5 Life-Changing Customer Service Secrets You Can Learn From Five-Star Hotels Dramatically improve the customer service at your business by emulating the great hotels, including The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons and Michael Dell's newest ultra-luxury property.
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As a customer service consultant and trainer, I'm the guy business owners ask to turn their company into "The Ritz-Carlton of Industry X" (retail banking, fintech, automotive retailing, B2B enterprises or whatever) or, nearly as often, "The Four Seasons of Industry Y."
In other words, companies in every sector of the economy look to the hospitality industry, especially the great luxury hotel brands, as the exemplar of exceptional customer service.
If you want your company's customer service to be so phenomenal that you're considered The Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons of your industry, here are five powerful secrets to get you there.
Related: 5 Tips to Win Back Lost Customers
1. Whenever an employee fields a customer request, they need to own it
One of the things that makes staying at a luxury hotel such a pleasure is that when you ask for something, the employee owns it. You'll never hear, "You'll need to call Lost and Found" or "You'll have to call our restaurant directly. Instead, you'll hear, "Absolutely. I'll take care of that right away."
What a breath of fresh air this is for a customer to hear, and what a powerful change in framing this is for your employee as well, who knows they are empowered to follow through from start to finish.
Emulate this in your own business. It's a powerful way to let customers know you'll always take good care of them, whatever that involves — and do it with minimal friction. And when customers realize that you and your people will never pass the buck, why would they go anywhere else?
2. Obsess over finding the right language to use with customers
Whenever I take on the task of customer service transformation for a company, one of the first steps I get them to take is to do what great hotels do: Stop taking language for granted, but instead engage in "language engineering," which is thinking through which words and phrases are likely to displease customers, and what they should be replaced with for better results.
For example, you never want to tell a customer, "To be honest with you"; what were you doing up to that point, lying to them point blank? Similarly, there is the "no problem" problem. While this colloquial phrase might be all right reassuring a customer after they've done something to inconvenience you (spilled their soda on the floor, for example), It's never the right thing to say when a customer goes out of their way to thank you — and you'll never hear it uttered at a Five Star hotel.
Why? It belittles the customer's kindness in giving you thanks, and it brings up the specter of a "problem" in the first place — not a concept you want hovering in the air. There are also multiple synonyms for telling a customer, in effect, "You're wrong." That should be avoided as well. Perhaps the customer is wrong, but it doesn't do you any good to make them feel wrong, especially before the issue has been explored. So, avoid, "That's not what happened," "We would never do that," "I beg to differ," and the like.
Instead of reflexively throwing one of these "you are wrongs" at your customer, listen attentively as the customer explains what (they feel) happened, and then gently probe to find where the disconnect may be, using language like "alternatively" and "perhaps."
Related: A Great Customer Experience Begins With Great Employee Engagement and Management. Here's Why.
3. Become fantastic at working with (and turning around) upset or disappointed customers
In the early days of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, they were so good at customer service recovery (appeasing and ultimately delighting unhappy guests) that they were rated #1 of all luxury brands at that time, even though their "defect rate" (the number of issues a guest experienced) wasn't much different from that at other hotels.
You, similarly, need to get fantastic at service recovery. Because things will go wrong at every business every day of the week. If you don't already have a service recovery framework in place, I suggest my well-known MAMA method.
The magical thing about service recovery is what's called "the service recovery paradox": the proven psychological principle that a customer who experiences a problem that you then resolve to their satisfaction is more (not less!) likely to become a loyal customer and advocate for a business than the customer for whom nothing ever went wrong. So there's tremendous power in getting this right.
Related: 5 Shocking Customer Service Mistakes You're Making Every Day (And How to Fix Them Right Now)
4. Strive to always default to yes
A grand hotel is one of the few businesses that follow the principle that "The answer is yes; I just need to hear what your question is." And this attitude permeates these customer-focused hospitality organizations. Guests, as a result, can sense right away that whatever they're looking for, requesting, demanding, or even the hotel's answer is going to be yes, regardless of what that involves.
This is a night-and-day contrast with the attitude customers encounter at so many other businesses, where employees are ready to throw the policy book at the customer and often explain why the answer needs to be no.
The newest Michael Dell-owned luxury property, The Boca Raton, offers a good example of applying the default of "yes" in the case of a guest who wants to have breakfast in the restaurant long after it's officially closed. They will set up a special corner of the restaurant for the guest or, if that's impossible, they'll set up breakfast for the guest at some other choice location on the property — outside to enjoy the sunny Southern Florida weather or inside by a cozy fireplace.
So, while you can't always say yes, never say no without providing one or more reasonable alternative yeses. It's a powerful way to up your customer service level across the board.
5. Give your customers the personal recognition they desire
One thing I've learned in my many years as a customer service consultant is that customers are loyal to businesses that recognize them as valuable human beings. Think how well great hotels (and their onsite restaurants) follow this principle when you arrive in the lobby (or at your car) and you're greeted by name. Or when the owner or chef takes the time to visit your table and thank you for your business.
As in a great hotel, do everything you can at your own business to never leave a customer unrecognized and feeling unappreciated. Because even though no customer will sidle up to your service counter and proclaim, "I demand that you provide attention and recognition to me as the unique individual I am," most customers are hoping for this. And if you provide it, it becomes a powerful force in driving repeat business and even loyalty for life.