Discipline + Passion = Excellence In Customer Service

Be everywhere, do everything, and never fail to astonish the customer.
Macy’s Motto

A few years ago, John Gardner, the former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, made a profound observation. He said, “Some people have greatness thrust upon them. Few have excellence thrust upon them … they achieve it. They do not achieve it unwittingly by doing what comes naturally, and they don’t stumble into it in the course of amusing themselves. ALL excellence involves discipline and tenacity of purpose.”

He’s right … so very right. ALL excellence, including excellence in customer service, involves a tremendous amount of discipline that is fueled by a great deal of passion. I observed this first-hand last week when I was speaking to some of the spa managers and employees of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Naples, Florida.

Mind you, I’ve spoken at many Ritz Carlton hotels around the world when one of my clients decided to hold their meeting there and bring me in as a speaker. And in every case I’ve been impressed with their excellent service. But it’s quite another thing to actually have the Ritz Carlton as my client and learn how they continue to provide some of the best service in the world. Some would even say they are the “gold standard” when it comes to GREAT customer service.

So how do they do it? Here are a few things I noticed when I was there, and I pass them along, knowing if you will adapt these customer service practices to your business, you will undoubtedly have a better business.

1. Take care of your teammates.

As the head of the Marriott empire, which includes all the Ritz Carlton hotels, Bill Marriott says, “If we take care of each other, we will be able to take better care of our guests.”

Notice his choice of words. Marriott uses the word “care” twice in one sentence. It may sound like a rather soft, touchy-feely word for a profit-driven corporation, bit it makes hard-core sense. When teammates “care about” and “take care of” each other, they are motivated to give their customers their very best service.

I noticed that when I was speaking for the Ritz. Fred, who works in the loss prevention department, who didn’t even attend my seminar, heard about what I was teaching and affirmed everything I just said. He searched me out to tell me how he was inspired by Mr. Ed Staros, their CEO, because Mr. Staros does more than talk about respecting one another. He does more than tell his staff they should treat each other as individuals and treat each other as adults. He actually does it.

In fact, when Mr. Staros holds all-employee meetings, Fred said it is so different than the typical CEO giving the company vision and the company’s finances. Mr. Staros uses the “L” word and “P” word during these meetings … telling his teammates that he “loves” them and “prays” for them every day. And the staff feels his sincerity and his caring.

Tip: If you want your teammates to be committed to your customers, make sure you show your commitment to your teammates as well.

2. Instill pride.

Tina Su says, “When you are doing something you feel passionate about, it doesn’t feel like work and you don’t dread having to do it.”

So it’s no wonder that some organizations offer extraordinary service while others offer almost no service whatsoever. It boils down to the passion level of the service providers. If they are proud of what they do, they’ll keep on doing it, with enthusiasm and a positive attitude.

And a simple way to instill that pride is to catch people doing something right. Take the time to send thank-you notes to people. Within an hour of my presentations at the Ritz, the spa director Michelle Kelthy had sent me a note that read, “Your program was first rate. It exceeded our expectations in every way.”

Of course, it may be easier to praise some of your people more than others, because some of them are in jobs that are more out front and getting most of the attention. But everyone in the chain of customer service needs to have that same sense of pride. As Olympic gold medalist Mary Lou Retton says, “Each of us has a fire in our hearts for something. It’s our goal in life to find it and to keep it lit.”

And sometimes it’s our job to help people find and fuel their fire. Retton says, “Pay attention to your ‘quiet talent’. Find ways to recognize their consistency and dedication.”

Tip: Make your people feel proud of the service they provide.

3. Encourage employee development.

It never ceases to amaze me that the organizations who give the very best customer service want to get better and better. They’re never satisfied with being “pretty good,” and they’re never satisfied with merely “getting by.”

And that was the case with the Ritz Carlton. Despite the fact they’re internationally recognized as being one of the best in customer service, they aren’t content to stay at that level.

Herb Torres, one of the massage therapists, and incidentally the “5 Star Employee of the Year,” encouraged the Ritz to bring me in and speak on customer enthusiasm. And Michelle Kelthy, the spa director, took it a step further, making sure the training was available to everybody in her area, not just her managers.

Tip: Provide continual training so your people are not only experts at their job, but they’re also experts in serving others.

4. Make positive, lasting impressions.

Renee, a spa attendant at the Ritz Carlton, did that for me. He greeted me with the biggest smile, sincerely asked about my day, and when I was finished in the spa gave me a heartfelt goodbye … letting me know that he and his teammates would really miss me.

The Renaissance Hotel in Nashville also emphasizes the importance of making positive, lasting impressions. They teach their staff to “enthusiastically provide sincere personal service that will allow our guests to feel renewed and refreshed.” In other words, “show them we are passionate about their enjoyment and comfort.” Renee did all that and more for me … because he knew the value of making positive, lasting impressions.

It’s a lesson that one man needed to learn. As a local politician and as a member of the church congregation, he was chosen to honor their local priest who was retiring after 25 years of service. However, the politician was so late in arriving that the priest decided to say a few words while they waited.

He began by saying, “I got my first impression of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first person who entered my confessional told me he had stolen a television set and, when questioned by the police, was able to lie his way out of it. He had stolen money from his parents, embezzled from his employer, had an affair with his boss’s wife, taken illegal drugs, and gave VD to his wife. I was appalled. But as the days went on, I learned that all my people were not like that and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of good and loving people.

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies for being late. He immediately began his presentation by saying, “I’ll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived. In fact, I had the honor of being the first person to go to him for confession.”

Tip: Make the right impression right away. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.

5. Turn little courtesies into big memories.

Everywhere I went throughout the Ritz, I was greeted by employees who gave me a genuine smile and a warm hello. They took time to be friendly and courteous, no matter how busy they might have been.

Indeed, when I pulled up to the Ritz Carlton, driving my Toyota, I felt a little intimidated when most of the cars around me were much more expensive. But the doorman treated me with the same respect he gave the people who were driving Rolls Royces, Bentleys, and Jacquars. I felt welcome, comfortable, and important … the moment I arrived.

Those little courtesies kept on happening and turned into one big memory. When I walked into the Club Lounge to pick up a snack, the attendant Ezmerelda greeted me by name, saying, “Hello, Dr. Zimmerman. Welcome to our lounge.” I don’t know how she knew my name, but I immediately felt her respect. And every time I returned to the lounge she used my name again.

Tip: Remember and use your customer’s name. When you do so, they won’t forget the experience.

6. Customize your service.

The very best customer service providers are the ones who personalize their service … no matter what they’re selling. In other words, they take time to learn about each customer’s likes and dislikes and do their best to serve accordingly.

Kristen, my massage therapist at the Ritz, did that for me. Instead of simply giving me the “standard” massage that went through a predictable routine, she took the time to learn about any physical challenges I might have and “created” a massage experience based on that. Talk about cool!

Tip: Ask your customers about their wants and needs, and listen carefully to what they say and don’t say. Then customize your service to fit those wants and needs as best you can.

7. Find a way to say “yes.”

At the Ritz, the employees are empowered and entrusted to discover creative ways to delight every guest. So they’re always looking for ways to say “yes” to a customer’s request. Hopefully the same thing could be said about your employees.

The soldiers under the command of Sergeant Major Michele S. Jones were empowered to do that. As the first woman to serve as a Division Command Sergeant Major in the U.S. Army, and to achieve that rank in 14 years rather than the ordinary 20 years, she was a remarkable leader. As we shared the platform, speaking to another audience, she said, “Knowledge is only power when you share it. You’re not a leader if you have knowledge and keep it to yourself. After all, when you’re gone, the work will go on. But will it go on flawlessly? It will … if you give them the knowledge and the tools to do it when you’re not there.”

As Jones continued, “Make them think, not what to think. I don’t care how they do it if it is not immoral, illegal, or unethical.”

In a similar sense, that’s what the Ritz does when it tells its employees to “anticipate their guests’ needs and be flexible in responding to them.” They are taught to seek opportunities to create memorable experiences.

Tip: When you see a customer with a need, think of several ways you could say “yes” to meeting his need.

8. Be a problem solver.

You will only be remembered in life for two things — the problems you solve or the ones you create. And every customer relationship is formed because of the problem it solves. Indeed, problems are the only reason people continue to do business together. And when organizations and their customers stop solving problems for each other, they become a problem to each other.

The good news is … there is a fairly simply process you can use to be an effective problem solver with your customers.

First, see the problem through your customer’s eyes. See the world from her perspective. Try to understand the pressures, responsibilities, expectations, and demands that are placed upon her.

Second, ask questions. If your customer says something that sounds “off” or confusing, tell her “I’d like to know more about that.”

Third, understand her reasoning. Behind every problem there is a set of thoughts and feelings that seem to “justify” your customer’s complaint. By seeking to understand her reasoning, you build a bridge to mutual understanding.

Fourth, find a simple solution. Indeed, when one of my friends is confronted by a customer service rep who says “that is not our policy,” he immediately replies, “Well I have my policy manual with me, and it says right here, and I quote, that ‘It is my policy not to be limited by stupid rules!’ Now that we have competing policies, let’s see if we can discuss our way through this to find a simple solution that works for everyone.”

This is not a time to upset your customers. This is the time to serve them.

Tip: If you have any stupid rules that are killing off your customer service, start killing some of those rules.

If you want to bring the gold standard of customer service to your organization, pay attention to these 8 tips. And pay attention to the words of Alvan Macauley, the President of the Packard Motor Company, when he said, “We sometimes speak of winning a reputation as though that were the final goal. The truth is contrary to this. Reputation is a reward, to be sure, but it is really the beginning, not the end of an endeavor. It should not be the signal for a letdown, but rather, a reminder that the standards which won recognition can never again be lowered. From him who gives much, much is forever expected.”

Action:  Select two of the eight tips that you most need to improve. Write down five things you will do to improve in those areas. Do at least one of them … starting today.