I got my customer service ‘education’ early in my career when I worked for the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company during the nineties when they had properties in Sydney. In my final role there as a member of the quality management team, I was exposed more than most to the systems used to deliver world beating quality and service. But looking back I probably still didn’t have the experience or maturity at the time to fully appreciate what they did and why it worked. That’s a nice way of saying that having worked for many lesser companies over the years, it’s only now I fully appreciate how the Ritz Carlton went about things – and still do these days.
One of those things at the heart of the company’s culture is their motto, which with the benefit of some more life experience I can now understand more from a wider perspective than I could back when I worked there. It draws a clear line in the sand when it comes to identifying those who they want working for them, and the type of customer they want in their business:
Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.
Sounds simple enough at first but when you start thinking about the philosophy that is implicit in those seven words it becomes so much more. Most apparent is the expectation that employees will behave in a certain way towards their guests and each other. But then it takes another turn. It’s also a statement about the type of relationship they want to see between guests and hotel staff.
Employees at the Ritz Carlton are taught to think of customer service and hospitality as a profession, not just a way to make ends meet until something better comes along. As such, when you stay at a Ritz Carlton you will be treated with warmth, courtesy and respect and the same is expected in return – including on those inevitable occasions when something doesn’t go quite right. It is made clear to staff that they are not there to be abused or treated with disdain by guests and are within their rights to ask someone to adjust their behaviour if it’s not appropriate. I’ve personally seen managers make a reservation at another hotel brand for guests who thought it was their ‘right’ to be aggressive and treat hotel staff like something they stepped in.
Essentially what they are saying is “We are great at what we do and we have the conviction to make sure that only those who appreciate our professionalism and share our values come into our circle – regardless of whether they work for us or stay with us”.
Too often businesses get caught in a place where they lose sight of their core values in favour of whatever they are dealing with in the heat of the moment. They might try to be everything to everyone and are afraid to let any customer go even when that customer isn’t really a good fit with their business. The ones who suffer in this case are usually the staff who have to put up with a lot of heat from customers they are not equipped to serve. Then some business are at the other end of the spectrum. They are too complacent about the demand for their service and are happy to burn customers knowing that someone else will soon come along. Neither of these situations serve anyone well in the long run.
When it comes to creating a fulfilling experience for both staff and customers, I think there is a lot to be said for setting a standard and only inviting those into your business that appreciate the value of what you do.