I've been spending a little time at the M Resort, partially for a column you'll be able to read in Vegas Seven this Thursday, and it's gotten me thinking about star/diamond rankings. What use are they, and what exactly do they do for you, the paying public?
Usually when the list of rankings comes out and we find out who's gotten their stars or their diamonds, most people on the Internet are dismissive. After all, just about everyone in Las Vegas has some kind of star ranking, and many of the hotels here aren't exactly known for their sterling service or accommodations.
For many line employees, the star rankings are just something that their supervisors beat them up about. When everyone's got diamonds or stars, there doesn't seem to be much point of going through the motions.
Others have made the point that the hotels know exactly what they're being tested on, so they can "teach to the test," instructing their employees exactly what they need to do to maintain their star ranking.
I don't think this is such a bad thing. After all, it's not like this is middle school and teachers are neglecting students' broader educations so they can inflate their test scores. These are hospitality-based businesses, and they're being judged on how hospitable they are.
More than a year ago I wrote a piece for Vegas Seven about the Bellagio's latest AAA Five Diamond Award (it's hard to believe that the article came out before the Cosmopolitan was open--that feels like a long, long time ago). At the time I heard most of the criticisms I outlined in the paragraphs above, and I probably didn't do a good job of conveying just how happy the Bellagio folks seemed to get the diamonds. They brought out everyone from property president Randy Morton on down for me to talk to, and those of us who deal with casino media know just how rare that is. Even though the hotel's got a reputation that stands on its own, they thought it was a big deal.
More recently, I spent some time in a training room at the M Resort observing a class where current employees in other departments learned how to deal. There was a lot of dealing technique and game protection covered, but I was impressed by the equal importance given to "four star service" and "four star attitude." M subscribes (not sure if that is the right word" to Forbes' ranking service, and shooting for those stars permeates, it seems to me, much of the property's culture. Walking around the back of the house, I saw information about the four stars just about everywhere. It's clearly something that's a big deal to everyone.
As it was explained to me, Forbes shops the property eight times a year and shares its ratings in each of the areas it measures with the property. In any given department, they might evaluate only one employee, so the chain, as they say, is only as strong as its weakest link. Almost everyone in a department could give impeccable service, but if the shoppers get the one guy who's having a bad day, the property gets dinged.
This is the fairest way of evaluating service that I can think of. I've always said that casinos are only as good as their worst employees. All of you who know the business as consumers know this is true. It only takes one bad interaction to ruin the illusion that you're in fantasy land where your every wish is someone else's command.
The way M handles it (and probably other properties whose training I haven't gotten as close a look at), the Forbes Four Stars are a constant, concrete goal that defines expectations and mandates high minimum levels.
As a guest, that's a great thing. I think it focuses managers on what really matters--guest satisfaction--and gives employees something more concrete than the usual core standards, which tend to get nebulous and really just say one thing: "Treat the guest nicely."
Services like the Forbes stars provide an external benchmark for customer service, which is important. Managers can both under-report customer service failures by explaining them away or over-report them by listening too much to disgruntled customers and ignoring those who have positive things to say. Outside evaluations should be a way of standardizing quality control and making it less dependent on how those inside the company interpret customer feedback.
How seriously you, as a guest, should take the star rankings is another question, and probably the subject of another post. If you've got thoughts, share them in the comments. Does a 4 or 5 star/diamond ranking make you more likely to stay at a property, particularly if it's one you haven't been to before?