For years, I've admired the Ritz-Carlton Hotel brand. In fact, one of my favorite books is The New Gold Standard, by Joseph A. Michelli. In his book, Michelli takes us behind the scenes of a hotel chain that has set the gold standard for service across all industries. This topic is of particular interest to me, as I help clients become the Ritz-Carlton of their industries. Or at least I did.
I'm sorry to report folks, that all that glitters is not gold. From the moment I made my reservation, I prepared myself to have an experience unlike any other. Unfortunately, my dreams came true. Only not exactly like I imagined.
I checked into the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida and was immediately handed my own personal business card with the designation, "guest in residence." I thought, "How lovely!" Little did I know this card really meant, "Make yourself at home." And I do mean at home.
As road warriors know, travel requires the ability to follow the rules, especially if you want to get past the TSA with your carry on luggage in hand. This means placing all your liquids in one quart-size clear, zip top plastic bag. Otherwise you will be forced to check your luggage.
Apparently the plastic bag lesson hasn't been taught at the Ritz. While unpacking, I noticed leakage in my quart size bag. I rinsed the bag out and hung it over the bathroom faucet to dry. When I returned to my room, the bag was gone. I thought, "No problem. I'm staying at a place known for their exceptional service. All I have to do is ask and this problem will quickly be resolved."
I placed a call to the front desk requesting a quart-size plastic bag. From their reaction, you would have thought I had made some bizarre request, similar to those usually reserved for rock stars. I was told that there were no plastic bags to be found. I was then referred to housekeeping. They sent someone to my room with a plastic bag for my ice bucket, because they didn't have the size I requested. I called back again explaining that this would not do. I then waited for their reply.
Silence. I then asked, "How might we resolve this problem?" Housekeeping assured me they would call back after checking around in the kitchen. No returned call. I called housekeeping again and asked, "How do you think we can fix the problem you created?" Silence. So I did what I thought any other guest in residence would have done. I made myself at home and took care of the matter myself. In my final attempt I said, "Well, here's what I am going to do. I am going to put my shoes on and I am going to walk into town and purchase my own plastic bags at Whole Foods."
At this point in time, I thought surely one of two things would have happened. They either would have sent their own person to purchase the bags or they would have offered to drive me to the store in one of their cars. Neither option was offered. Upon returning from my walk about, I handed the package of bags to the front desk to ensure another guest would not be sent packing for their own bags.
To some, this issue might seem trite. To me, this clearly demonstrates that if you are the one to set the bar, you have a minimum obligation to meet the expectations of those who are paying a premium to use your service or product. Otherwise you may as well be ordinary like everyone else.
As for me, the next time I have a client tell me they want to become the Ritz-Carlton of their industry, I'm going to encourage them to set their own standard. Who knows, if service failures like these are happening throughout their system, it may not be long before the Ritz starts knocking on my client's doors for training.
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Roberta Chinsky Matuson is the President of Human Resource Solutions and author of the new book, Suddenly in Charge! Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around (Nicholas Brealey, January 2011). Visit Roberta's Blog at Generations at Work or her Linked-in Group Suddenly in Charge! Sign up to receive a complimentary subscription to Roberta's monthly newsletter, HR Matters.