What Can We Learn from The Ritz-Carlton to Grow our Brand?

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For those of you that have stayed or at least visited a Ritz-Carlton Hotel it’s one of the best. Everything is just right. The service is impeccable, the cleanliness is noticeable, and the experience is like no other. Of course, for all of this, you will pay handsomely to stay there.  Despite this, they have no problem filling the rooms because of what they have created: a unique experience for all patrons.  Although we may or may not be recognized as the Ritz-Carlton in our perspective businesses, we can all learn from how they brand themselves in order to attract top paying and long-term clients.

For the purpose of this article I’d like to talk a little bit about using language that can have a direct impact on how a prospect and a customer feels about you and your organization.  I will give some example phrases of some things that can help you achieve this and some of that language will be things we should do and others will be things that we should not.

Let’s start with a phrase that all Ritz-Carlton employees are taught. If there is something that cannot be done or honored, no employee, from the custodian to the front desk, is allowed to say, “We can’t”. Now, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they honor each request. One thing they teach their staff is to simply phrase it differently. Why? Because when you tell someone, “No”, or “We can’t do that”, or even, “We don’t do it that way”, you create a barrier between you and the customer. 

Instead, employees at the Ritz-Carlton are taught to use phrases like, “Can I tell you what I can do for you?  “This simple variation in language does not create a barrier. In fact, it actually spins the same phrase into a positive light. It is a solution-based communication in other words, and people like it. 

Another similar phrase that can be used in the same light is to simply say to someone, “The best I can do is…”, and then offer an alternative that you can do.  This creates a similar positive outcome.  We don’t have to tell them, “No”.  I think most will agree that the word “no” has a negative connotation. 

Some studies suggest that in the first year, children are told, “no” an average of 400 times per day.  No wonder we view it as a negative word!  Frequently, salespeople offend the prospect by telling them one of the pre-mentioned phrases. They don’t realize they sound condescending or how it is affecting their long-term relationship. Unfortunately, this may cause some customers and prospects to look elsewhere, and the salesperson doesn't even realize it.

Branding your company, whether you are one person or many, is using systems of communication like those suggested.

The way we respond and react to situations can create an emotional positive or negative experience for our prospects.  

Something else that the Ritz-Carlton is known for is how they communicate after taking care of an issue.   At one time, they were each taught to say, “It was my pleasure,” followed with a warm smile after they were thanked.  Although a good idea at the start, they received some very unusual looks after they performed tasks like unclogging a toilet, being thanked and then exclaiming, “It’s been my pleasure”. They had to adjust the phrasing, but I think you get the idea.

Another such phrase is a question. When you’re presenting a solution to someone’s issue, instead of simply telling them what you will do to take care of it, what if you asked it as a question to verify that your remedy is acceptable to them?  As example, “If we did ____, would that solve this?”.  I was at a wedding in Florida once at a Ritz-Carlton. There was a problem in the ballroom, and I was trying to help the wedding party out.  When I approached the front desk to discuss it, they didn’t simply offer a solution that they thought would be agreeable. They did exactly what I’m discussing here.  Their words were “I’m sorry that happened. If we did ______, would that be acceptable?“.   I told them that it would and they immediately took care of it in the fashion that we both agreed upon. The situation was taken care of and everyone was happy.  To top it off, towards the end of the evening that person found me and asked if I was happy with the way that it turned out.  A very nice gesture.

“Do you feel I understand?“  You know, I’ve been in sales my entire career.  I’ve also been a consumer my entire life.  In that time, I cannot recall a time where a salesperson asked me if I felt they understood all of my concerns.  Simply by asking this one question you will differentiate yourself and you will brand yourself again as a top player in your field.  Not to mention, their reply will tell you exactly how they feel about you and your ability to help them.

You may have noticed in a paragraph before this one that the person at the Ritz-Carlton said to me, “I’m sorry that happened”.  We teach that if something does go wrong on the site, or during the process, there is very little need to simply say you are sorry. Most will admit that they just want the problem to go away.  Saying, “sorry” sometimes actually makes it worse.  The worst situation is when a salesperson apologizes over and over again, especially when it was not their fault. When we say we are sorry we are oftentimes admitting fault.  I hear this phrase with salespeople when they didn’t call back right away or they couldn’t get the delivery quicker, as example.  In the case of not calling back quickly, maybe the salesperson didn’t call back quickly because they were so busy helping other customers.  Why are we apologizing for being good at our job? In the case with deliveries, if they want something sooner then we can provide it maybe it’s because it’s such a popular item and simply not available quickly. In this case, the same applies. Why should we apologize? Now, you’ll notice that the lady at the hotel said “I’m sorry that happened“.   Putting it this way, we’re not accepting blame, but we are being empathetic to the situation, which is perfectly OK. Sometimes, one can even say, “If I were you, I’d feel the same way”. This accomplishes the same. Be careful about apologizing when things aren’t your fault. Unfortunately, it makes us look like we’re unorganized, unstructured or simply irresponsible.  

This next one is less language than it is a system. There is a customer service phrase out there that we teach called Total Contact Ownership. This means that whomever takes a problem or request from a customer manages that expectation until it is completed. It doesn’t necessarily mean they have to do the task themselves, but they must follow through with the person they are handing it to internally and make sure the customer was contacted in a reasonable amount of time.  If you’ve ever been in a situation where that didn’t happen, you will feel my frustration. You’ve requested something from a company, you’ve left a message for someone and they told you it would be taken care of or forwarded to another individual.  Time goes by and nothing happens. How frustrating!  All that needed to be done in this case is for the person that took the call to follow up with the person they gave it to so that someone can get back to the customer in a reasonable amount of time. There’s nothing worse than having to call a company a second time with the same request. 

Armed with this new language, the persona of our organization starts to take on a whole new light to our prospects and our customers. Slowly, wonderful things happen. They start telling others about your organization about the service level you provide.  They give you the benefit of the doubt when something does go wrong.  They re-order from you and resist lower prices from other competitors because they know what they get when they come to your company. There are is study after study about how hard it is to get a new customer. Even if you’re not aware of the statistics I think we can all agree that it is much more difficult to find a new customer then it is to keep an existing one. I hope that these strategies are just a few that you can employ this year so that you can have the remainder of 2020 be highly prosperous for you and your organization.