Earlier this year, I wrote about how to create a customer experience that improves retention, and thus profits. Given the importance of the customer experience on retention, I have since discovered additional best practices in delivering customer WOW. The New Gold Standard by Joseph Michelli shows how the Ritz-Carlton hotel group delivers fantastic customer service.
Start with attitude
To provide a customer experience that will generate loyalty and engagement and prevent churn you first need to have a message everyone in your company is aligned with. Great customer service begins with a clear and consistent organizational focus. For the Ritz-Carlton group, the phrase “the answer is yes; . . . now what is the question?” crystallizes the attitude throughout the company. This message conveys that if the service Ritz employees offer does not surpass the expectations of guests, then the splendor of the hotel becomes far less meaningful. Michelli quotes Ritz leadership as saying, “the amenity that matters most to our guests is not a fancy chocolate on the pillow but a dedication to service that never wavers.”
Once you have developed a message that conveys the experience you want your team to provide, the approach and behaviors will flow from it. Going back to the Ritz example, by starting with “the answer is yes” everyone knows that there is never any such thing as saying “That’s not my job.” When it comes to providing a service to a guest, the word no is not in the vocabulary of those who work at Ritz-Carlton.
This attitude then guides people not only in their interactions with customers but also with each other. Richelli writes, “this spirit of wanting to serve not only our guests but to lend an extra hand to fellow staffers is how the Ritz-Carlton culture of caring permeates all of our lives.” Thus, the service message becomes an operating principle throughout the organization.
Hire right and set them up to succeed
Once you have aligned your company with a message that conveys the customer service experience you want for your customers, you need to build the team to deliver it. When I wrote about creating a great customer experience, one of the keys I highlighted was the need to align hiring with creating a great experience. You can’t teach emotional intelligence, so it is critical to hire people who can radiate warmth, friendliness, happiness and kindness. Ritz-Carlton takes the same approach, believing that excellences starts with the right raw talent instead of attempting to manage employees to overcome talent deficits.
Having people who can deliver a great customer experience does not end with hiring the right people, though, you also have to dedicate the time and resources to train them properly. Training is important not only to provide your people with the tools to create a great experience but also to ensure consistency. You want the experience someone enjoys in Paris to be as good as the experience they would enjoy with you in Sydney. Even in the online world, you want the experience someone gets when talking to an agent about a purchase issue to be as good as when they are dealing with a VIP host about a sale. With the Ritz, all managers undergo three weeks of training. The first two days cover the typical Ritz-Carlton orientation; day 3 involves the expectations of leadership including how to treat their colleagues. On Day 21, after becoming certified in the operational standards of their positions, staff members are given a forum to discuss openly the positives and negatives they have encountered in their first three weeks. It is this training, coupled with openness and feedback, that ensures all customers enjoy a consistent Ritz experience.
Empower the team
Once you have the right people with the right training, you need to empower them to give a great experience. At the Ritz, they “empower through trust…Ritz-Carlton leadership sends a clear message that every staff member has the full authority to use his or her discretion to produce grand experiences for guests…. Every person, including a member of housekeeping and an employee working in the laundry, is empowered to use judgment, without seeking permission from a supervisor, to spend up to $2,000 on each guest each day!”
Creating a great experience depends on the employees, not the leadership. If a Ritz-Carlton employee sees a problem, they own it and are expected to fix it. The job of leadership is to empower people to create that experience. With Ritz, it’s not only the $2,000 budget but also the mandate that it is up to people on the front line to generate unique and memorable experiences. Leadership at the Ritz-Carlton believes “you just can’t micromanage unique and memorable outcomes.”
Part of empowering your people is giving them the freedom to modify their work to respond to customer needs, not just giving them a budget. If a guest has a problem or needs something special, Ritz-Carlton staff will should break away from their regular duties, address and resolve the issue. This action is only possible by not micro-managing the staff or basing their performance evaluation on hard metrics (i.e. tickets responded).
Empowering your team, and giving them the needed resources, not only leads to Wow experiences but is also cost effective long-term. An analysis of manufacturers helped leadership at Ritz-Carlton appreciate that the longer defects went undetected, the more expensive the defects were to repair. Additionally, the longer a defect remained in place, the more that defect caused other errors. When problems are not resolved satisfactorily, they not only create customer churn (for the engaged Ritz-Carlton customer, this lifetime value can be in excess of $ 1 million) but they also produce people who are vocally negative about the brand.
A Ritz-Carlton leader said, “I’ve come to learn that the least costly solution is the one that happens immediately. The longer and higher a customer complaint lives in an organization, the more it grows. By the time a complaint hits senior leadership, what could have been resolved by getting the guest the amenity he or she requested with a slight enhancement turns into resolutions on a par with an upgraded night on the Club Level (an elevated service experience affording access to a lounge serving multiple daily complimentary food offerings and the ready assistance of concierge staff).”
All of these elements should come together to deliver WOW. A Wow experience hinges less on the inherent exhilaration of the product and more on delivering service that appeals to both the thinking and feeling aspects of your customer. Michelli writes “operating from this understanding that customer engagement is linked to the consumers’ wanting ‘to feel a rush, Ritz-Carlton leadership calls this desired memorable and emotional connection a ‘Wow experience’ and encourages staff to personally affect guests to achieve this level of emotional intensity…. Wow starts with a commitment to a culture of extraordinary service. Ingenuity brings it to life…. Extremely satisfied customers emerge through memorable and emotional connections forged between them and a business.”
Some of the greatest opportunities for wowing customers occur when breakdowns happen. Earlier this year I wrote that “mistakes are one of the best things that can happen in the customer experience world. Players remember the way mistakes are handled much more than the mistake and often more than the actual gaming experience. Mistakes provide an opportunity to create a great memory and a connection with your customer.” Breakdowns will occur despite the best intentions to provide flawless service. Empathy, quick attention, and a willingness to go beyond the resolution will salvage a bad situation and turn it into a winning outcome. Although many businesses go out of their way to deny responsibility for guest problems, the staff of Ritz-Carlton typically acts responsibly, without ascribing blame, through targeted corrective action.”
Hold the team to high standards and measure, measure, measure
Once you have the right people and they are trained and empowered, you need to ensure they are delivering on your core message and it is resonating with customers. If people are set up to succeed, then it is also their responsibility to create a great customer experience. You must monitor your team and make sure they are creating Wow experiences for your customers.
Not only should you work with them individually, you should look at how well your customers are responding. Start with monitoring NPS (Net Promoter Score). Net promoter score is very straightforward. It is the answer to one question, on a scale of 1-10: How likely is it that you would recommend the company to a friend? Those who are answer with a 9 or 10 are considered loyal enthusiasts who will keep buying and refer others. Those who answer 7 or 8 are passives, satisfied but unenthusiastic customers who are vulnerable to churning. Those with a score of 0-6 are considered detractors, unhappy customers who can damage your brand and impede growth through negative word-of-mouth. While target NPS scores are dependent on your industry and audience, you can monitor your team’s performance by looking at the trend, whether your NPS is improving or deteriorating.
The Ritz-Carlton takes measurement to the next level and that provides a great way to move from providing excellent customer service to delivering Wow. At Ritz, they focus on customer engagement using a methodology developed by the Gallup organization:
- How satisfied are you with Ritz-Carlton?
- How likely are you to continue to choose Ritz-Carlton?
- How likely are you to recommend Ritz-Carlton to a friend or associate?
- Ritz-Carlton is a name I can always trust?
- Ritz-Carlton always delivers on what they promise?
- Ritz-Carlton always treats me fairly?
- If a problem arises, I can always count on Ritz-Carlton to reach a fair and satisfactory resolution?
- I feel proud to be a Ritz-Carlton customer?
- Ritz-Carlton always treats me with respect. 10. Ritz-Carlton is the perfect hotel for people like me?
- I can’t imagine a world without Ritz-Carlton?
By looking at NPS and customer engagement, you can measure how well you are delivering a great customer experience. Most importantly, look at the trends and see if you are maintaining a strong experience, getting better or deteriorating. Once you understand how your customers feel, you can then work with your team to improve. Transparency is the key, at Ritz, once the data is collected, results are posted monthly, and an 18-month rolling average is used to place each hotel in a green, yellow, or red zone. You should use this data to adjust swiftly what you and your team is doing to enhance the emotional bond with your customers.
Treat your staff like you treat your customers
The final key to creating a great customer experience is treating your team the way you want them to treat your customers. Leaders need to lead by example and this includes helping people see how they should treat others. At the Ritz-Carlton, the philosophy is that everyone is as important as everyone else, from the CEO to the housekeepers and clerks. Michelli writes that “by not confusing title with importance, leadership at Ritz-Carlton understands that creating an environment of respect universally results in a respectful service….I knew the guests were very important. But a few months later I realized that the maître d’ I watched every day was just as important because every guest was proud when he talked to them. Why? Because he was a first-class professional. He was somebody special—because of the excellence he created for the guests.”
This attitude also should translate into protecting your team when necessary from customers. If a customer is disrespectful, that is no more acceptable than an employee being rude to a customer. You need to empower your team to fire customers gracefully to reinforce the importance of treating everyone well.
A story to create WOW
Integrating best practices from the Ritz-Carlton with the way Danny Meyer created a restaurant empire, it becomes clear that building a great customer experience is not about one thing (a catchy slogan, a big CS team, etc.) but about a process. First you need to create the appropriate mentality across your organization, then hire the right people, train them consistently and focus on (and measure) delivering what the customer does not even realize they want. With these elements in place, you will create a customer experience that accelerates engagement and retention of your customers and translates into higher profits.
- Ritz-Carlton, one of the most profitable hospitality groups, leverages creating a great customer experience to build its competitive position
- To provide an exceptional experience, you need a message that your organization can rally around; for the Ritz-Carlton it is: the answer is yes; . . . now what is the question?
- You then need to build a team focused on delivering that experience, from hiring correctly, to training and then empowering.
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