Category Archives: Hospitality

Three Steps to Proactive Customer Service

Too often, businesses focus solely on the negative feedback from their customer surveys in CSI fashion, identifying the pain points and taking the steps to eliminate them. While this reactive analysis is critical, it is just as important to embrace a proactive approach, taking as much time examining the positive comments for clues in the experiences that customers raved about in their surveys. Here are three steps you can take to move from reactive to proactive customer service.

STEP ONE: Thank ALL customers who gave you survey feedback. Businesses do a good job at responding with a “mea culpa” message to customers who were dissatisfied. But in this age of opt-in privacy guidelines, many do not reply to customers who offer complimentary feedback. That is just wrong. If you were my customer, and you say to me, “You were great! Thank you very much” and I don’t respond, you would think I was downright rude. My bad manners would certainly taint your perception of my previous excellent service. And would you say anything to me in the future? So how do you think your customers feel when you don’t send a response to their surveys?

Remember that people buy from people they know, like, trust AND want their business. The best way to show customers you want their business is by saying thank you. Acknowledging a customer’s positive remarks begins to build a relationship. I would send a letter to customers which, in part, said,

I thanked the individual personally, included your comments in our weekly internal newsletter and forwarded it to our corporate team so they could recognize the employee on your behalf. Please let me know when you return so that I might meet you and thank you in person.

Many of them did just that and they have been loyal guests ever since. If you aren’t responding to all feedback, start today.

STEP TWO: Recognize employees who have earned positive comments. If you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver exceptional service, you need to make it a habit to thank them when they do. Thank them in person and publicly. I forwarded to everyone any email I received from a customer who raved about an employee. We posted positive comments in our social media private group, created a slideshow of the positive comments with a photo of those employees and played it on mounted backstage big screen monitors, and included the comments in our weekly e-newsletter. Remember that what gets recognized gets repeated. So acknowledge your people regularly.

STEP THREE: Brainstorm with your employees to define if there are steps everyone can take to have raveable moments happen more often. In most organizations, there are a few superstars that earn more raves from their customers. Get them together and ask them what works for them in creating an emotional connection with their customers. We found out that our superstars would look for cues, such as a familiar city or state, team logos on caps or shirts, or guests celebrating a special occasion. When these employees took the time to move from transaction to interaction, customers were happier and more inclined to let us know that. Generate ideas and educate others to replicate the opportunities to deliver outstanding service.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Spend as much time analyzing the positive customer comments from your surveys as you do the negative ones. Recognize the actions of your employees who have delivered exceptional customer service. And seek to identify the methods they used so that they might be practiced by all employees. Practice these three steps consistently and you will certainly earn more rave reviews.   

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Lessons from the Pandemic to Improve Your Customer Experience Now

When first confronted with this pandemic we moved quickly to identify the high risks for our employees and our customers and then worked to define the action steps required to minimize those risks. We got everyone involved at all levels of the organizations, followed local, state, and federal guidelines which changed week-to-week, and innovated, looking at every possible solution to keep us safe. Within the hospitality industry, we considered everything from hand sanitizers to Plexiglas shields, from floor and door decals to HVAC filters, reallocating the funds to cover the costs. We sought recommendations from experts, vendors, and our competitors to see what they were doing in response. We established protocols when someone was sick or had symptoms. What would have taken many months to implement for any other initiative took only a few weeks. Many of us had to make the difficult decisions to reassign, furlough or lay off employees. We had to make many necessary, yet tough decisions, but we did not hesitate because the need for quick action was crucial.

We can learn from the processes we took during this pandemic to establish the same steps to reassess and create our customer experience in what is the new normal. While improving customer experience is not literally life and death, without offering a good experience we stand the chance to lose the customer forever.

With restrictions being lifted and vaccinations for everyone available soon, now is the best time to assert yourself to reinvent your customer experience. As a direct result of the pandemic, customer expectations have changed dramatically. So, the experience before the pandemic is no longer good enough. Take this time now to make a similar determined effort to evaluate what needs to be done to offer an experience that is simply better than before the pandemic.

QUI Customer Experience Strategies from the Pandemic

Define who is the CX Champion and the key players on the CX team. In our case, during the pandemic, the champions were the director of housekeeping and director of loss prevention because they were responsible for guest and employee safety. Pre-COVID, the CX team may have been directed by the marketing leader. Now is the time to ask yourself who should champion customer experience improvement. Who is the leader of the team who has the most face-to-face customer interactions that can create a raveable customer experience? Be sure to include as co-champions and team members the employees who interact daily with your customers. Choose the group’s internal social influencers so that the message can be amplified throughout the organization.

Identify the experts who deliver an exceptional customer experience. Mystery shop your competitors in person and online. Google the Top Ten Best list, not only in your industry but also in the business category where your customers buy products or services. Is there any idea you can CASE and tweak to make it your own? For example, CASEing the practice of complimentary beverages on an airline flight, we began offering bottled water to guests who were checking in AND when they were checking out. With daily housekeeping services being suspended during the pandemic, the bottled water served as our “peak-end” experience enhancement.

Assess every position. Is the job description of each employee pre-COVID the right job now? In hospitality, for example, could a front desk position be changed to be a pre-arrival concierge calling multiple-day stay Guests to offer their assistance in planning sightseeing activities, making restaurant reservations or celebrating a special occasion? Does each role in your business enhance the customer experience or can it be modified to give customers a better one?

Allocate resources. Review each budget line item. Given the new environment, is that the best use of the appropriation? Is it time to consider upgrading to a customer relationship management application instead of using the contact feature in Outlook?

Involve everyone. As you did in announcing the safety protocols, make sure you publicize internally the action steps and outcomes of your focus on customer experience improvement. Create a channel, whether it is via email, a private Facebook or Yammer group, or a “What are you hearing” voice mailbox to constantly solicit for staff feedback. And make sure you share the feedback and let them know what you are doing as a result. Without the involvement of every employee, there is no commitment to maintaining the newly defined customer experience standards.  

Continually remind your people. During the pandemic, we plastered doors and floors with social distancing decals, and walls with CDC guidelines posters. At our hotel, we had safety reminders run on the guest in-house TV channel and on the employee backstage TV channel. Safety reminders were part of the daily 15-minute staff huddle and the weekly e-newsletter. Use the same methods to continually remind your team of your foundational values and daily performance standards. Repeat it everywhere and often to make it stick.

QUI TIP: Maintain a sense of urgency. Choose a date like June 1 or July 4 to define the internal reopening of your establishment with the “new normal” customer experience. Back plan action steps using that date.

QUI TAKEAWAY: At the start of this pandemic, we all worked with a real sense of urgency, innovated, spent money, and elevated our safety game.  Now is a great time for you and your team to put in as much critical thought and intense energy to revamping your customer experience.

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Social Media is Bad for Customer Service

Social media is bad for customer service. Whether ranting or raving, customers are telling stories online about businesses whether those businesses are listening or not. With customers using platforms like Twitter and Facebook to complain loudly and sometimes virally to the world, companies have had to add resources to respond accordingly. But I am not against monitoring social media or using it as a responsive customer service channel. On the contrary, I believe social media has been literally and figuratively priceless for small businesses. Those businesses offering exceptional customer service don’t build their brand through advertising. Their customers build it for them via their raves on social media.

So, it is critical to know how to respond on social media, especially to the rants from dissatisfied customers. If you feel you need to get better at social customer service, don’t look to me for advice. If you want to become a millionaire, don’t ask me. I am not a millionaire. I’d tell you to go to Las Vegas or play the lottery. If you want to become a millionaire, ask people who have worked hard to earn a million dollars.

If you want to get better at social customer service, I would recommend the experts who have “been there, done that” like Marsha Collier, Jay Baer and Dan Gingiss. Or be sure to read “Delivering Effective Social Customer Service” by Carolyn Blunt and Martin Hill-Wilson.

When I say social media is bad for customer service, it is because, for retail, hospitality, healthcare, and other bricks-and-mortar customer service positions, it has created a pool of candidates who are lacking in the social skills to connect with and please customers. Millennials have already overtaken Baby Boomers as America’s largest generation. By 2025, Millennials will comprise 75 percent of the global workforce.

While today’s technology can create the opportunities to personalize customer service, it is still up to a person to deliver it. Yet this incoming generation can only deliver to the level of service that they themselves have experienced. And their experience has mainly been without in-person interaction. Text messaging and social media have made their interactions one-way communication. Baby Boomers have cellphones, and the subsequent generations have cell phones. But what is Gen X, Gen Y or Millennials doing on their cell phones? “OMG. LOL.” No real live conversations. I’m so old I remember hearing on my phone someone actually laughing out loud. I contend two text monologues do not make a real dialog. Texting is one-way communication. You don’t hear voice tone or inflection. Even a pause is dubious. Was it because they were thinking about what you said or is it because they got busy with something else for a minute?

Likewise, a post and a reply on Facebook do not make for real dialog. The average Facebook user today has 338 friends. When people post on their page, they have no loss of self-esteem when only eight “like” the post. The other 330 have ignored them – and they are OK with that! Even those that “like” the post rarely leave a comment to begin an interaction. A meager “thumbs up” is all the acknowledgement given to a friend. Really?

Despite all the buzz about how social media keeps people connected, social media is not really social. Look around you. Social media and text messaging have turned people into digital zombies. Walk into your staff break room and see what is going on. Did anyone even look up to acknowledge you? Do you hear any real conversations going on?

At the same time, retail technology in the form of self-service or contactless purchases may have made it more convenient for the customer, but it eliminated the human connection.

As a result, the experiences for many people are not full of good examples of emotional intelligence, body language or verbal communication that only face-to-face interactions can teach. I believe that translates in a real world where it is OK to ignore our co-workers and worse, ignore the customer. Many don’t feel it is important to greet our co-workers every morning or every customer who walks through the door.

People buy from people they know, like and trust. Likeability is perceived by a smile. Trustability is driven by eye contact. Yet, self-service technology and social media have reduced the number of human interactions for potential candidates to not only experience it for themselves but also to understand the value of its importance. Having not experienced good examples of communication, collaboration or relationship-building skills, how will your people whom you entrust to take care of your customers emotionally connect with them? And if you allow yourself to accept that such a level of emotionless transactions is adequate, how will your business build customer loyalty to succeed? Remember that satisfied customers are not necessarily loyal ones.

QUI CUSTOMER SERVICE LEADERSHIP STRATEGY

For you to succeed in this very competitive marketplace, you will need the right people. You will need people who know how to consistently welcome your customers with eye contact and a smile, listen and respond empathetically, and bid them a sincere fond farewell. You should not assume that every candidate who applies for your open positions will do that just because you put it into your job ad. Finding and keeping the right people starts with the selection process to welcoming them at first day orientation and continues every day thereafter for as long as they are with you.

As the manager, always remind yourself that you are only as good as the people who surround you. Your success is dependent on you identifying the right people among all the candidates by asking the proper interview questions with the specific intent of finding out if the candidates have the skills or potential to express sincerity, empathy and trust. The STAR interview process will better be able to identify the right candidate than the standard interview questionnaire.

Take ownership for the education of those you select to deliver the experience your customers are expecting. That education starts on the first day. Of course, you need to introduce the policies and rules required by your legal department or the state. But the first day should be as much, and I contend should be more about your company mission, values and performance standards. And that message should not be delivered by the Human Resources onboarding specialist. It should be delivered by the highest-ranking operations manager to convey the critical role your employees play in driving customer satisfaction. That manager, ideally the CEO, should convey the message that when employees interact with an individual customer, they ARE the company to that customer. As the general manager, I scheduled myself for every orientation to explain that with every single customer interaction, we were expecting them to commit to “Be the Company”. I shared a video of the CEO of the company headquartered in another state reinforcing that commitment to end orientation.

Customer service training cannot be a “Day One and Done” kind of thing. Soft skills reinforcement must be continuous. Define forbidden phrases like “No problem,” or “Sure, you bet,” and offer the proper alternatives. Role-play recent customer situations and the best responses. Explain the service recovery process and empowerment guidelines. Build in frequent opportunities to remind your team what great customer service looks like. Whether it is a daily 15-minute huddle or weekly update e-mail newsletter, be sure to reinforce often your customer service performance standards. Repeat it often to make it stick.

Regularly ask “What are you hearing?” to get feedback from those who are directly interacting with your customers. Listen, act, and let them know what you did.

And if you want your employees to make it a habit to deliver outstanding customer service, you need to make it a habit to thank them when they do. For example, share customer feedback and rave reviews you earn on Yelp or TripAdvisor with everyone.

QUI TAKEAWAY: Select the right people. Educate them on what great customer service looks like in your business. And then continually remind and recognize them when they deliver it. Only then will you strengthen the interpersonal skills of your staff to drive their success and yours.

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Stacy Sherman: Yelp and SMS Turn Restaurant Experience from Mediocre to Great

This week’s post is from Stacy Sherman, a results-oriented Customer Experience (CX) and Digital Marketing professional with a proven track record increasing brand awareness, sales, and loyalty at B2C & B2B companies of all sizes and budgets. She’s worked on both the client side and agency environments leading projects for well-known Telcom companies (AT&T and Verizon) along with other reputable brands (Martha Stewart Crafts, American Girl, Perler Beads).  Throughout her 20+ career, Stacy has gained expertise in developing and launching revenue-producing marketing campaigns, Customer Experience (CX) programs, and Voice of Customer (VOC) initiatives, as well as maximizing conversions through proven optimization techniques. Stacy is currently Director of Customer Experience (CX) at a global company, Schindler Elevator Corporation. Stacy continues to infuse customer centricity in all initiatives to cultivate profitability along with “close the loop” processes for ongoing success.  Stacy’s contact information appears below her post. I highly recommend subscribing to her customer experience blog, Doing CX Right.  

 

How many times have you gone to a restaurant that does not take reservations and felt frustrated about the wait time? If you’re like me, it is too many to count.

While many companies tend to focus on customer experiences at the point people are actually using products and receiving services, brand perception and customer judgments occur much earlier in the customer journey. People don’t care if there are internal company process challenges. If expectations are not met, customers will go elsewhere.

With the advent of technology and mobile applications like Yelp, companies can improve customer experiences and proactively address common customer pain points before they occur. My recent restaurant experience provides a great example of this.

Using Yelp to Save Time
Egan & Sons does not take reservations. However, they told me when I called that I could save time using Yelp. The app displays an estimated wait time to help in deciding whether to go to the restaurant and a choice to “check-in” to join the waitlist before driving to the restaurant. Having never seen this before, and always looking to save time, I was delighted to have this option.

Making the Journey Easier
After filling out the Yelp online form, the app displayed how many parties were ahead of me. That information helped me determine when to drive to the restaurant. While there was only one other person joining me for dinner, I did notice a useful feature within the app to share the wait time with others. I like that capability and the overall usability. Moreover, I noticed how easy and pleasant my dining experience felt before I even sat down to eat.

Just before I arrived at the restaurant, I received an SMS text to my phone informing me that my table was ready and I should check-in with the host.  Within minutes, I was seated and ordering my dinner. Though my story pertains to the restaurant industry specifically, there are key lessons about DoingCXRight that apply to all companies:

Communication is an Important Driver of Customer Satisfaction
I really liked knowing how long my wait time was via the app and receiving a text notification that my table was ready.

Level of Effort is a Great Measurement of Customer Experience
It was EASY for me to request and get a table despite a large crowd. Without technology (both SMS and Yelp) I would have missed out on a great restaurant experience. And the restaurant would have missed out on my business. While I didn’t use the feature, the app allows people the option to leave the waitlist without difficulty (just a click of a button on my phone) making the entire experience simple. I will definitely use it again!

Employees Must Deliver on Promises 
Based on the SMS text I received, I had an expectation to be seated right away. Upon my arrival, the host followed through without any wait creating a satisfying, wow moment.

Personalization Improves Cautomer Experiences
The app knew it was my first time checking in and provided me relevant content. It showed “check out reviews while you wait” along with food recommendations from past visitors.  This is a great idea, especially because the restaurant has four stars and over 300 reviews.

Stacy Sherman
Twitter: https://twitter.com/stacysherman
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stacysherman
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/doingcxright
Blog: http://www.doingcxright.com/

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Two Questions Every Customer Service Manager Should Be Asking Everyday

Your most important assets are not your customers and your employees. It’s how your customers and your employees feel about your company. Your success as a customer service manager is directly proportional to your ability to drive simultaneously customer satisfaction and employee engagement. Happy employees are inclined to go above and beyond for your customers. And when your customers feel they are cared for, they will return. You can’t satisfy customers with disengaged employees. Start there first. So what can you do to ensure your employees are engaged? As a first step, begin by asking at least one employee these two questions every day:

What are you hearing?  You cannot even begin to satisfy customers until you remove all the potential dissatisfiers within the customer experience. The American Customer Satisfaction Index found that the response rates for electronic surveys were averaging between 5% and 15% . So if surveys are your only source of feedback, then at the most, you personally know 15% of all your customers’ angst. If you are interacting with customers while you supervise employees, you may know between 20 – 50% of your customers’ dissatisfiers. But your Associates know 100% of your customers complaints and concerns because your customers tell them everyday. So find out what they are hearing and act to systematically remove any potential dissatisfiers.

What can I do for you? Jan Carlzon, former CEO of SAS Airlines and author of the book, Moments of Truth said, “If you’re not serving the customer, your job is to be serving someone who is.” To serve the customer, your employees need the empowerment, tools and resources to take care of their customers. Without the tools and resources, they will not feel empowered to solve customer complaints or respond to customer questions. As much as you want your employees to fulfill your customers’ needs, you need to serve your employees to fulfill theirs. So at the end of every employee conversation, whether it is a group setting or a one-to-one conversation, ask, “What can I do for you?” Listen and then act on their suggestions. Seriously weigh every suggestion, no matter how small you might think it might be. If they mentioned it to you, it is a BIG DEAL to them. Otherwise they wouldn’t have said anything. And if it’s a BIG DEAL to them, it should be a BIG DEAL to you. Whether you are able to implement their suggestion or not, always personally get back promptly to the individual employee who offered the suggestion. It will reinforce their perception that you are committed to their success, as much as you are to your customers’ satisfaction.

QUI TAKEAWAY: The biggest complaint from employees of their managers and supervisors is a lack of communication. Ask these two questions every day to generate a flow of ideas to continually improve the employee and customer experience. Then act on the feedback you receive to drive engagement and empower your employees to deliver exceptional service that your customers will rave about to you and others.

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Review: Micah Solomon’s new ebook: Culture Of Yes: Practices And Principles Of Great Hospitality

MicahSolomonMicah Solomon is a customer service and marketing speaker, strategist, and author of the book, High-Tech, High-Touch Customer Service. Ever since reading his book, I have been following his customer experience articles on Forbes. So when he recently published an ebook entitled Culture Of Yes: Practices And Principles Of Great Hospitality, I was all over it.  While I was quoted in the first chapter, I bought the Kindle version for the invaluable insight shared by some real hospitality heavyweights. And while this ebook is focused on those who are in the hospitality industry, I am sure that customer service professionals in any industry will benefit. Find out more about Micah and his new ebook at the end of this post.

A hotel’s associates have more impact in building the reputation of a hotel than the general manager. In one day, the associates have more direct interaction with the customers than the general manager might in one week. Yet, those associates can only deliver the level of service that they themselves have experienced. Many of them have never stayed at a hotel recognized for its exceptional service. Some of those associates may have graduated from a hospitality school. As a hotelier, I have interviewed my fair share of college graduates. These hospitality students have learned the technical parts of running a hotel – budget preparation and analysis, menu engineering, purchasing and inventory, property management systems, and sales and marketing. But rarely has the curriculum focused on the critical ingredient of a truly successful hotel operation, namely the art of hospitality, taking real care of the guest. So it is up to the manager to educate the associates and their junior managers on the principles of hospitality.

And if you are going to learn the principles of hospitality, shouldn’t you learn it from the best? Ask frequent travelers to name the best hotel chains and they will tell you Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons. Or wouldn’t’ you want to know the secrets of the luxury resort properties that are frequently named in travel magazines as the very best like The Broadmoor or The Inn at Little Washington. Micah has interviewed the key executives from hospitality’s best, including others from Montage, Fairmont, EDITION, and Virgin Hotels and has published in this ebook their insights and, as a seasoned travel and customer service expert himself, those of his own.

Their collective insight focuses on all the key ingredients to deliver an exceptional guest experience – hiring the right people, developing the necessary internal systems and hospitality standards, creating the proper service culture, and defining steps for service recovery. Micah even discusses how technology has and will change the guest experience.

Busy managers may complain that they have no time to read an entire book on hospitality. Micah responds by offering bulletpoints at the end of the chapters, as he calls it, a “cheat sheet” to “begin learning from the best of the best – the greatest leaders and professionals from the very best lodging and foodservice organizations in the world.” That invaluable insight is offered from such hospitality icons as Isadore Sharp, founder and chairman of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Herve Humler, president and COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, and Danny Meyer, president and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. And if you want to be great at hospitality, then ask someone who has already proven that they are one of the hospitality greats. Micah has done that for you here.

While this ebook is directed to hospitality professionals, there is value for a manager of any business who has customers. Whether it is buying a Big Mac from a McDonald’s, a book from Amazon, or gasoline from your local Chevron station, you exchange money for a tangible product. Unlike retail, the hospitality industry is unique. In exchange for hundreds of dollars for a weekend stay, you check out of a hotel without receiving any physical item. You may have taken extra bottles of shampoo or even the bathrobe, but were they worth the price you paid for your room? Of course not.  The only “thing” you take with you is the memory of the experience. That experience has to be so memorable that you are willing to pay to repeat that experience again and again. In retail, almost any product can be replicated by your competitor. What can’t be replicated is the unique experience surrounding the sale of the product. So wouldn’t any retail business gain from the insight from hospitality where the experience is what customers pay for?  Of course it could.

You have heard, “Knowledge is power.” That is not true. It is what you do with the knowledge that is the power. So buy this book. Read it. And then do something to start delivering great hospitality for your guests or a great experience for your customers.

Culture of YesMicah Solomon is a keynote speaker, author, customer service speaker, customer experience consultant and company culture consultant. Find out more about Micah, his blog and his recent Forbes articles at http://www.micahsolomon.com . You can find out more about the ebook or purchase it from amazon by clicking on the book cover.

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Holly Regan: Richard Branson-Style Tips to Empower Your Customer Service Team

A while ago I had blogged about using the CASE Method to improve your company’s customer experience.  CASE stands for “Copy and Steal Everything”. If you feel uncomfortable with “Steal”, then “Copy and Save Everything”.  I said you should be more intent on observing within and outside of your industry for ideas that you can CASE. Then tweak the idea to make it your own.

I recently read an article in Software Advice’s Customer Service Investigator, which featured a discussion with Communications Coach and Author Carmine Gallo on some strategies for mimicking the customer service efforts of Richard Branson’s Virgin Group. While the tactics discussed are agreeably good ideas for promoting a strong customer experience, I wanted to further explore how other organizations could CASE Virgin’s best practices with the article’s author, Software Advice Managing Editor Holly Regan. You can learn more about Software Advice at the end of the post.

What is the risk involved with allowing customer service reps to operate within the “judgment playing field” (make their own decisions within boundaries)? How can other organizations comfortably adopt this tactic?

When you allow employees the freedom to make their own decisions, you open yourself up to the possibility that, occasionally, they will make the wrong ones. However, if you delineate clear boundaries for your judgment playing field ahead of time as to what employees are and aren’t allowed to do, you can ensure that even the occasional wrong decision won’t significantly harm your business. Defining these limits for acceptable behavior and communicating them to all staff members is one way organizations can feel comfortable about adopting this tactic. The other piece of the puzzle is smart hiring. If you have a strict screening process that ensures you only have people on staff who fit with your company culture and values, you can feel comfortable trusting them to make the right decisions.

Are there other benefits associated with instilling the company mission in all staff besides an improved experience for the customer – that is, do you find that employees also have a greater sense of purpose with knowledge of company goals and are willing to work harder?

Yes–instilling your company mission in all members of your staff not only allows them to deliver that mission to customers, it also gives them a higher-level view of what the company is trying to achieve through every customer service interaction. Employees who know what they’re working towards and why tend to work harder and are better able to internalize the mission and become passionate about it. They are empowered to deliver great service, regardless of their level of authority within the company.

Virgin’s employees are proof of this: customers of Virgin America and Virgin Atlantic laud the consistency of their service experience from boarding to baggage claim. The staff member checking them in for their flight portrays the same passion and enthusiasm as the flight attendant serving them in the air, because they’re both working towards the same mission. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is another great example: everyone who goes through training at one of their hotels is immersed in the company mission, from basic etiquette to service psychology, and employees of every department are empowered to do whatever it takes to deliver on that mission. As a result, they are praised as some of the most passionate customer service reps in the world.

Which members of the customer service team should have an open door policy, and how does such a policy satisfy employees?

Anyone in a management position should have an open-door policy, from the shift supervisor to the CEO. Having a forum in which employees can provide feedback – and encouraging them to do so frequently and honestly – is crucial for any service-oriented organization. Management needs to have an accurate picture of what’s working and what’s not on the ground, and who better to provide that than the employees who are directly interacting with customers day-to-day? Your service reps are the best source of feedback on what customers like about your company, and what they need that they aren’t getting.

Having an open-door policy is not only helpful for management – it also shows employees that they have a voice and that their managers genuinely care about their needs, concerns and suggestions. Employees must feel truly valued in order to feel passionate about the company they work for. Managers must also make sure to communicate with employees about how their suggestions for improvement are being implemented or why they decided not to act on them. When employees know they aren’t just giving feedback in a vacuum, they’re more likely to keep providing it. And seeing their ideas put into practice is empowering and inspires them to always be looking for new ways to innovate in customer service interactions.

Customer service reps might find it difficult to “bring their personality” to work, as many are instructed to go off scripts. Should scripting not be so heavily practiced, or should managers encourage employees to simply integrate their own “personal touch?”

As mentioned in the article, customers don’t want to interact with a robot. Service is much more effective when it’s perceived as genuine, and scripting definitely discourages this. Instead of giving reps specific instructions for what to say and how to act, managers should focus on hiring quality employees who exude the company’s culture, mission and values – and who can be trusted to use their own judgment to deliver on that. By clearly defining the judgment playing field, you can ensure your employees don’t get too far off-track while also allowing them to interact naturally with customers, as they would with a friend or colleague. This not only gives reps the freedom to be themselves, it gives customers the benefit of a unique, memorable and genuine interaction that will keep them coming back.
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Ashley Furness: The Secret to Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service Mojo

Prior to my present position as resort manager for Marriott’s Ko Olina Beach Club, I served as the charter general manager for The Henry – Autograph Collection (Autograph Collection is Marriott International’s exclusive portfolio of independent hotels) when it was reflagged after 21 years as the Ritz-Carlton Dearborn, MI (Ritz-Carlton is  a wholly owned subsidiary of Marriott International). Almost all the associates were former Ritz-Carlton “Ladies and Gentlemen”. Last year The Henry was recognized as one of Marriott International’s Hotels of the Year. I am convinced that while they are now The Henry associates they still would bleed Ritz-Carlton blue.  And if you’ve every stayed in a Ritz-Carlton hotel you know there is something extraordinary about the refined delivery of customer service by its associates. So when fellow customer service blogger Ashley Furness offered to share an interview she conducted with Diana Oreck, vice president of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Training Center, I quickly accepted. You can find out more about Ms. Oreck and Ashley at the end of the post. But for now, here is Ashley’s inside look at how Ritz-Carlton educates its associates to deliver its world-class brand of exceptional customer service.

The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company is known worldwide for it’s “legendary service.” So much so, Apple uses the luxury hospitality brand as a model for its owner customer support traditions. For both, it’s all about anticipating the customers’s expressed and unexpressed needs.

These practices have not only increased word of mouth and brand loyalty. Ritz-Carlton also boasts among the best employee retention rates around. To create raving fans, they start with inciting brand enthusiasm from their team.

Recently, I had the privilege of interviewing Ritz-Carlton leadership training center Vice President Diana Oreck. I asked her about customer service training, retention, performance measurement and more. Here’s what she had to share about Ritz’ super service sauce:

What sort of questions can you ask someone to find out if they’re caring and can anticipate customer wants and needs?
Well what you want to make sure you do is not ask yes or no questions. You’re not going to say, “OK Ashley, are you a caring person?” Because obviously, you’re just going to say yes, right? So what we do is we ask you in the interview, “Ashley give us a specific example of how you’ve cared for someone in the last month.” “Give me a specific example of anticipatory service that you have extended.”

Ritz-Carlton puts a lot of emphasis on successful new hire orientation. Why is this important for customer service training?  

A lot of companies have a notion that employee orientation really needs to be a data dump of the company, and statistics and who’s doing what. It really isn’t. What we are looking for at orientation is passion. We want to make sure that that new person gets the feeling they made the right decision in joining us.

It’s all about them and it’s all about culture. We feel that orientation needs to be significant emotional experience. Because think about it – you are making  a very big decision in your life to either start a job or change a job. So our two days of orientation, they are solely revolving around our culture, which we call the gold standards. And the reason we do that is we know that the culture creates passion advocates of our employees. Raving advocates of our brand and we don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customer be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.

Is this also something that helps with customer service employee satisfaction and retention?

Yes, it’s about engagement. I will give you an example. The lodging industry as a whole tends to run a 60-70 percent turnover in a year. Here at Ritz Carlton we run in the low 20s. It’s a huge difference.

What else do you do to promote retention?

We’ve got a vast list. Rewards and recognition is huge. Ranging from first class card, which is the most popular form of recognition at Ritz Carlton. Talk about less is more, it’s just a card that says “first class” and we give it to each other to thank each other. It can be peer to peer, peer to manager, employee to president, president to employee. And then we have things like birthdays, we give gift certificates. You can become five-star of the quarter. We don’t do employee of the month, because we find it’s much for meaningful if it’s the quarter. We are also one of the only hotel companies that still provide meals for their staff. We have gorgeous picnics in the summer and the holiday party and it goes on and on.

What metrics or qualitative data does Ritz-Carlton use to measure customer service training success (How do you know it’s working)? How do you collect this data?

Oh yes, we poll our guests once a month. The Gallup organization sends out 38 percent of guests that stayed the month before. It’s done randomly with the hope we will get 8-10 percent return. We live and die by that guest engagement number. This is the sum of responses to about 30 questions, including How likely is that guest to recommend Ritz Carlton? Were they delighted and satisfied with their stay? If there was a problem, did we take care of their problem? We know that if that guest engagement number goes up, we know that our training programs have been successful.

What are the biggest mistakes companies make when training customer service staff?

There not being specific enough. They’ll say things like “Give great service.” Well that’s nice, but people need a road map. Never assume anything, make sure you have your service standards written down and allow people to observe you in action. Don’t assume that their mother or father, or previous employer taught them what really great service looks like. Have a written service strategy.

What other successful customer service strategies have companies adopted by studying Ritz-Carlton?

It’s all about empowerment. The thing that our guests are most wowed about is that every single employee has $2,000 a day per guest to delight, or make it right. But we never use the money because that money is just symbolic. We are saying to our employees we trust you. We select the best talent. Just help the guest. We do a lot of training around empowerment. So I would say this – you need to empower employees. You also need to make sure that you are inspiring employees to bring their passion to work everyday and to volunteer their best. And you do that by reinforcing their purpose, not their function. Not the how to do your work, but the why of the work you do.

About Diana Oreck
Diana Oreck is Vice President, Leadership Center and leads The Ritz-Carlton’s two-time Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award-winning corporate university.  She brings more than 30 years of experience in hospitality to her role and was named as a 2011/2012 Woman of the Year by the National Association of Professional Women. Under her leadership The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company was named the best global Training Company in the world in 2007 as ranked by Training Magazine.

About the Author

Ashley Furness is a CRM analyst for Software Advice. has spent the last six years reporting and writing business news and strategy features. Her work has appeared in myriad publications including Inc.Upstart Business Journal, the Austin Business Journal and the North Bay Business Journal. Before joining Software Advice in 2012, she worked in sales management and advertising. Currently, her research focuses on various topics related to CRM software, sales, customer service and marketing strategy. Follow her on Twitter @AshleyFurness.

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Filed under Customer Loyalty, Customer Service, Hospitality, Training

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.

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

Great Service is Great Theater

Great TheaterIn their book, The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore define that “Work is theater and every business a stage.” If you were an actor delivering a great live theatrical performance, the audience becomes wrapped up in the experience and as they walk out of the theater, they are telling their friends that it was the best thing that they’ve enjoyed in a long time.

It does not matter to the audience that the actors are performing for the 100th time. The audience has paid very good money to see the show and expect that the actors will deliver their performance with the same passion as on opening night. Your customers expect nothing less. As it is in Great Theater, you have to “act it like you mean it”. Do not confuse this with “fake it until you make it”. Your customers, like any audience, can see right through that kind of performance. Do you always feel like working every day, five days a week, 8-10 hours a day, on your birthday, the holidays or even on scheduled days off? Of course not. But do you think the customer really cares how you feel? Of course not! No customer walks into your establishment with an expectation of being dissatisfied. So you have to deliver Great Theater every day whether you feel like it or not.

When you perfect the delivery of the script, you perfect your performance. Break down your customer experience, act it like you mean it and deliver Great Theater. For example:

ACT ONE. Scene One.

 The Customer enters from offstage.

SERVICE PROVIDER: “Good afternoon, how may I help you?”

Motivation: Never say “May I help you?” If the customer is standing in front of you, he obviously needs help or he would have bypassed you completely.

CUSTOMER: “I believe I have a reservation. Last name is Smith.”

SERVICE PROVIDER: “Yes, Mr. Smith, we’ve been expecting you. Welcome to The Best.”

Direction: Maintain eye contact for at least seven seconds and smile as you say your lines.

Motivation:

  • As Dale Carnegie says in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, “Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” So start with the customer’s name.
  • What do you think is the very first question running through the mind of a customer when coming up to an airline counter, front desk, host stand, or reception desk? That question is, “I wonder if they have my reservation?” So to establish a great first impression, incorporate this statement into your welcome, “We’ve been expecting you.” It immediately removes that mental dissatisfier and puts the customer at ease.
  • Follow that up with the name of your business.

Let it all flow together.

“Mr. Smith” (you’re very important to us). “We’ve been expecting you.” (No need to worry about your reservation. We have it.) “Welcome to . . .” (Where did Mr. Smith feel the most comfortable in interacting with a company? With you, of course. )

QUI TAKEAWAY: Define each scene in the customer experience and practice it often off stage. Never practice on the customer. Then perform your role so well that all your customers say to themselves and others that your service was the best that they have enjoyed in a long time. And when you deliver that kind of Great Theater performance consistently, you will build repeat business and customer loyalty.

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