“The customer is always right.”
With five simple words, the great Cesar Ritz transformed the world of hospitality, bypassing subtlety in declaring the guest as the centre point about which everything else would move.
Further encouragement to “be attentive without being servile” and “anticipate without being presumptuous” solidified Cesar’s legacy as a luxury hotelier and pioneer in the art of anticipatory service.
Today, successful Brands across a multitude of industries cling to the perspective of tailoring innovative and creative aspects of an experience to meet the perceived needs of their customer.
Overlooked within this concept of intuitive service is the answer to a simple question: What matters most?
I was supporting a luxury resort that featured a working farm on premise. The Farm offered a variety of seasonal produce; eggs from chickens, ducks, and quail, and honey from several apiaries.
One resort experience involved guests meeting with a Chef, planning a menu together, and picking their own herbs and vegetables to pair with a selected protein.
The Chef would then prepare either lunch or dinner al fresco in the peaceful and serene environment of The Farm.
It was a popular amenity and one that I would highlight in a Service Training exercise. After working through the description, I posed the question to one of our new Ladies: “Would you enjoy having lunch at The Farm?”
Her initial response was in the form of a question: “How much does it cost?”
I told her the price: $400 for two. “Well, I’d love to do it,” she said, “but I don’t have that kind of money.”
Learning was happening in the moment. I then offered, “What if I gave you $400 and said have lunch on me at The Farm?”
“I’d do it in a heartbeat.”
A heartbeat . . . that’s where the true essence of Cesar Ritz’s legacy exists.
Applying the concept of intuitive service relies on intention. Understanding how your customer wants to feel, the emotional content and storytelling aspects of an experience far outweigh some of the more tangible and pragmatic items we’ve come to rely on.
Value isn’t defined by how much something costs or how quickly it can be produced, but what it means from a sensory and spiritual perspective.
Communicating this concept to those providing service unleashes another level of Empathic Empowerment: not just the authority to do what’s necessary, the awareness to do what matters most.
I’ll begin many service workshops with a question: Why will a customer or guest choose our Brand?
While responses may fluctuate depending on industry, the exercise begins the process of seeing from a guest’s perspective. Verbally identifying elements of attraction is the first step toward creating awareness of value.
After capturing responses, the question is then rephrased: How many of these responses match the reasons you chose our Brand?
Even if there is only one match, a connection has been made, something from which we can build a stronger service relationship. There is a refined relevance, one that extends beyond a paycheck or basic job description.
Note: If you conduct this exercise and discover there are no matching elements, please contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org) . . . we’ll have some work to do.
This was the essence of Cesar Ritz’s “attentive without being servile”, so eloquently translated as the motto of today’s The Ritz-Carlton: Ladies and Gentlemen, serving Ladies and Gentlemen.
You must be able to see yourself worthy and capable of sharing an experience. This is especially important in luxury brands, wherein the service provider seldom lives a luxury lifestyle.
Drawing a parallel through basic human attraction creates depth of relevance and awareness. As in the example: Given the means and access, I would do __________ in a heartbeat.
The “customer is always right” is about 90% wrong.
True, if someone doesn’t like how their steak is prepared or how their dress fits, it doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. Delivery fell short of expectations, so fix it . . . no questions asked.
But the customer doesn’t know what you’re capable of, the potential within a toolbox of resources and assets at your fingertips.
They only know how they want to feel and trust that you will make it happen.
This relates to another facet of Cesar Ritz’s code, one in which he encourages staff to “see without looking, hear all without listening.”
Sensing the emotional and mental state of a customer through their body language, facial gestures, and tone becomes an invaluable asset.
You are free to create an experience from your palette of potential, brazenly cutting through the chaos to create something unique, personal, and memorable.
Chances are your customer won’t see it coming . . . but they’ll feel it in their heart.
An aspect of Cesar Ritz’s legacy often overlooked is the importance of accountability.
Pairing innovative ideas with a creative approach looks and sounds good on paper. Translating those into standard service execution inspires consistency, another critical element in a loyal and engaged relationship.
Devote energy to understanding the basic expectations of your customer and weave them into the fabric of your foundational service experience.
For example: Cesar Ritz enjoyed a long partnership and friendship with acclaimed French chef Auguste Escoffier.
Among Chef Escoffier’s many accomplishments was development of the Brigade System within the structure of a kitchen environment. He demanded order, cleanliness, and a disciplined approach to food preparation and menu execution.
There was an accountability for performance, a reliance on personal execution to support a group endeavor.
Why? Because he and Cesar Ritz wanted to provide their guests with options, known today as an a la carte menu.
This couldn’t be accomplished through chaos. Their joint vision elevated the profession of Chef while providing guests exposure to classic French haute cuisine.
It resulted in customer loyalty that transcended location.
The commitment to personalized service and attention to detail had become more valuable than the ornate qualities or design of a structure.
Reconsider: Exceeding Expectations
Popular sayings such as “Go the extra mile”, “Do more”, and “Wow the guest” leave more questions than answers: When does the first mile end, and the extra mile begin? Do more with what? How do I Wow?
Exceeding expectations isn’t measured in miles, it’s measured in heartbeats.
While Cesar Ritz was born into humble beginnings, he never stopped dreaming of how he wanted to feel. His was a deep appreciation for qualities often overlooked in a service interaction, such as genuine care, attention to details, and a sense of personal urgency.
Doing more was the result of doing less, simplifying an experience through acts of kindness and consideration.
This is relatable to all aspects of customer service, not limited to a luxury service environment.
For example: We were shopping for Mother’s Day cards, and the store was offering “Buy One, Get One”.
When we tried to apply the store coupon at self-checkout, we discovered it didn’t contain a scan code.
One of the store managers overseeing the area approached to assist. Recognizing the challenge, she escorted us to Customer Service, explained to the cashier how to credit the difference, and offered additional assistance before returning to her post.
My son said, “Wow, that went smooth.”
Now consider what was at stake:
We didn’t have to summon the manager; she noticed the red-light indicating assistance. We weren’t told “Go to customer service”; the manager escorted us there. Instead of doing a drop-off, the manager explained our situation to the cashier to avoid further questions. The offer of additional assistance? Just to close the loop.
By no means a luxury-level establishment, but an enriching experience, nonetheless.
The Feeling of Luxury
Yours may not be a luxury service environment, but it does have a heartbeat.
Creating memorable experiences that translate into loyal relationships begins with understanding Choice. Why would someone choose us?
Recognize what matters most, the emotional and spiritual connection with your product or service.
Follow through with determining Expectations, make a Commitment evident in basic standards, then follow your heart to Exceed Expectations.
Personal touches and genuine care transcend location, creating loyalty that extends beyond a facility. The customer may not always be right, but your service will come straight from the heart.
Thank you for spending your Tuesday with Tall Tim Talks!