Lessons from the hotel industry.
Back in my newspaper reporting days, I had the opportunity to spend a good bit of time at a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, not staying there — I was on a journalist’s salary, of course — but tagging around behind the scenes, finding out why this particular Ritz-Carlton made it to the list of world’s 10 best hotels time and time again.
I think when you live near a hotel like that, you tend to take it for granted, because, after all, there’s no reason to stay at a place like that when it’s a 15-minute drive from home. At the same time, this fascination overcame me, because I wondered what could possibly be going on within those walls that was so great.
It didn’t take long to find out — or much investigative reporting on my part — that the secret was in the people. Not just that the hotel hired great people, it trained them and trained them. And then it empowered them.
Every Ritz-Carlton employee carries with him the company’s 12 service values written down on a card. Here they are, from the company’s website:
Service Values: I Am Proud To Be Ritz-Carlton
- I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life.
- I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.
- I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.
- I understand my role in achieving the Key Success Factors, embracing Community Footprints and creating The Ritz-Carlton Mystique.
- I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience.
- I own and immediately resolve guest problems.
- I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.
- I have the opportunity to continuously learn and grow.
- I am involved in the planning of the work that affects me.
- I am proud of my professional appearance, language and behavior.
- I protect the privacy and security of our guests, my fellow employees and the company’s confidential information and assets.
- I am responsible for uncompromising levels of cleanliness and creating a safe and accident-free environment.
The 12 self-empowering values, shared, carried, studied and lived by every employee are what lead to such legendary customer service stories as this one from Mental Floss:
Because of their son’s food allergies, a family vacationing at the Ritz-Carlton, Bali, was always careful to bring their own supply of specialized eggs and milk. In this particular instance, however, the food was ruined en route. The Ritz-Carlton manager couldn’t find any of the special items in town, but his executive chef recalled that a store in Singapore sold them. The chef contacted his mother-in-law, who lived there, and had her purchase the items, then fly to Bali (about 2.5 hours) to deliver them.
It also led to my own customer service story that I’ll never forget from The Dining Room at the Ritz. I had ordered Dover sole and asked for a doggie bag for the leftovers. My dinner companion and I joked that for once “doggie bag” wasn’t a euphemism — my beloved yellow Labrador was at home and in the final stages of liver failure. She could hardly eat anything, and for her to eat at all, it had to be awfully tempting.
The waiter returned with my bag, saying a steak had been cooked that evening to the wrong temperature and had not been delivered to another table. He had taken the liberty of wrapping that up as well: Perhaps my dog would go for that if the Dover sole didn’t suit her.
When I arrived home, inside the bag were two packages wrapped in foil and fashioned to the shape of dog bones.
I’m hopeful you don’t have to be the dog person I am to be swayed by that story. Regardless, think of what a small gesture that was — that steak would have been in the trash can — and how much it meant to me. Do you sometimes wonder how you can get your own staff to think that way? What are your store’s values? Have you written them out? Does your staff have them memorized? If not, you couldn’t go wrong using the Ritz-Carlton’s as a starting point.
And one last suggestion: Spend the night in a Ritz-Carlton next time you get a chance. Sure, it’s expensive, and no, it’s not something I do often — and never, alas, as a company expense — but the price of a stay will be an investment in your business' customer service. You can pretty much be guaranteed of checking out with ideas you can take home to put to use in your own operations.
This article was originally published in March 2013.
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