A Recent Event Highlight – Legendary Customer Service Secrets from The Ritz-Carlton

by Sander Coxe on September 22, 2013

Coxe AlexanderOn Tuesday July 16, 2013, the NYLMA took a break from the record-setting humidity to be treated to a delightful and uplifting presentation at the Ritz-Carlton by their own in-house answer to Emily Post, Diana Oreck.  Diana, an impossibly warm, charming and energetic personality, is the Vice President of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, and their passionate expert and mentor on all things customer service. She has led countless sessions teaching and mentoring Ritz-Carlton employees and speaks regularly to outside groups.

Through funny and illuminating anecdotes, a powerful slide show and a little bit of interactive participation at the end, Diana took us behind the curtain to share the wisdom of one of the world’s leading hospitality brands and how these principles can be applied to everything we do.  She asked us not to share too many of the particulars of her presentation so we’ll try and cover it in broad strokes in an effort not to make things too easy for their competition.

Fierce Competition – The Power of Surprise and Delight

Diana gave us examples of the tools of her trade that are employed to help make the customer and hotel guest feel special. Databasing customer preferences, prior stays, birthdays, and anniversaries and using that data to communicate throughout the year are invaluable.  But the deeper emotional connection really happens in the personal, face-to-face experience.

Like the hyper competitive legal marketplace, there is little room for error in hospitality, and the service provider who does the most to create that memorable experience and personal connection with their client or potential client wins the day. Diana emphasized the importance of putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer/client, and reminded us that a brand is not the product you sell, or a logo, or a slogan, but in fact is the intangible feeling or emotion that is evoked by the product or service – the experience it creates.

“Surprise and Delight” is everywhere in the marketing ether and to create these good feelings, Diana teaches her teams that kindness and respect must never be turned off.  Satisfaction lies in more than just getting what you expect.  You must seek to satisfy both the expressed and unexpressed wishes of the client – to truly engage them and inspire them.  We’ve all been treated with contempt at one time or another in our retail experiences as customers, and Diana urges us all to keep those memories fresh – so we know what NOT to do.  Ritz-Carlton president Hervé Humler, put it another way after the Ritz-Carlton won an industry honor for outstanding customer service: “Ok, we’ve just been honored as the best of a lousy lot. Enjoy it for 3 minutes and get back to work.”

In hospitality, the way to the customer’s heart is through showing love, respect and attention to what they value most – families, children, grandchildren, pets.  The same is true for legal – we need to make clear that we care about the client on a personal and human level.  Great client service can only come when you create within yourself that sincere and genuine interest in your client’s wellbeing, and are able to communicate to them that solving their legal problems is a part of the bigger dance of improving their lives.

It may all sound a little warm and fuzzy at first blush but do ask yourself, as Diana urged us to, when am I on autopilot?  And what happens when I am not fully engaged?   What is the difference in result between any act that your heart is completely invested in, and one where you just want to get through it?  Being a professional means giving everything your all.  Create a mindset of love for your work and commit completely to doing it.

One of the most memorable insights Diana shared is how the culture of any organization is set at the top.  In one cautionary tale Diana gave the “trash” example, if you will.  If the General Manager of the hotel walks down the hall and sees a piece of trash on the floor, what does he or she do? They pick it up.  Not just because the floor should be clean but because of the example that sets.  If a staff worker sees the GM walk by that trash on the floor and not pick it up, that sends the message that it is not important.  If the customer sees that happen, the conscious and unconscious message is that the people here do not care about doing their best, so they must not truly care about their guests.

Along the same lines, Diana teaches that the culture of the organization must be understood by everyone.  ALL employees must be able to articulate the principles of service and perpetuate the culture.  As the above example indicates, and I can speak to it from my own restaurant days as well, if something needs to be done, do not wait for someone else to do it.  Everyone must take responsibility for the organization, for themselves and for their results.

Indeed, as Diana tells it, customer service, business development and organizational integrity have a massive emotional component to them – the best of the work comes from the heart.  We must train ourselves to be genuinely interested in our clients’ needs and never turn that off.  And the same goes for our colleagues.  Treat them just as you would the clients. Kindness and respect begets more kindness and respect.  Just like any significant personal relationship, we must have empathy for our clients, work to anticipate and fulfill their needs, expressed or unexpressed, to the best of our ability.

Alexander “Sander” Coxe is the Director of Marketing and Communications at Bernstein Litowitz Berger & Grossmann LLP.

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