Now Thats Customer Service!

Speaker Alan Weiss tells the story of an experience he had a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He arrived an hour before his presentation to the Automotive Dealers Association only to find the room was arranged wrong. He called the banquet captain and a crack team of professionals showed up and in 20 minutes transformed the room. They changed the lighting, rearranged the table and chairs, brought in extra tables

Speaker Alan Weiss tells the story of an experience he had a Ritz-Carlton Hotel. He arrived an hour before his presentation to the Automotive Dealers Association only to find the room was arranged wrong.

He called the banquet captain and a crack team of professionals showed up and in 20 minutes transformed the room. They changed the lighting, rearranged the table and chairs, brought in extra tables -- all in record time.

"The automotive people are going to love this room now. Thank you!" Alan said with gratitude.

"Automotive people?" the banquet captain replied. "This room is for the Steel Manufacturers Association!"

Alan's heart sank. Without missing a beat he replied: "Oh. Well, do they need a speaker because the room is perfect for me!"

Recently I had the supreme joy of conducting a Team Building Seminar for a Fortune 500 company. The location was the Amelia Island, Fla., Ritz-Carlton.

It was a wow! Everything about the stay was first class. My room wasn't ready when I arrived but the staff found one anyway. When my bags were brought up, both my shoes were shined, complimentary, of course. The food was five-star.

Every employee greeted me as if I was a visiting dignitary from a foreign country. I have never felt more welcome. I needed copies made at the last minute, no questions asked, delivered to the room. I needed an extra table, three minutes later, there it was. The artwork, the statues, the plants, the gift shop, the pool, restaurant, lobby were all first class.

Mostly it was the attitude of the people there. Positive, kind, polite, I have never felt more spoiled. Then I flew back to Seattle and did a seminar at that crummy, rundown Sheraton. Not really.

What had changed? My expectations. You see, the Ritz-Carlton had raised the service/quality bar. Now, everyone else does not measure up. My wife tells me I have to lower my expectations when I come home.

Karen Brune Mathis identified the causes of the Ritz-Carlton's success in an article in the Florida Times Union newspaper. She writes:

"We've probably all heard 'the golden rule' -- do unto others as you would have them do unto you (or to your parents, children, spouse or best friends). In fact, the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center charges up to $1,700 a person for a heavy dose of customer service instruction. For many people, though, it seems to be an elusive concept."

Being nice is the best customer service and co-worker treatment there is. It doesn't cost much, and it can pay off big time. People like to work and do business with people they like.

Don't think it makes you lose your competitive edge, either. The luxury hotel industry is extremely competitive and emphasizes the importance of employees being nice to customers and one another.

At the Ritz-Carlton, employees are trained to show their manners at all times to guests and to one another, and to be helpful, well groomed, courteous, respectful, observant and discreet. The training convinced me that any company and employee could at least make an attempt. And while I can't speak for every Ritz-Carlton employee, those I met made the grade.

On average, 10 to 15 employees are "selected" from among 250 applicants each month. With 600 to 700 employees, the hotel is one of Nassau County's largest employers, drawing from northeast Florida and southeast Georgia.

Prospective hourly employees are interviewed several times and asked dozens of questions designed to reveal their natural talents and abilities, including what should be no-brainers, such as "How often do you wash your hands every day?" and "Do you throw trash out of car windows?"

The process and its unexpected questions, along with subsequent training, yield results. Human resources director Greg Bardes said voluntary turnover at the hotel is 26%, significantly below the 50% turnover rate for the industry, according to the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

That can be costly. Human Resource Executive Magazine estimates that it costs up to $10,000 to recruit, hire and train a new hotel or resort employee.

It also helps that the Ritz-Carlton offers a benefits and retirement package and other perks that include an onsite employee restaurant where workers eat for free, uniform maintenance, educational assistance and discount room rates at other Ritz-Carltons and Marriotts, as well as discounts at Ritz-Carlton restaurants and shops. Bardes calls the pay "extremely" competitive.

I decided I am going back to this beautiful hotel with my family. I better not tell the Steel people ... they already have a speaker.

Mark Matteson of the Pinnacle Service Group can be reached by phone at 877/672-2001, by fax at 425/745-8981, by e-mail at [email protected] or visit his website at www.mattesonavenue.com. His new e-book, "101 Stories to Make You Laugh, Cry or Think," will be available in September.