What Happens When You Really Meet People's Needs

I arrived by taxi at the hotel gate. The security guard inquired whether I was checking in. When I said yes, he requested my name and then waved us on. A minute or two later, we arrived at the front door. Two bellmen greeted me: "Welcome to the Ritz Carlton, Mr. Schwartz." It may sound staged, but I'm here to tell you it worked.

I felt special, and welcomed. They had me at hello.

Ritz-CarltonI was in Key Biscayne to give a talk to the 80 Ritz Carlton general managers around the world. Soon after I arrived, I was in the lobby chatting with one of the managers from another Ritz hotel. At some point, half-joking, I mentioned that my only misgiving about the Ritz is that it serves Pepsi products, and I'm a Diet Coke guy.

The next time I returned to my room, there was an ice bucket awaiting me, filled with a half dozen Diet Cokes. When I got into the car to leave for the airport the next afternoon, there was a cold Diet Coke in the drink slot in the back seat.

I've always appreciated Ritz Carlton hotels, and precisely for that sort of touch. This was my first opportunity to learn about how they achieve such a high level of service. The answer, I discovered over my 24 hour visit, confirmed one of my deepest beliefs:

How well you meet the needs of your employees is how well they'll ultimately meet the needs of your customers.

Thousands of companies talk about the importance of customer service. Very few are committed to treating employees with the same level of care. The Ritz Carlton management is,

A few examples of how they do it:

  1. The spirit of the place is captured in the company motto: "We are ladies and gentleman serving ladies and gentlemen." Yea, I know it's straight out of a Jane Austen novel and sounds stilted in these times. But in a world characterized by so little courtesy and care, it implied civility and respect, whether for a guest, a manager, a bellman, a desk clerk, or a maid.
  2. Every employee carries around a pocket-size card that includes the company's motto, its credo (beginning with "The Ritz Carlton is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission"), a list of 12 service principles and 3 key steps of service. More interestingly, every employee can name everything on that card.
  3. The morning lineup, held in all departments in all hotels, is where employees gather for practical updates, but also to hear each day about a particular example of great customer service by some Ritz Carlton employee, and then talk about how it connects to one of their service principles.
  4. Management seems to genuinely believe that no employee is more important than any other, and, that every one of them is critical to creating a great, seamless experience for guests. It was a young bellman, for example, who was chosen to conduct morning lineup for the general managers—in the form of a skit. This bellman was amazingly self-possessed and impressive. If I had been told he was the manager of the hotel, I would have believed it. That's bench strength.
  5. Every employee of every Ritz hotel has the right to spend up to $2000 a day per guest to resolve any problem that arises. It's a powerful expression of trust in employees, as well as a gift of empowerment and autonomy. It's also vastly better for guests. How many times have you been told, over the years, "I'll have to go to my manager about that"?
  6. The employees I met shared a palpable pride in serving a mission that transcends the bottom line. It begins with the passion to provide unparalleled service, but it extends to something incredibly uncommon in our fractious world: a commitment to caring for one another, and truly making each other better.

To the credit of the Marriott Corporation—which bought the Ritz in 1998—they've left the Ritz executives relatively free to maintain and nurture their unique culture. The Ritz's commitment to service and to its people is expensive. Given the cost-containment pressures created by the recession, a high standard is harder than ever to maintain.

What's undeniable is the bottom-line power of the culture the Ritz has created. The company's turnover rate is a fraction of the average for the industry. Its employee engagement scores are significantly above the best in class benchmarks. Several years ago, the company estimated that each rise of one per cent in employee engagement translated into as much as $10 million in additional annual revenues.

The formula seems simple enough: Truly meet the needs of your employees and they'll be more engaged, they'll better the needs of your clients and customers, and you'll be more profitable. How come more companies don't get that?

Reprinted from TonySchwartz.com

Tony Schwartz is President and CEO of The Energy Project, a company that helps individuals and organizations fuel energy, engagement, focus, and productivity by harnessing the science of high performance. Tony's most recent book, The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs that Energize Great Performance, was published in May 2010 and became an immediate The New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. Follow him on Twitter @TonySchwartz.

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