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Guest Post: Ritz-Carlton Customer Service Secrets

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. Part of their success can be credited to one simple mantra – “Radar On – Antenna Up.” This means seeking out the customers unanticipated and unvoiced needs. This could be as simple as replacing an empty tube of toothpaste while a guest is out on business, or handing Roarie the stuffed Ritz-Carlton lion to an crying toddler.

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 sat down with Ritz-Carlton Vice President Diana Oreck to see if she could share any more secrets to the company’s customer service super sauce. She heads up the company’s executive training program, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Here is what she had to say:

The answers in this article have been modified from the original transcript of Diana Oreck’s interview with Software Advice.

Q: One of the Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards is “anticipate unexpressed needs.” Why is this important to customer service success and how do you train employees to recognize and act on unexpressed needs?

A: It’s very important because legendary service is about surprise and delight. It’s not robotic, it’s not scripted. And the way we teach it is through a class called “radar on, antenna up.” Golden nugget: You cannot give legendary service if you’re on autopilot. We have a daily lineup everyday in every [Ritz-Carlton] hotel around the world where we provide scenarios and discuss the best approach in the class. For example, we might go to a room and see you have one drop of toothpaste left in your toothpaste tube, so we are going to replace that tube of toothpaste without you asking and that’s a nice surprise when you return from business.

Q: 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? 

A: Oh yes, we poll our guests once a month. The Gallup organization sends out a survey to 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.

Q: Retention is a big issue for a lot of customer service teams. Is the same true for Ritz-Carlton? What does the company do to retain talent?

A: We’ve got a vast list. Rewards and recognition is huge. Ranging from our first class card, which is the most popular form of recognition at Ritz Carlton. It’s just a card that we give it to one another as a thanks. It can be peer to peer, peer to manager, employee to president, president to employee. And then we have things like birthdays, where we give gift certificates. Employees 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.

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

A: They’re 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.

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

A: 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.

About Diana Oreck: 

Diana leads The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center – a corporate university created to provide opportunities to leadership and learning professionals wanting to benchmark human resources, leadership, quality and training practices. The program has twice won the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award in 1992 and 1999. Diana has more than 30 years experience in hospitality and customer service expertise.

About Ashley Furness:

Ashley is a CRM Market Analyst for Software Advice, where she writes about customer service, marketing and sales strategy. She 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. She is a University of Texas graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.

Guest services and planning needed to create a ‘Wow’ experience in buffet style holiday feast

Buffets traditionally save on labor costs and provide an excellent venue to showcase a restaurant’s best food and service. In a resort area such as South Florida, the ‘”WOW” experience includes customer service, atmosphere, cuisine, and of course – location. So how does all of this compare with the Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa located in Jupiter, Florida on a beautiful Thanksgiving afternoon? The resort is located directly on the Atlantic Ocean beach and offers 12,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor dining facilities, yet no one even glimpsed a view of the sandy beaches nor could anyone boast a “WOW” experience for a poorly planned Thanksgiving feast.

Let’s travel back to the beginning of the experience when there were confirmed reservations made for a specific time. First impressions are important, and the initial customer service coordinator’s poor judgment and lack of planning immediately diminished any well-meaning intentions. When guests are forced to wait for over an hour before they are seated, and made to stand around with no apologies and no direction as to the reasons for the delay, it would seem a new marketing plan would be imminent. When guests with confirmed reservations are made to wait as “walk-in” customers are seated before them, when no servers ever appear in the make-shift lobby crowded with guests waiting to be seated even taking beverage orders, and when hostesses do not communicate with waiting guests, it’s dubious anyone will be wanting to come back for another holiday celebration.

The best advantage of a buffet is the flexible format and of course, it is easier to accommodate more people than offering sit-down menus with table service. Frequently the rule of thumb is one server for 18 guests during a sit-down function as compared to one server for 24 guests at a buffet, however when servers are cleaning up tables, delivering drink orders, and other buffet associated duties to 40 or more guests, service suffers. Diners miss out on the experience of the best a resort can offer, and dining in two conference rooms without even a window certainly suffers the anticipated ambiance of a family dinner overlooking the grand vistas of a beautiful seashore facility.

So what could have been done to ensure a positive experience for guests? The excuse that management could not plan for the length of time a guest stayed at the buffet and therefore backed up multitudes of awaiting guests was not sufficient. Since the 16th century when buffets originated in France, experienced catering and convention managers have been able to estimate the time guests spend eating. Buffet managers should have planned for more staff or at the very least – limited the amount of reservations and of course denied “walk-ins.” A more experienced hostess staff should have been keeping waiting guests constantly informed of the situation, and an apology with an incentive should have been offered to guests for a future visit. And of course, there should have been the same choices of food for the guests at the end of the day as were available for the guests at the beginning of the buffet.

And even though it is a beautiful spot for a peaceful afternoon, the chances of my family ever returning are slim. When we tell ten of our friends and they tell ten others, what might have been a great place to plan a wedding, a party, or a family reunion becomes a place just “off the list.”

Would your customer service entice me to buy from your organization?

Have you ever walked into a business that genuinely made you smile and didn’t act as if you were obligated to buy something? Most of those businesses are extremely proud of their product or the services they offer; they treat you graciously as if you’re appreciated and seem eager to help you solve your problem. Where much of anyone’s business is based on word of mouth and referrals, it seems especially important these days to create that “WOW” experience which in a nutshell is not just providing value for someone, but pushing beyond the norm and providing more than we might expect.

Online shopping now enables anyone with insomnia to shop during the wee hours of the night, but nothing is more frustrating than when a site crashes or a shopper encounters technical difficulty. What makes the experience unbearable however is the lack of 24 hour/7 day a week online or phone assistance. How soon will it be before a service representative gets back to a customer?  Expectations dictate if your store is always open, someone therefore should be manning the floor. If by some chance an organization doesn’t have those capabilities, then it should be clearly stated on the website what hours a business operates, and how soon a customer can expect a response. If a staff member’s job is to begin his day answering emails, phone messages, and tweets, then make sure the most pressing issues are attended to first. Even more effective and efficient  is to have more than enough service representatives  handling customer support as soon as the “doors open.”

It’s not just enough however to respond to customer complaints promptly; that doesn’t create the “WOW” experience, but it does give a business a chance to build customer loyalty. Customers who complain to you are giving you a chance to get it right or fix the problem. Statistics show that most customers do not complain; instead they tolerate the product or service, but never return and never recommend your business of services to ten other people. So in order to have a plan how to deal with complaints, the staff must be empowered with the proper education, knowledge of how to help people, and to have the ability to make decisions. Unhappy customers want answers and solutions to their problems immediately. They want to be talking to a person with a name and an identity who is able to make a decision whether it be for a replacement part, product, or service. And if a person from a higher management position is needed to make a decision, then all of the information should be forwarded to the decision maker without the customer having to repeat the problem over and over again as the issue climbs the ladder of responsibility.

As we all try to constantly improve our businesses with that “WOW” customer service, the reward of maintaining the competitive edge over our competition keeps us striving to be the best we can be. Let your next survey reflect and ask the most important question to your valuable customers:

“How can we make your next experience with us better?”

Customer service is not an option for medical and dental practices

Medical and dental practices should provide their patients with positive customer experiences; after all aren’t we as patients still consumers who pay for services rendered either through our insurance companies or directly out of our debit accounts? Once upon a time a patient would never think of questioning a physician’s rude bedside manner,  never twitch the slightest dissatisfaction when made to wait hours in an uncomfortable waiting room with outdated magazines, or even speak out when having to deal with a rude staff. Fortunately that has all changed. From digital signs on busy highways showing shortened waiting times in local emergency medical facilities to expedient office staff, the new faces of medical care seek customer loyalty by creating positive experiences.

From the moment a patient calls for an appointment, the expectation for services begins. How long does it take for someone to answer the phone, and are you put on hold for any extended amount of time? Does your call during office hours go to voice mail? Patient satisfaction begins with a member of the staff personally answering the phone. Why not stagger employee schedules so the heavy hours of phone contact – perhaps during lunch hour can reduce patient waiting time thus reducing frustration and anger? Even waiting rooms have come a long way. Straight back wooden chairs used to line the walls of doctor and dentist offices. Now comfortable furniture set in inviting waiting rooms with late edition magazines and soothing music welcome a patient and makes them immediately feel more comfortable and connected in what is now the competitive field of health care.

Physicians can build their own relationships with patients by knowing a patient’s history before entering the examination room, immediately inviting the patient to speak, and then reviewing their chart sitting in front of the patient with direct eye contact. Patients want to know the process, and as doctors and dentists whose positive interaction with patients develop, a new culture for the entire office revolves around making people feel important – not just a human body wearing a white paper gown.

Helping patients to navigate their way through the complexities of medical procedures and jargon, making available community resources convenient for patients, providing a list of support groups and helping patients find appropriate educational tools to aid in their own medical or dental care builds relationships and enhances the productivity of both physician and patient.