I Know Ritz-Carlton and You’re No Ritz-Carlton

We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
Ritz-Carlton Motto

We recently decided to visit a golf resort here in North Michigan. It touted having spent $14 million dollars in renovations. While it is the off-season, as a former resort general manager, I still wanted to check out what was new and different. (Yes, it’s what resort GM’s do on vacation.)

Walking through the brand new lobby, we approached the front desk. The agent asked me for my last name. I said, “It’s KEY-sing. Starts with a Q-U-I”. She looked down at her computer, typed the letters, then looked right up at me, and asked, “How would you pronounce that?” Seriously. Then she asks me for a photo ID. Now I know that the controller wants to catch the one guest out of 10,000 who might scam the resort, but for the other 9,999 of us, you’re basically telling us that you don’t trust us. Not a great first impression. After proving to her that I was actually who I said I was, she gave me the room key. While I may have rolled in my luggage, I could have used bell assistance to tell us how to get to our room. No such luck.

I was struggling in front of the room with four pieces of luggage, having propped the door with one of them, when a room service attendant passed by. She smiled and then practically sprinted by me to catch the elevator before it went back down.

After a three-hour drive, we weren’t up for being cloistered in the room ordering room service. So we went back downstairs and found out that the only two outlets open for dinner were the fine dining restaurant and the sports bar. We weren’t dressed for elegant dining, but when we went to the Sports Bar, it was so poorly lit that it looked like a cave lighted only by the big screen TV. The menu was limited to bar food appetizers. So we opted to travel into town.

I’m a souvenir collector when it comes to vacations, so the next morning  I walked to the brochure rack next to the bellstand to pick up a resort brochure. There were three bellpersons talking to each other near the stand. And while I was scrutinizing the rack to find a brochure that wasn’t there, none of them offered assistance. Rather than disturb them, I walked away. Never did get a brochure.

At checkout, the only parting remarks from the front desk agent was, “You’re all set.”

Nobody raves about average, but everybody rants about nothing. While I liked the new Great Room lobby and appreciated the flat screen TVs and free Wi-Fi, I have come to expect that in a first-class resort. So I’m really not inclined to jump over to TripAdvisor to give them a Five Star review. In fact, I’m ranting in this post to say that the resort actually fell short in service. When I pay more for a king bedded room in one resort than the same size bed in another resort in the same area, I know I’m not paying the premium for the product or the setting.  I’m paying more because I think the services offered are going to be better. So I have high expectations of what that service should look and feel like. Unfortunately, my actual experience didn’t meet my expectations. It would have been “nothing” for the front desk agents or bell attendants to personalize my arrival and departure experiences. It would have been “nothing” for the room service attendant to lend a hand in helping me move the luggage into the room. Not exactly Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen. In doing their jobs and nothing more, they were average. And nobody raves about average. Disappointed that my experience did not meet my expectations, I rant about the “nothings.”

People are willing to pay much more of a premium to stay at a Ritz-Carlton. And despite paying that premium, people still rave about the exceptional service delivered by the Ladies and Gentlemen of Ritz-Carlton. So what is their secret? Actually it’s not a secret, at all. Ritz-Carlton gives us the blueprint to their success. Simply Google “Ritz-Carlton service” and you will find any number of articles written about the subject or the Amazon listing for Joseph Michelli’s book about Ritz-Carlton, The New Gold Standard. Better yet, go directly to the Ritz-Carlton page on their website that defines the brand’s Motto, Credo and Gold Standards. You also will find the foundation for their exceptional service in The Three Steps of Service:

A warm and sincere greeting. Practice the 10-5 rule. At 10 feet, acknowledge the customer with eye contact and at 5 feet, greet the customer with “Good morning/afternoon/evening” and a smile. Use the customer’s name after it’s been given whenever the opportunity arises.

Anticipation and fulfillment of each guest’s needs. Define customer expectations of the timeline of touchpoints during the customer experience. First remove all the potential dissatisfiers that could displease a customer. Then proactively look for opportunities to create a “small wow” that goes above the customers expectations. It could be something as simple as assisting a customer you may see standing in front of the store directory or looking up at the store directionals.

Fond Farewell. Sincerely thank the customer for choosing you and offer a warm good-bye. Again, use the customer’s name once it’s been given. Better yet, consider an after the sale follow-up phone call or thank you note.

Seems simple enough: Warm welcome, Magic Moment, Fond Farewell. But if it’s that simple, why, then, isn’t customer service everywhere like Ritz-Carlton? The real secret is in the huddles held daily in each department in every Ritz-Carlton and consistent execution of The Three Steps of Service by their Ladies and Gentlemen. So to build your customers’ perception that your service is dependably exceptional, then perform the Three Steps of Service courteously in your personal delivery of service with each customer every day. If you are a customer service leader, remind your Ladies and Gentlemen daily of The Three Steps of Service and recognize and celebrate frequently those you see deliver The Three Steps to your customers.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Make this common sense Three Steps mantra – a warm welcome, anticipation and fulfillment of each customer’s needs and a fond farewell – truly common practice with your customers and you’ll soon be earning a reputation for service like Ritz-Carlton.


Filed under Customer Experience, Customer Satisfaction, Customer Service, Hospitality, Training

15 responses to “I Know Ritz-Carlton and You’re No Ritz-Carlton

  1. themortgageguru

    Bill, great article. The problem is that you and I both know that at most companies, they do not have any Ladies and Gentlemen, associates, partners, but they just have a bunch of regular people, slaves that are mistreated by management and ownership. They just hire anyone to do the job, and do not offer training or career opportunities. Then you have a serious lack of misunderstanding about either hospitality or great customer service, and a bunch of owners and corporations that have no intention to leave a real contribution to either customers or their employees. They have a business, they want money, and that stops right there. They have no vision. And as you know: where there is no vision, people perish.

    • Sad, but all too true. Owners and C-levels are focused on profit over people, be it their employees or customers. Every time there is a downturn, the training budget and benefits are the first to get slashed. And ultimately it leads to a slow death spiral. Instead of spending money on marketing for new customers, if bottom line focused managers spent half as much money on taking care of their employees and the customers they already have, I am convinced they would reap a much larger ROI.

      At the other end is Marriott International, the parent company of Ritz-Carlton. I joined Marriott Hotels when there were only 32 hotels worldwide. As Mr. Marriott, Jr. celebrates his 80th birthday this year there are now over 3700 Marriott International properties in 73 countries. That legacy has been built on the foundation of the Marriott business mantra that started with Mr. Marriott, Sr.: “Take care of your employees and they’ll take care of your customers.”

      • themortgageguru

        And we have the proof that formula works. Interestingly people do not have a long-term vision but shor-term vision, which is why they do not survive. You either become a Marriott, Disney, Johnson & Johnson, or end up like Enron, or Bernard Madhoff. You either become one or the other. The choice is yours.

      • My favorite Disney quote that I have hanging in my office:
        “I knew if this business was ever to get anywhere, if this business was ever to grow, it could never do it by having to answer to someone unsympathetic to its possibilities, by having to answer to someone with only one thought or interest, namely profits. For my idea of how to make profits has differed greatly from those who generally control businesses such as ours. I have blind faith in the policy that quality, tempered with good judgment and showmanship, will win against all odds.” Walt Disney

  2. Scott Heitland

    Great post, Bill. Reading about the Ritz-Carlton takes me back to the time I proposed to my wife, almost 19 years ago. I was in law school in Washington, DC at the time and chose the Ritz-Carlton to pop the question. I still remember vividly the exceptional service and experience they delivered. Couldn’t afford it back then, of course, but I had heard so much about the incredibly special R-C experience, I figured it would improve my chances for an acceptance, so I splurged, and for reasons still unclear to me, she said yes!

    What strikes me about your account is not just how many opportunities the golf resort had and missed to craft a great experience for you, but how relatively little effort or expense it would have taken for them to capitalize on those opportunities. In my own experience, it’s usually the nothings, as you call them, that make the difference – a warm smile and welcoming greeting from the person behind the front desk when you arrive or return, the kinds of examples you cite in R-C’s 3 Steps of Service.

    Sometimes what needs the most renovation work isn’t the lobby or the rooms, but the behaviors of the staff … and the leadership skills of supervisors and management!

    • Scott, thank you for sharing your engagement story. Most recently I served as the general manager of The Henry. It was reflagged as an Autograph Collection hotel (another Marriott International brand) in 2010 after standing as the Ritz Carlton Dearborn for 21 years. When it was rebranded, only three associates had not been been with Ritz-Carlton – one housekeeper, the director of sales and me. The cultural DNA was still running through each associate. So I can understand how you felt as I saw how our Ladies and Gentlemen took every special occasion opportunity, be it an engagement, wedding or anniversary, to make it a Magic Moment without being prompted.

      As I speak on customer service, I tell the audiences, “It’s not the one big WOW to one customer that wins the day. It is the one little WOW delivered consistently to every customer.” And, as you noted, it’s not the physical renovations that make a difference, but rather it’s the service impressions made by the staff. And it really does start at the top. One of the most frequent comments by attendees after my presentation is “You know, my manager sent me here, but he’s the one that should have been here.” And managers who don’t care about their employees have employees who could care less about their customers.

      Thank you again for sharing your comments, Scott. I really do appreciate the feedback and dialog.

      • Scott Heitland

        Well you clearly know the hotel and resort industry inside and out, Bill – probably made your recent visit even that much more disappointing.

        I chuckled out loud when I read about the comment you receive so frequently after your presentations. We hear the SAME THING from front-line customer service agents – “Are our supervisors going to get this training? They need it more than we do!”

        Have a great rest of the week. I’m sure we’ll be in touch again soon!

  3. Phil Martie

    Excellent. Love two things especially:

    1. People will develop a ‘box-checker’ mentality if they aren’t part of an environment that encourages empowered, proactive problem solving by employees. The girl who passed you and ran to the elevator typifies someone who checks boxes and thinks her job is done. She was most likely hoping you wouldn’t ask her for any help. In great organizations, employees proactively notice areas where they can help even before you know it yourself.

    2. Huddles. I have been using these in the corporate environment for a few years and they are brilliantly effective.

    • Phil,
      You are absolutely right. Too many employees simply follow their job descriptions. In her job description, it probably says to deliver the food in a timely fashion and return promptly to await the next order, but it doesn’t say anything about assisting anyone along the way. The huddles, as you have found, are great at making sure discussions are happening that are beyond the job descriptions to enhance the customer experience.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I very much appreciate it.

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  5. Great thoughts Bill, and thanks for sparking this conversation. As companies grow, service is often one of the first areas to suffer – and the customer experience suffers with it.

    The larger the number of employees, the less drive and determination they have to make sure each and every customer gets a great experience. You mentioned this Ritz-Carlton has daily huddles, and I think keeping your employees on the same page about great service is important. It’s critical that everyone shares in the philosophy, and it has to be imbedded in the very fabric of an organization – from the hire of an employee to contact with the customer.

    Businesses need to invest the time, energy and effort required to bring in the right people and the right organizational tools to get customer service right. Instead of managing their customers, they need to manage their culture. Listening, responding and reaching out to customers shows them that you care.

    The customer service environment is changing – today’s customers are more informed and more demanding. Customer service is no longer an afterthought – it’s a competitive tool that’s intimately connected with marketing and sales teams. Customers are forward thinking – they take service into account when making big purchases, and they will choose the product backed up by better service when they can. They are willing to spend a bit more with a company they can trust. Great service can turn your customers into salespeople.

    John-Paul Narowski, Founder – karmaCRM

    • John-Paul, Your insight is absolutely on target: “Customer service is no longer an afterthought – it’s a competitive tool that’s intimately connected with marketing and sales teams. Customers are forward thinking – they take service into account when making big purchases, and they will choose the product backed up by better service when they can. They are willing to spend a bit more with a company they can trust. Great service can turn your customers into salespeople.” Thank you very much for sharing.

  6. I know this was written a while ago but I just found it. Thanks for the info and I was glad to learn more about you, especially how to say your last name. Great job and I look forward to more!


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