“If you're blue and you don' know, where to go to, why don't you go, where fashion sits? Putting On The Ritz." - From Putting On the Ritz, by Irving Berlin
Is it possible for a company with 38,000 employees in 24 countries to serve millions of customers and deliver a consistently superior customer experience almost every time? I mean not just good customer service but a truly superior customer experience? The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has done it for years. In fact they make it look simple. From the time you pull up to the hotel entrance where you are greeted by name the staff begins immediately living up to their motto: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen, serving Ladies and Gentlemen”.
Whether I’ve been traveling for business or for pleasure every stay at a Ritz-Carlton was a great experience. I’ve been to three different properties and each stay had that very similar and familiar Ritz-Carlton feel. It would be incorrect to assume that just because the room rates are high and the meals are expensive that you are guaranteed an exemplary customer experience. It’s not that easy. It takes more than high prices, grand properties with breath-taking views and luxurious rooms to create a wonderfully memorable customer experience. Elegant and luxurious properties certainly enhance the experience but the real customer experience is delivered by the Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s the people and in the case of the Ritz-Carlton hotels it’s mostly the same people. Turn-over for Ritz-Carlton is very low, in fact significantly lower than industry standards. Companies that strive to deliver an outstanding customer experience must first deliver an outstanding employee experience. Ritz Carlton understands this. The first line of their employee promise says, “At the Ritz-Carlton our Ladies and Gentlemen are the most important resource in our service commitment to our guests”.
Last year I attended a course at the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center to learn how they are able to consistently deliver their “Legendary Service”. During the two days I was given a figurative and literal peek behind the curtain. I learned about the Ritz-Carlton Gold Standards. This set of values is the foundation of their company and employee culture; and the reason they are able to deliver the experience they do. The Gold Standards are the foundation of their culture. While there I had the chance to observe employees during their daily stand-up meeting. At every shift change each employee attends a 15 minute stand up meeting where, among other business, one element of the Gold Standard is recited and discussed. So every day the same topic is discussed by all 38,000 employees around the world. This is just one example of how Ritz-Carlton is able to sustain their culture and keep their values fresh and in the minds of every single employee. Each day I was able to speak with employees in a group setting to hear their “story” and to ask them questions. These employees very clearly embrace the company culture; they live it and take extreme pride in being a Ritz-Carlton employee. The stories I heard and the answers they gave were heart-warming. A couple of employees got choked up when sharing their experiences because they love this company so much. And these were not sophisticated managers or slick executives; these were cooks, house-keeping personnel, office staff, and bell hops. The Ladies and Gentlemen delivering the experience to you and me.
Companies cannot deliver a superior customer experience with unhappy or apathetic employees. Customer satisfaction goes hand-in-hand with employee satisfaction, just like the Ritz-Carlton’s Employee Promise suggests. Companies who on one hand strive to deliver a good customer experience but on the other hand do not create and sustain an employee centric culture are doomed to deliver mediocre service at best. The point is not to say that every company should adopt Ritz-Carlton’s specific Gold Standards and culture. No, that’s the Ritz-Carlton culture. But every company should have there own set of standards and values that target both customer and employee satisfaction. Every company has a culture; whether it’s driven from the top down or bottom up, there is company culture. Executives and shop-owners that ignore company culture will experience high turnover, low customer satisfaction scores, and lost revenue. Those executives and shop-owners that don’t ignore, but in fact embrace an employee and customer centric culture while considering it to be as important as the products and profits will enjoy low turnover and a much greater chance for success.
And those companies, my friends, will be “Putting On the Ritz”.