Lessons Learned at The Ritz-Carlton

Like many of my peers, partners, and friends who have been fortunate enough to be a part of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, I often find myself referring to moments, lessons, and steps that have formed the habits, attitudes, and behaviors I exhibit today in business as I advise companies on how to deliver meaningful and memorable customer experiences.

Customer experience is the focus for many companies today: in fact, according to Gartner Inc. in 2014, 89% of companies believe customer experience is the most important element on which they will compete. It is amazing to consider that over a hundred years ago the “hotelier of kings and the king of hoteliers,” Cesar Ritz, emphasized the guest experience as one of the most important priorities to focus on. I guess that is why the hospitality industry, and especially luxury hotel brands like The Ritz-Carlton, are looked at for insights into this important focus today. So what did I, and my Ritz peers, learn?

Respect Your Staff

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Just because you have a title does not require your staff to respect you; you earn that by how you treat your staff. While the motto, “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” emphasizes the importance of every employee in creating great guest experiences, it also reminds us as managers that every person working in the hotel, no matter where they are from or what they do, deserves our respect and acknowledgement.

Share Strategy, Scores, & Plans

Horst Schulze is famous for his quote, “We make sure our employees are engaged in the strategies of our company, because that’s the only way they become a part of the company, rather than just coming to work and fulfilling a function.” Yet, many companies today fail to inform their staff of their objectives, current results, and plans for improvement. It is no wonder that 70% of workers, according to Gallup in 2014, are either disengaged or in status quo.

Communicate Daily

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The daily lineup was the core of our communication and socialization process. Every day we talked about our culture and what was important. No matter how busy we were, we ensured every staff member had the opportunity to hear and be heard on our priorities. If you want to imbed your culture into your team, and have people really focus on what is important, then you need to talk about it every day. Many managers we talk to continue to say they are too busy to meet every day: my response is simple, “The question is never whether or not you are busy, but what you are busy about.” If you are not communicating to your people every day you are busy about the wrong things as a leader. If Rudy Giuliani had time for a daily meeting every day during the 911 crisis when he was Mayor, then you too have time.

Select for Character & Skills

Select the right person, not just a warm body. The emphasis was never on the prospective candidate with the most experience or best skills, but rather the person with the best character. It is a mistake to only consider skill and experience when you hire. It is critical for your mutual success that they fit in and display the personality traits the role requires, and in most cases today, that means being great at making others feeling good. I understand the pressure many managers feel to fill positions, but this is one time when it is okay, even expected, to take your time.

Always Improve

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There was a constant focus on improvement and doing things better at The Ritz-Carlton. There was this constant drive and challenge to be the best. Every month we shared good ideas, and staff was encouraged to participate, (as a manager, it was better for your staff to come up with the good idea than you, because it showed that you were engaging your people in discussions and the responsibility to improve). As the manager, you did not have to have all the good ideas, but you did have to know where to find them. Your staff was the best place to start.

Create an Immaculate Environment

I go to so many beautiful hotels, restaurants, stores, and places where you can tell millions of dollars were spent on the physical place, and yet they are dirty, disorganized, or badly maintained. Parking, entrances, desks, offices, and displays can all create bad first impressions, because no one considers the finer details of guest expectations. Everyone involved in your business is responsible for the cleanliness and maintenance of your place, and if they are not, then you don’t understand what is important to your guests. Nothing sets this example better for your team than seeing a c-level executive bend down to pick up a stray napkin off the ground.

Deliver Great Customer Experiences

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Your product or service is merely the vehicle to making guests or customers feel good. As I work with companies on their customer experience, this point often stands out the most. Companies still focus too much time on their products and services, without the understanding that those things are merely a reason to make someone feel good. Whatever your business, if you are dealing with customers, then every employee’s number one task is to work out how to make each person feel good. In today’s modern world, it is the experience that surrounds or is afforded by the thing that matters the most. If you are not committed to making your customers feel good, then you are not in line with what the modern consumer values.

I know none of what I have written is new or surprising, but it is true and valuable for those focused on delivering great customer experiences. It is also a good reminder for those of us who do adhere to these simple ideals every day, but still get caught up in business administration, crises, and distractions every day. I hope this helps you. Thanks for reading.

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