The Secret to Ritz-Carlton’s Customer Service Mojo

By: on April 24, 2017

A few months ago, I attended an industry event where customer service guru and author Micah Solomon introduced me to the idea of “anticipatory service.” He gave the example of Apple’s mobile assistant Siri recommending a list of pharmacies in response to him saying, “I have a headache.”

“[Siri] looks for the question behind the question,” he told the audience. She fulfills both the expressed and unexpressed desires of the customer — a strategy he says extends into the company’s brick and mortar Genius Bar.

After the event, I was curious where Apple might have tapped into this idea and discovered the Forbes article, “How the Ritz-Carlton Inspired the Apple Store.” It turns out the hotel chain has a lot share when it comes to legendary customer service.

To unlock the secret to their customer service sauce, Ritz-Carlton connected me with Diana Oreck, who, at the time, was the vice president for the company’s executive training facility, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. Here’s some advice she shared:

Q. One of the Ritz-Carlton gold standards is “anticipate unexpressed needs.” Why is this important to customer service and how do you train employees to recognize and act on these 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.” We actually provide our team scenarios. One might be about a young couple that comes into the restaurant with a two-year-old baby. What should you do? You bring a high chair, you bring crayons, you bring our stuffed lion, Roarie. We do this because we know that it’s going to be through the unique, memorable and personable experiences that our customers are going to be fully delighted and engaged.

Q. Does Ritz-Carlton have standard characteristics, competencies or personality traits it looks for when filling customer service positions?

A. Absolutely. We want to make sure they have the spirit to serve. We want to make sure that they are caring. We want to make sure that they are the type of people that will take initiative because the reality is if you are just reacting to customers that’s not good enough to be competitive. We want people that really know how to anticipate. You’ve got to be quite sociable. You want to be interested in learning so if there’s an issue you want to get to the bottom of it.

Q. What sort of questions can you ask to find out if prospective employees are caring and anticipate customer wants and needs?

A. You want to make sure you don’t 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.”

Q. Ritz-Carlton puts a lot of emphasis on successful new hire orientation. Why is this important?

A. 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. You are making a very big decision in your life to either start a job or change a job. So, we feel orientation needs to be a significant emotional experience. And the reason we do that is we know that this creates passionate advocates of our employees. We don’t think that it’s realistic to ask that your customer be passionate, raving fans if your employees aren’t first.

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. 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. We’ve found that rewards and recognition are huge. Our first class card is our most popular form of recognition. 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. You can also become five-star of the quarter, we celebrate birthdays, we provide meals, summer picnics, holiday parties. The list goes on and on.

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

A. Not being specific. They’ll say things like, “Give great service.” Well that’s nice, but people need a road map. 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 symbolic. We are saying to our employees we trust you. We select the best talent. Just help the guest.

Q. I think that a lot of companies view customer service more as an expense rather than something that generates revenue. But I assume Ritz-Carlton doesn’t feel that way. Why?

A. We have data pretty much down to the penny that shows our fully-engaged guests are spending more nights in a Ritz-Carlton every year than any others. There is a direct correlation to profitability. I can assure you we would not be spending the kind of money we do on training and reinforcement if we didn’t think it was going to show us the money.

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