or went, all of the employees seemed to be so happy to see you and all the other guests were also very cheery. The hotel was incredibly clean and nice to look. When it was time to leave, I did not want to go. The Four Seasons managed to make me feel right at home even though we were hundreds of miles away. The way the employees conduct themselves and pride they had truly made for a great experience.
2. What has made Four Seasons successful over the last 30 years? Remember that all service firms espouse the “golden rule”, so what differentiated Four Seasons from the pack (converting words into behaviors). Hint: think in terms of ‘human resource levers’.
Four Seasons has been successful over the last 30 years due to its ‘just for you’ customer service type attitude. Observers called Four Seasons a “consistently exceptional service”, which Four Seasons defined as providing high quality, truly personalized service to enable guests to maximize the value of their time, however the guest defined doing so.
The management structure and team also has a key role in the success of the company. The general manager is put in control of a single property, which allows the general manager to solely focus on improving his or her own property and devote all of his or her time to doing so. The general managers are paid bonuses depending on how well they do. The bonuses are determined based on employee attitudes, service quality, and property profit. This drives the managers to focus on improving their properties as well as trying to maximize profit. The firms top managers are comfortable in a variety of international settings and can be “Italian in Italy” or “French in France.”
This means that the managers can relate to the area in which the property is located and will allow the guests of the hotel to feel a truly local experience while visiting a country. Excuses and bragging are not allowed at Four Seasons, Four Seasons helps and makes sure employees know everything that they need to know in order to get their jobs done to the best of their abilities. Many of the managers at the highest level of management have been at Four Seasons for at least 25 years and refer to the firm as a family. This leads to the firm as being closely-knit, willing to help the company in any way it can. The longevity of the managers leads to a lot of experience in the company and the managers know how to fix any problems that they may come across.
Four Seasons has standards, which defines the way in which each property should operate and how the employees should treat the guests. Four Seasons defines that as the fundamental value, but there are changes that the employees make in order to make the property feel more local. The employees institute their own style, grace, and personality, which give the firm culture and a strong local temperament. This results in each hotel being “tailor made.” The key to Four Seasons’ success is diversity; Four Seasons does not want to be a cookie cutter company like McDonalds where every single establishment is the same. Four Seasons relates to the customer and adapts each of its properties to have the feel of its location. For example, a Four Seasons located in Italy will have an Italian feeling. People go to Four Seasons knowing that they will be getting great service and amenities, but they also know that they will be a part of the local community.
Four Seasons has seven “service culture standards” which are followed by employees all over the world at all times as well as 270 core worldwide operating standards. This gives the Four Seasons a set standard for each property to follow and gives the company some sort of unity from one property to another. Exceptions to the 270 core standards are allowed if it makes local sense and will give the guests a better local feel because the is the value proposition of Four Seasons and then one characteristic that separates Four Seasons from any other luxury hotel. Managers at Four Seasons emphasized that standards set the minimum expectations for the employees and that if an employee can do something for a client that goes beyond a standard, then they should do it.
The main value that puts Four Seasons ahead of the competition is an exceptional, personal service that puts the customer above all. Four Seasons offers a “just for you” service, which takes ‘intelligence service’ to a whole new level. This service cannot be scripted; therefore the employees that work for Four Seasons must be as distinguished as the guests that it serves. This gives each Four Seasons location its own unique local feel, while offering the great quality that each person expects to feel at a Four Seasons location.
3. Does corporate culture play a role in Four Seasons’ success? If so, how and why? Corporate culture is linked to competitive advantage in service companies in particular (Heskett, J., Schlesinger, L. A., and Sasser, W. E. Jr. 1997. The Service Profit Chain. New York: The Free Press.). Also, Schein, E.H. (1990). “Organizational Culture.” American Psychologist. 45 (2): 109-119, provides a model of corporate culture applicable to this case, suggesting four components (underlying assumptions, values, employee perceptions of management practices, and cultural artifacts) that should help you in addressing this topic adequately. You may also consider the role of the national culture- France: did this require that FS undertake no change, modest change or considerable change in its own culture?
The strength of the corporate culture is one of the most dominant reasons as to why Four Seasons is as renowned as it is. Corporate culture is crucial for service industries and particularly luxury services such as five start hotels. Four Seasons’ entire existence was based upon the idea that the culture of the company resided within the employees and was translated to the guests. Four Seasons credits their “customized service” as the most important element of their success. If it weren’t for management making it their number one goal to be diligent about instilling values into employees about what they wanted to be, then they would never have become so successful.
These values were personified in the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you wish they would wish to be treated.” I can imagine many companies have tried to embody the Golden Rule but unlike others, Four Seasons used it as a ruling discipline and a guideline to success. To work at a Four Seasons you need to be on board with their values and be one with the company. Employees needed to understand why you are performing these smallest details in order to be successful at their job. Once employees understood the values, they would perform as expected and be a part of the culture.
Eventually it became a tradition that no matter which hotel it was, all employees and managers understood that it was not tolerated to be anything but modest, compassionate, and disciplined. These assumptions translated from the managers to the employees, and eventually to the guests. It started from the top and had a trickle-down effect. It was not uncommon to see a manager clear restaurant tables. When other employees see this type of behavior then they understand how important exceptional service is to the company. This process led to values and traditions of the company to be deeply driven into the employees, and subsequently the core of the company.
A corporate culture does not immediately come together, rather it evolves over time and is based on the accumulated history of the company. When Four Seasons first opened they decided that their edge would be “exceptional, personal service,” and that’s where the culture of the company evolved from.
Four Seasons also placed an importance on the use of external and internal auditors to maintain their service standards. This was a reason why Four Seasons’ culture was a driving force of their success. Their constant evaluation (i.e., audits, surveys) of themselves made the success of the company rely on the culture that they embodied and kept themselves well above the standard and constantly wanting to be better.
The organization demonstrated an amazing capacity of translating core values into actual behaviors. This created a competitive advantage for Four Season as they entered into other countries. Managers had to decide what to keep consistent and what needed to be adapted to local environment.
The role of national culture definitely played a huge part in Four Season’s new business plan, and they took modest change in the implementation of Four Seasons Paris. In order to successfully establish a business in France, they had to adapt to the norms and desires of the citizens. One of the most considerable changes they made was in terms of the cuisine. They manager found it vital to adhere to the French appetite. One example the author of this case study points out is with scrambled eggs. The chef went out of his way to please his French customer, even though what he wanted was not featured on the menu. Food and beverages were not the only change. The Four Seasons sought to project the image of a modern France- one that stands for “integration and equality”. For example, the lobby was decorated with spectacular flowers to please the French citizens that are known for their appreciation of art.
However, there were also some elements that the Four Seasons desired to keep the same, in order to preserve its brand image. One of these elements was that they required their workforce to commit to meeting their standards. This included always greeting guests with a smile, which is certainly not typical of French culture. Another departure from French culture was the decision to hire female concierges, and men housekeepers. This was viewed as a revolutionary business aspect in this country.
As Four Seasons took the company international, they kept their perfected “process for opening and operating a hotel” but adapted to the market and culture of the environment. The organization demonstrated an amazing capacity of translating core values into actual behaviors. This created a competitive at Four Season as they entered into other countries. Managers had to decide what to keep consistent and what needed to be adapted to local environment. Managers of the hotel knew the importance of embedding service standards into employees but were not ignorant to the fact that each hotel needed to be specific and original to each hotel’s natural environment, culture, traditions, and norms.
Four Seasons wants to succeed in any environment and be the best. Four Seasons did everything it could to work out in France and didn’t stop until they met their standards. Four Seasons is in constant evaluation of how they can do better a better job at giving exceptional service. While sticking to the formula that they knew made a successful hotel, they also acknowledged that there are different perceptions and definition of luxury. This piece of knowledge has created a culture so deeply ridden in the company that they have emerged as the most well-known luxury hotel in the world.
4. How do you feel about the way FS entered the Paris/French market? What was good and/or bad about the entry strategy? Why? Hint: how did they handle the cultural aspects, management practices (specify) and enactment of organizational values?
I believe it was a wise decision to manage the George V hotel, since it would have been very difficult to just buy a space in Paris to make a hotel. Appointing a French designer for the renovations for the hotel may have been a play geared towards submitting that they French taste must be adhered to within their own borders. At the same time, Four Seasons was very careful to renovate the hotel to both American and French safety and design standards.
The appointment of Le Calvez as general manager at the George V was a pivotal and very smart decision because he was described as ultimately “very French”. He had plenty of experience with Four Seasons but he also understood the French culture, which included a couple differences in terms of how time is managed. The 35-hour workweek was attractive to French managers and workers ho did not fully understand it in the first place. Salaries were also very high, making the George V an attractive place to come work.
Though they did run some risk with their annual analysis and worker of the month awards, Four Seasons ended up making it work in the end. Since Four Seasons was doing a lot of unique things at the George V that the French weren’t used to, the set up of direct meetings between employees and managers was smart because it cleared up any problems that any employee was having.
In all, Four Seasons was very successful in implementing various strategies in part because of their understanding of how French workers wanted to be treated. We feel that Four seasons went above and beyond the call to adhere to the norms and standards of the French, because they also pushed the envelope on improving things. Some French initially saw employee benefits that Four Seasons had to offer as too good to be true, but they soon realized that Four Seasons was not only adhering to French standards, but they were revolutionizing employee benefits in France.