The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is an evergreen model and benchmark for companies aiming to transform their customer experience and achieve an exceptional level of customer service.
In retail, for example, the Apple Store customer experience is strongly informed by what Apple learned from the Ritz-Carlton. You can see it in how Apple Store employees greet and guide incoming customers, in how hard they strive to avoid being merely transactional, and—most visibly–in the concept and design of their Genius Bar, which is a loving knockoff of a Ritz-Carlton concierge counter.
(The popularity of the Ritz-Carlton model is such that it affects my consulting practice as well–I’m a customer service turnaround expert and consultant–as I find myself fielding requests from businesses that want to become “the Ritz-Carlton of Banking,” “the Ritz-Carlton of hospitals,” “the Ritz-Carlton of software vendors,” “the Ritz-Carlton of Information Services,” “the Ritz-Carlton of Museums,” and so forth.)
In San Francisco last week, I had the opportunity to speak with one of the caretakers of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company’s service standards and culture, Yael Ron, the general manager of the Ritz-Carlton hotel in San Francisco, a genuine landmark of its Nob Hill neighborhood. Our conversation started out with a word of caution from Ms. Ron:
“To create an exceptional customer experience, you don’t start with the customer; you start with the employee. This surprises a lot of people, and a lot of people get this wrong,” says Ms. Ron. “The gemstones of our hotel are our Ladies and Gentlemen [Ritz-Carlton’s term for its employees]. We embrace them and support them, and we know we can count on them to nurture and grow the interactions with our guests.”
This is only one of the factors that make emulating the Ritz-Carlton not as straightforward as it may sound. So I asked Ms. Ron, who came to the San Francisco property after a sparkling career in hospitality in locations as disparate as Tel Aviv and Cleveland (or, as I like to think of it, “from the Middle East to the Midwest”), to share additional pointers.
She obliged me with five principles that are applicable to organizations, in any industry, that are striving to create a superior customer service experience, environment, and culture.
1. Jealously guard the culture that defines you as an organization. “The Ritz-Carlton has always been about engagement and relationships. But how do we keep it that way? It comes down to being a guardian of our culture at the individual property level, because if you don’t watch and nurture and embrace a culture, it can go away before you know it. You need to be investing in the team, in ways that keep the team on track to guard and grow the culture.”
2. Engage customers when they want to be engaged. “At the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, we believe in building relationships. But you build the relationship by engaging guests when they want to be engaged, not when it says on some branding checklist that we should be sure to engage them at a particular checkpoint.
“Take hotel check-in: If they want to rush through check-in, or use an automated check-in option, we will find time to share with them later, rather than slowing them down when they don’t want to be slowing them down. The check-in experience isn’t necessarily the time or place where guests wish to be engaged, so we have to understand, respect and create alternative options to engage.”
3. Daily traditions and customs make the culture. “Creating a customer-focused culture isn’t something you set in place one day, and it lasts forever. Rather, it’s how we work every day to sustain our culture and level of service that defines who we are and gives us a sense of consistency and direction. A daily lineup, like we practice here at Ritz-Carlton, is the best way to start your workday every day [Author’s note: Here’s my article on the Daily Lineup as practiced at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.] In addition, celebrate successes, share up-to-date communication, recognize your team and instill them with positivity every chance you get.”
At the time I visited with Ms. Ron, her employees were involved in a shared activity that took them outside of their daily work roles. The San Francisco hotel had partnered with a gifted local artist to create a stunning 40-foot-long mural of a dragon named Shifu (the name was chosen by the employees), which nearly every team member will ultimately be involved in helping paint. The dragon, says Ms. Ron, ties into the history of the unique hotel property, paying homage to the mascot of the girls’ school that previously occupied the space, as well as to neighboring Chinatown.
“Collaborating on painting Shifu engages our senses and inspires us as individuals and as members of a larger team. And once we are complete, it will be an element of the physical property that we can refer back to and say, ‘we did that. And if we can do that, think what we can accomplish in our daily work with our guests and with each other.’”
4. Strive for both big “wow” moments and smaller “everyday wow”: “Wow moments are important in building stories for our guests to take home with them. But the point isn’t how big of a wow you create; it’s about how much heart you put into making it truly thoughtful for the guest. It can be as small as remembering your guest’s favorite flower or scent, or as big as creating a special day full of wows. It’s not about what money can buy; it’s about what money can’t buy–the efforts and attention of genuine, caring people.”
5. Develop your people over time. “This is the most important principle of all. Ensure you support your team members with their dreams of growth. Understand that your believing in each of them, and taking part in their journey of development, is what matters. It’s a huge gain for all when you as a manager put each of your team members first.”
Micah Solomon is a customer service and customer experience consultant, keynote speaker and trainer, as well as an executive co-author/ghostwriter and content creator. He was recently named “the World’s #1 Customer Service Turnaround Expert” by Inc. Magazine. Please email Micah directly, visit his website, or read Micah’s new bestseller: Ignore Your Customers (and They’ll Go Away) (HarperCollins Leadership).