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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.

Meaningful Service Metrics

In the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck describes a fishing expedition: “The Mexican sierra has 17 plus 15 plus nine spines in the dorsal fin. These can easily be counted. But if the sierra strikes hard on the line so that our hands are burned, if the fish sounds and nearly escapes and finally comes in over the rail, his colors pulsing and his tail beating in the air, a whole new relational externality has come into being—an entity which is more than the sum of the fish plus the fisherman.

The nature of customer service is a fundamentally an experience — feelings characterize it more than facts; emotion more than logic. Steinbeck’s reminds us that no matter how accurate our customer assessments, they will never completely assess its magic. With our objective data, tidy calculations, and sterilized reports, we must never forget to rely on the unscientific report of those directly involved in creating the experience.

There are important service metrics to watch — customers’ evaluation of their experience, customer effort gauges, customer complaints reports, first contact resolution, etc. But, these are all reflections of the customer experience, not its true measure. To quote Marilyn Ferguson in the Aquarian Conspiracy, “In our lives and in our cultural institutions we have been poking at qualities with tools designed to detect quantities. How big is an intention? How heavy is grief, how deep is love? What data guides your decisions about your customers? How do you ascertain the customer’s real evaluation of your service?

Dr. Johnny D. Magwood is the Chief Customer Officer of Northeast Utilities.  A well-known industry spokesperson, he can be reached at magwojd@nu.com.

They’re Just Not That Into You

Love Fireworks :)Have you ever noticed the similarities between attracting a prospective customer and wooing a mate?

There are lots of similarities when you think about it. For example, before the relationship develops, there may be frequent but informal contact. In business, that may look like a weekly e-newsletter that over time (as trust is established) results in a client project. In a personal relationship, it may take the form of frequent encounters at the corner Starbucks.

As it blossoms, there is usually lots of attention and care given to the relationship. In business, this is evidenced by asking questions of understanding, attentive listening, clarifying expectations, and responding to needs. In a personal relationship, these behaviors also apply.

Another similarity is that after the honeymoon phase, personal attention and care tend to diminish. Clients tend to hear from you less often and may need to leave a second message before you respond. And your mate may long for the time when you looked dreamily across the table, a slight smile on your face, while hanging on her every word.

But today you have competing priorities and don’t feel that you can be as responsive as some customers and mates require. And for this reason, among others, not every story has a happy ending…

That said, there are actions you can take immediately whether serving a customer or someone with whom you have a bit more of a, shall we say, intimate relationship, that will keep their eyes from wandering to the “competition.”

  • Express genuine interest. With customers, this is accomplished by making eye contact, smiling, and adding enthusiasm to your voice. Also, asking questions about preferences and being responsive to needs signal genuine interest. Chances are, your significant other appreciates the same type of attention.
  • Offer sincere and specific compliments. Genuine compliments make everyone feel better about themselves. A compliment is verbal sunshine. Shine on.
  • Share unique knowledge. In a customer service setting, this means sharing knowledge that goes beyond job knowledge that is expected (e.g., hours of operation, return policy, etc.). Unique knowledge has character and substance. It is interesting, unique, and unexpected (e.g., the history of the location, privileged “insider” information, etc.). Similarly, personal relationships benefit by sharing insights and feelings that transcend the expected (e.g., “How was work?”) and demonstrate personal interest (e.g., “Tell me about your day.”).
  • Convey authentic enthusiasm. We all do this differently. Some are bubbly. Others are less animated but equally enthusiastic. It’s easy to detect whether at work or home. They move with purpose. The lights are on. They are engaged.
  • Use appropriate humor. The key word is appropriate. With customers you need to use discretion and keep it professional so as not to offend. In personal relationships, you have a bit more leeway. Either way, laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
  • Provide pleasant surprises. Have you ever receive an unexpected upgrade on a flight, at a hotel, or when renting a car? How did it make you feel? It’s a positive feeling that can be replicated again and again with something as simple as a card, a bottle of water, or a single rose…
  • Deliver service heroics. This sort of action is rarely required of us. It’s the exception, not the rule. But when the situation requires it and we go “above and beyond” in order to wow our customer (e.g.. meet an overnight deadline) or impress that someone special (e.g., breakfast in bed), it makes a lasting positive impression that reaffirms her importance and reinforces the relationship.

My hope for everyone reading this post is that you would find some truth in it. Reflect on the quality of your own personal customer service to those people who matter the most to you at work and at home. Are you developing relationships by demonstrating the types of behaviors outlined above or are you communicating indifference by merely going through the motions?

Be intentional about applying these behaviors and I assure you that your most important customers—both at work and at home—will appreciate you for it and, most importantly, will only have eyes for you.

Guest Writer Bio: Steve Curtin is a customer service, training, and public speaking enthusiast based in Denver, CO. His website is www.stevecurtin.com.

photo credit: Beta-J

Are you meeting your customers’ service expectations?

One of the challenges that customer service professionals face on a daily basis is meeting customers’ service expectations. If you are a company that claims to have superior customer service, people will come to you with the expectation of receiving top-notch service. Nowadays, customers’ expectations are rising because companies are trying to find new ways to surprise and delight their customers.

Service expectations are going to vary from company to company. For example, the service you expect from McDonald’s is going to be much different from the service you may expect from a five-star restaurant.

So, what can you do to determine if you are meeting your customers’ service expectations?

The first thing you’ll want to do is identify the service expectations of your customers. Take some time to review marketing and service/product information for service promises that could play a big part in expectations. It’s also good to review the mission or vision statement of your company.

No matter what industry or company you work for, however, people are going to expect friendly service at the very least. They’re also going to expect courteous treatment and a sincere effort to help them with their needs.

As you’re interacting with customers, take note when someone mentions an opportunity where the company could improve. “I wish…” or “If only the company could…” are statements to look out for. You can also solicit customers for their feedback by asking them, “Is there anything we can do to make our service or product better?” Also, keep track of customer issues or problems. Oftentimes, you’ll come up with reoccurring problems that need to be addressed.

There will be times when you run into a customer whose service expectations are unreasonable. You’ve probably already received training on how to deal with angry or difficult customers, but there are rare times when you have to tell a customer “No” because what they are asking is beyond the scope of what you’re capable of doing. It’s like asking a baby toddler to build a highrise building when he only knows how to stack three wood blocks. If this is the case, simply apologize to the customer, “I’m sorry we can’t do this because…” Maybe your company just doesn’t have the technology or information to fulfill the customer’s needs.

By listening carefully to customers, continuously gathering feedback from them, and taking note of reoccurring issues, your company will be fully prepared to meet customers’ needs and expectations.

Maria Palma is a professional writer and entrepreneur who spent 13+ years in the retail service industry as a salesperson and manager before venturing out on her own and starting her own businesses. Maria is an artsy kinda gal whose life motto is, “Creating a beautiful world, one person at a time.” Find out more about Maria by visiting her main website, Salon de Maria.

Are you really listening?

Yay BooHave you ever been in a conversation with someone, and while the other person is talking, you’re more focused on what you’re going to say next than on what they’re saying to you? If we are honest with ourselves, I think we’d confess that we do this more often than we’d like.

This phenomenon occurs not just in interpersonal relationships, but also at the corporate level. All too often, businesses carry on one-sided conversations with their customers, pushing information out instead of looking for ways to listen and create meaningful dialogues. For businesses, creating dialogue and listening well takes a little creativity, because in most instances, corporate conversations aren’t just happening in person, but rather through marketing, advertising, news media and, more recently, social media.

Harnessing the power of social media to listen more effectively to your customers might be one of the most important things your company can do to better engage with the community. The number of online conversations taking place in any given hour, on any given topic, is staggering and only continues to grow. At Microsoft, we’re making it a priority to be a part of these conversations and find out who’s driving them, what they’re about, and what they mean for our products and services.

For example, we use rich social media analytics to analyze 15,000 Microsoft product and technology related articles per day across numerous blogs and 600 forum locations on MSDN, TechNet, Microsoft Answers, and Expression web sites. We don’t leave out industry and third-party properties either, and pay close attention to Twitter, Facebook and other forums.

Another approach that has helped us gain better insight into what our customers are saying and thinking is engaging with influencers in the community. Your industry leaders can be powerful vessels of communication, since they’re passionate about what matters to your company, interact with your key audiences daily, and often are more than willing to give you feedback, both positive and critical, on your services or solutions.

Don’t shy away from influencers because they might tell you something you don’t want to hear. Make an effort to get to know them and use their knowledge and feedback for good. About 18 years ago, we started something called the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) Award Program, through which we honor and thank exceptional technical community leaders, give them early access to our products and encourage their highly-focused feedback.

Our MVPs aren’t just industry thought leaders, though. They’re also individuals with a natural propensity to serve and help IT users maximize the value of their technology. They’re the friends and neighbors you call when you don’t know what that pop-up window on your computer means, how to upgrade your operating system, or need tips on creating a better PowerPoint deck. Since they’re already listening to the community, we want to be alongside them, learn about what they’re hearing from IT users and use that information to create a better customer experience.

Of course, how your company decides to listen all depends on factors like size, industry and customer base. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution or tactic, but the principle remains the same, whether your company makes cars, plans parties or sells paper towels. At the end of the day, people want to be heard, much more than they want to be talked to. You might just be surprised by what you hear if you really listen.

Writer Bio:
Toby Richards is general manager of Community & Online Support within Microsoft Customer Service and Support, which provides customer service and support solutions worldwide. To learn more about Microsoft’s MVP Award Program, please visit http://www.microsoft.com/mvp or read our blog at http://blogs.msdn.com/mvpawardprogram. Visit http://answers.microsoft.com to experience one of Microsoft’s most popular forums, Microsoft Answers.

photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

How Customer Service Can Create Brand Ambassadors

For any type of business looking to sustain itself past the honeymoon period (when venture capital or buzz ends), the ratio between new customers to retuning customers must favor the latter. Brands that are able to lead with quality customer service and innovating products are able to retain customers and turn them into brand ambassadors.

Talk to any Apple Mac user and ask whether or not they would recommend Apple and you’ll witness the power of having brand ambassadors on your side. So if having brand ambassadors is good business and all you have to do is offer quality customer service, why doesn’t every business do it? Well, first unfortunately few brands understand the awesome power of leading with customer service as a business objective and secondly in addition to leading with customer service a few conditions must be observed.

Under what circumstances can quality customer service lead to the creation of brand ambassadors:

  1. Having Desirable Offer: The first condition is offering a product or service others will likely need. Even the most loyal brand ambassador will find it hard convincing you to buy a fax machine in this digital age rather than using a piece of software. on the other hand, if the product is inferior to similar products in the market, but is more than made up by quality service the condition is still met.
  2. Engagement Level strategy: The idea is to openly accept and engage in communication with the customer base. Some brands only see generating revenue from customers as engagement others on the other hand also value communication. Open communication will contribute to brand loyalty an important step to create brand ambassadors.
  3. Encourage Social Sharing: Brands should not shy away from asking and encouraging customers to share legitimate brand messages. Those messages are not necessarily sales pitches, but could also be fun and creative (I’m a Mac I’m a PC) as long as they serve a business goal. The web now days offers a selection of social applications such as Twitter and Facebook where brand ambassadors could be heard.
  4. Customer-Centric Objectives: Many brands may say they are led by customer service, or that their customers are all treated equal etc but in most cases the execution is lacking. A successful customer-centric strategy should be build around a customer service culture where every discipline of the brand understands its importance and does its part.

If you are looking to create brand ambassadors, I hope this post will point you in the right direction.

Today’s post was written by Joesph Eitan, Founder and MD of Photo Paper Direct. Joesph has over 20 years experience managing brands and engaging with customers.

Keep Your Cool on the Phone – Part 2


This is part two (part one is here) of the guest post written by Jennifer Harris from Ruby Receptionists.

Some may think it is a good idea to agree with everything the angry caller has to say, “Yes, that is awful, I totally agree 100%.”  The problem is this can be patronizing and the caller will pick up on that.  We have found it is better the only empathize when we really do agree with the caller.  It is often easier just to get the caller on your side.  “Here is what we are going to do… Why don’t we try all of his lines, and if we are unable to reach him, we will leave him a voice mail and a written message that I will mark urgent.  That way we attack from two fronts.”  By doing this you bring them on your side, so the two of you are working together.  Then you give them a plan of action, so they know everything about the process, making them feel more in control.  Finally, by saying something like this, you are letting them know that you are doing everything in your power to get them what they want and hopefully they will stop being angry … at least with you.

One more trick I like to employ is just to smile.  The caller cannot see my smile, but it tends to show up in my voice.  No matter how horrible I find the caller, I just keep grinning and even if I do not succeed in cheering them up, at least I feel fine when the call is done.

Sometimes there is just no pleasing a caller.  They want to yell, and you are the lucky person who will receive the yelling.  Just remember to stay calm, use the tricks above, and if they don’t work, end the call politely, when you have done everything you can, and forget about them.  If you are able, walk around the block, eat something crunchy (I like carrots), and remember, they are not mad at you, they are mad at their situation and you got caught in the crossfire.

Jennifer Harris works as the sales coordinator for Ruby Receptionists, before which she worked as a receptionist for 5 years, learning all the ins and outs of phone etiquette.

Keep Your Cool on the Phone – Part 1

kx-t7731b_left This is part 1 of a 2 part guest writer post on keeping your cool on the phone. It’s written by Jennifer Harris from Ruby Receptionists.

What do you do when you work primarily on phones and have an irate caller on the line? The easy thing would be to match their annoyance level. Get angry right back, and throw some well places obscenities in for good measure… right? Well, sure, if you want to lose your job. I work for a virtual reception company and all day long we talk to people over the phone. We get happy callers, angry callers, callers with crazy stories, and callers who did not dial correctly. The happy callers are easy; they call in ready to be pleased. The angry callers, not so much.

A receptionist is able to tell right away who the difficult caller will be. They are the ones who, rather than saying, “Hello, may I please speak to Joe Bloggs,” say, “JOE STILL HASN’T RETURNED MY CALL! ARE YOU EVEN DOING YOUR JOB?” The inexperienced receptionist will get flustered in this situation. He or she will make excuses and often end up sounding worse than if they had just yelled back. The bad receptionist will actually yell back. In a situation like this, it is best not to match the tone of the caller. Instead, as one seasoned receptionist told me, “I put on my preschool manners basically. By lowering my voice they have to really listen to hear me and they usually end up matching my tone.” When someone is about to blow their top, she demonstrates the behavior she would like to see from the caller. She speaks calmly and brings them down to her level of calm.

(more about handling angry callers on Wednesday)

Jennifer Harris works as the sales coordinator for Ruby Receptionists, before which she worked as a receptionist for 5 years, learning all the ins and outs of phone etiquette.

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