Putting On the Ritz: Building a Service Culture


Have you ever gone away from home on a business trip and left something important behind?  Imagine leaving your smart phone, or wallet, or last pair of eyeglasses.   To me, these would be more than a minor inconvenience – they would be a BIG deal.   Losing these would turn my world upside down (at least for a time).

To a five-year old leaving behind their ELMO doll while on vacation, this can be just as traumatic an experience.  In this case the girl, Ainsley Giorgio was on vacation with her family at the Amelia Island Ritz-Carlton hotel.

As reported in the Huffington Post, Ritz employee Nelson Quesada, found the doll after Ainsley and her family departed, and decided not just to return it, but to do so in the fabled Ritz Style.   Nelson decided to create a scrapbook showing various pictures documenting all the fun Elmo was having on his adventure since Ainsley left him behind.  In it, Elmo was pictured lounging by the pool, working out in the fitness center, waving to Ainsley (see photo), playing video games, and kicking back with a group of his other stuffed animal friends.

What an impact that must have had on this five-year old, as well as her parents!  When you get a WOW customer service experience right, you create an impression that could literally last a lifetime!    In addition to making a little girl feel elated, this makes good business sense, especially given the power of word-of-mouth sharing.  It also creates in the good deed doer a rush of biochemical reactions that scientists believe can reduce stress, improve one’s sense of well-being, and even improve your health and longevity!   (See the WebMD article below.)  Talk about the ultimate win-win.

What’s even more noteworthy to me is how little that action by Mr. Quesada cost his company (Perhaps 45 minutes of time, a few pages off the printer, and some postage).  In total less than $50.  If the telling of this story gets even one additional person to stay at the Ritz for just one night, they would have generated an additional $600-800 in revenue (after room, dinner breakfast and other likely charges).  Seems like a no-brainer doesn’t it?  Makes you wonder why more organizations don’t act in a Ritz-like way – especially the ones where a great customer experience is a strategic imperative.

Not Left to Chance.

At Ritz-Carlton, this service culture is not something left to chance. It is the by-product of their hiring, on boarding, culture-training, employee empowerment, and management behaviors.

Here are some of the ways the Ritz increases the likelihood that WOW service experiences are more common than in most other companies.

1)      You need to define what you stand for.   Delivering great customer service only can happen if people UNDERSTAND what it looks like.  You need to define it.   R-C has done this in a variety of ways in the Mission, their Credo, their Motto, a set of Service Values, and something called the Employee Promise.  These collectively explain what they are about, and what principles should dictate employee behaviors from the CEO down to the bellman.   (Some companies try instead to document desired actions in voluminous sets of policies and procedures.  That never works.  There are just too many unpredictable circumstances that present themselves.  What we want is employees who can instinctively act based on their understanding of core values.)

2)     Hire based on core talent, not job skills.   Many companies write job descriptions that detail the work skills needed for each position (e.g. knowledge of a particular software system).   What really matters is core behaviors or inclinations. These are not trainable, but job skills are.  At R-C, they have a list of 11 basic talents (like exactness, or relationship/engagement).  Each position in the company requires differing levels of each.  Someone in the accounting department may need lots of exactness (attention to detail) while a concierge needs more relationship/engagement skill.   Remember this maxim – Hire for talents, and then train for skills.

3)     Teach deliberately.   If certain behaviors matter to you, don’t leave them to chance.  Train your team around them.   R-C puts every new employee through a 21-day intense training program where they are taught the values and beliefs, their customer service model, how to manage a difficult guest and other items they have learned from experience will likely be encountered by employees in their jobs.

4)  Trust in your people.  Every R-C employee knows they have at their discretion $2,000 they can spend every day not just to satisfy but to WOW their guests.   If your first reaction to this is “how could they? Won’t people spend the money foolishly?” you don’t really get this.  Employees who are hired carefully, and trained well recognize it is THEIR company too, and they will spend money wisely and only when necessary (as physicians learned long ago about self-dosing of morphine by patients who typically use less when they are in control of the button).

5)    Measure it.  If you don’t measure where you stand, you can’t possibly know if you are getting better or worse.   (Did you ever play golf with someone who didn’t keep score?  If they didn’t it is because they either were ashamed of their game or didn’t care – and neither one of those is a good thing.)    R-C does random guest satisfaction surveys every month to track progress and stimulate discussions on what they could do better.

6)    Recognize it.   If you get the same rewards and recognition for delivering mediocre service as you do for providing WOW service, guess what’s likely to happen? The service quality will diminish.   We as bosses must be paying attention – trying to catch them in the act of doing it right.    When we see it, it is our golden opportunity to act.  Rewards need not be about cash.  Often a thank you or a “thumbs up” can accomplish the important goal of letting your people know their good work is noticed, and that they are appreciated.  Make it personal.

7)    Live it.  If it all stops at the end of employee orientation, then energy around what you claimed you believed in will wane.   Here is a video clip talking about something that R-C calls their line-up.  A daily meeting in every hotel across the planet where one of their 16 key culture elements is discussed for 15 minutes.  The meeting is mandatory.   At it, people share a WOW story of their own, or maybe brings up a situation they faced where they weren’t sure how to best handle it.  Everyone attends.    It is a chance to reinforce what matters.  Remember that WE (as bosses) are the CAP on service quality.   Our staff’s will not typically deliver better than they see from us.  When WE think it is important, they too will follow suit.

Other Resources:

The Science of Good Deeds: The ‘helper’s high’ could help you live a longer, healthier life, by WebMD

Lost Elmo Doll Goes on ‘Vacation’ at the Ritz Carlton, by the Huffington Post

Service the Ritz-Carlton Way, by Club Resources International

Put More WOW in Your Service, Brandt Silverman, Wiplfi Ltd

How Ritz-Carlton Maintains its Mystique, by Carmine Gallo , Bloomberg Business

 

 

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