Archives For Customer Experience

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.

It happens.

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.

Can you think of a time when a person or organization demonstrated “over the top” attention to detail? I hope you can; in fact I hope you can think of several events. You ought to maintain examples of excellence in a file in your mind in HD clarity so that the story lives on and continues to inspire and motivate you in the future.

It matters little if the example of excellence comes from anything remotely comparable to your field of interest, vocation, or study.

“What is he doing with that high-pressure air gun?”

John A. Martinez (1988)

The barista answered me over the clinking noise of the demitasse cups he carefully stacked on a shelf behind the bar. “He’s making certain every particle from the last batch in the roaster is removed before running another batch this afternoon. We pay attention to every detail in our roasting process.”

An air hose, he was blowing tiny particles, with an air hose. Brushing would not be sufficient, they cleaned to the molecular level. I consider that over-the-top attention to detail. Don’t you?

The year was 1994 (I believe). My wife and I traveled to Italy on vacation the previous summer, and I returned a coffee geek. OK, I returned a coffee snob. A book I read referred to a world-class roasting company in Atlanta, where I lived, and it just turned out to be mid-way between home and work. It assumed the form of an unavoidable obstacle on the way between home and work, as no commute seemed complete without pulling up to the “emporium” of coffee on Peachtree Road. In this bean-wonderland roasting occurred on-site.

I witnessed the roasting process several times. Even when the equipment sat idle, it stood there as a shining testament to the craftsmen and detail applied to every batch.

The coffee tasted excellent every time. There are nuances of flavor in their coffee nowhere to be found in franchised coffee shop coffee. Let’s call it the flavor of “over-the-top” awareness to detail.

The shop is no longer on Peachtree. The company moved and expanded to meet the needs of the hotels, restaurants, and mail-order customers. But the mental image of the roasting and preparation between batches lingers in my mind as an example of attention to detail.

I am not kidding; the best consultants use mirrors.


I do not mean mirrors as in the old saying about “smoke and mirrors” – I do not actually know what that is, other than I am certain it is about deception (if you look it up, let me know what you find).

What do I mean by consultants using mirrors? I mean the ability to show a company who it is, from a different perspective, and build on what made the organization great to begin with.

Too often, way-too-often, successful brands with decades of sustained growth do something crazy. They bring in outside experts. These experts have little or no knowledge of the corporate culture. They may even have false impressions about the corporate culture. At worst, they lack sincere interest in your organization.

I know it is strange for me to say-seeing how I am an outside consultant-but allow me to explain.

Frequently, the consultant or contractor with the most ideas, the most unusual designs, gets the job. These different ideas are usually different because they are outside the reach of anything from the past. Allow me to interpret that: external advisers are predisposed to come up with developments out of alignment with the enduring corporate history.

The more changes implemented outside the successful corporate culture, the more diluted and transformed the culture becomes. This is how ancient civilizations conquered one another: after the initial invasion they removed (exiled) 50% of the citizens of one nation and brought foreigners from other nations in to take their place. The remaining citizens resist change at first, but eventually they became enamored with “new” ways of doing things.

Outside consultants can behave in the same manner. They can dilute and destroy the foundation of your culture.

Do not get me wrong, I’m not talking about businesses that are on the decline, or those too inflexible to change what they are doing. I’m talking about companies that are successful and want to be even better than they are now.

The best type kind of specialist avoids entirely new and different methods of establishing a brand. Instead, he and she will get to know the company, find out what makes it tick, discover where it origniated and how it arrived where it is. They will hold up a mirror and reveal what the organization is doing right and where the strengths lie; he or she will help the organization to appreciate and understand what made it great and build upon that foundation in new ways.

Anyone can point out deficiencies and provide alternatives, even creative, trendy and blingy ones. It is good money if you can manage to get paid for it. The end product will be detrimental to the organization in the long run. Wise consulting depreciates the flaws by building on success, not turning it upside down.

Times change and the way a company does business needs to change to keep up. Use your consulting budget to hire consultants who can tell companies how to do what they have been doing successfully in a new way, one that sustains and preserves the culture. Do not waste your time and money with the consultants who come in with a bag of shiny tricks they have used and repackages for the last dozen clients.

Be wary of those bearing a whole set of ‘better’ ideas. Look for consultants who will invest time and effort to get to acquainted with your company, your history, your character. Build on what you have done right for years or decades.

And by all means, feel free to give me a call! 🙂