We arrived at the Ritz, and our impression was . . .
Wow, they really messed up.
Someone, somewhere, failed to deliver a spotlessly clean hotel room. We were disappointed.
What we saw failed to live up to the standard expected from one of the best hotel organizations in the world. We did not feel the Ritz Carlton experience at that moment. We discovered the condition of the room too late to do anything about it that evening. With both kids soundly sleeping in the adjoining rooms, this had to be put off until tomorrow.
Quality customer satisfaction is terribly challenging. Most people outside the service industry cannot grasp the difficulty faced by management and workers each day. Setting a high standard for service comes with a price. When you deliver ‘perfect’ you run the risk of being ignored. That’s right. As Jimmy Collins points out, people seldom notice perfect. “The absence of error or defect” defines perfection; errors and defects jump out at us and grab our attention. The smooth and snag-free nature of perfection sometimes escapes our notice. If nothing jumps up at us as wrong, interrupts our train of thought, annoys us or causes us discomfort, we sometimes do not take notice.
Most businesses do everything possible in order to prevent failures, errors, and lapses in service and quality. Training and retraining with the goal of standardizing service and reproducing quality at high levels requires a great deal of resources and personnel. Whole departments exist for “quality control” and “customer experience.” At times, the emphasis on quality becomes misguided. Too often, customers and clients find themselves bombarded with questionnaires and surveys after the fact. Most of them amount to waisted effort because the truth can be found in the number of complaints rather than the number of artificially harvested “kudos” for greatness.
Fractures in service happen. They just—happen. Despite our best efforts to eliminate them, they happen. When they happen, do not despair—something exceptional comes from deficiencies. Ask yourself: when you, your company, or your organization fail to deliver, despite processes and policies designed to prevent error, how well do you recover? The quality of your people and your training make the difference between convincing customers to return or to stay away. What happens next in situations like ours separates the professionals from the amateurs. How would this Ritz Carlton respond? What happens now?
We contacted the front desk the next day, explaining the situation and how we needed to speak to a supervisor as soon as possible. Within five minutes of our call, Paco Saldaña arrived to discuss the issues. He walked around our suite and listened as we pointed out to him things we believed fell below the standard of Ritz Carlton quality. His attitude and demeanor were nothing short of perfect for the situation.
Paco Saldaña demonstrated the qualities and character of a seasoned professional. He lives up to the Ritz Carlton standard of “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” Here’s what Paco did and what he did not do:
1) He was not defensive
2) He did not make excuses
3) He listened, but more than that, he appeared to actually hear what we were saying from our perspective
4) He eagerly and sincerely responded to our concerns
5) He told us his plan of action to remedy the situation, quickly
6) He promised to be personally responsible for the results
We knew Paco took us seriously, understood the problem, and determined a course of action to remedy the situation immediately. He apologized, but did not waste our time with an explanation of “how this happened.” Customers do not care about inter-organizational challenges, how short-handed you are, or what happened last week that used up your resources. Instead, customers care about getting quality goods and services for their money. A good reason for the poor quality probably existed, but he did not share it with us. The truth is, life throws adversity at us constantly. We all face adversity, and we all have to get our jobs done despite it. Blaming others for failures accomplishes nothing other than tearing down a customer’s already weakened confidence in an organization.
Rarely do you find someone actually being an example of the qualities listed above because those qualities run counter to many natural tendencies. We want to deny, defend, explain, and make excuses. Doing the opposite of our nature takes time, training and modeling by example. Training and selection distinguishes organizations like Ritz Carlton apart from others. Paco quickly built up our confidence in him and his organization at a time we were in doubt.
He delivered on his promises, but he did not stop there. Over-the-Top service requires skillful follow-up. The follow-up really sets things right. By following-up with us the next day and letting us know that he personally participated in the work done in our room, we knew he not only met our expectations but exceeded them. You should have seen the room and presentation when the work was complete. We now had a 5-star suite.
Quality organizations consists of quality individuals with an understanding that errors bring opportunities to deliver, meet, and exceed previous expectations. Errors grant us a chance to go “over the top” and deliver memorable service. In fact, the lingering memory of a fabulous recovery remains with us longer than the “wow” of perfection. Does this mean we ought to “mess up” so we can demonstrate how well we recover? No, not at all, we need not make errors and oversights on purpose, they occur frequently on their own.
What happened to our room? We came back to the room after turn-down and it gave us that Ritz Carlton experience once again. Paco knew how to react when something went wrong.
Get excited about errors. Look in advance for opportunities to set up an over-the-top impression. Recover well and regain your customer’s confidence.