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Change Suite

Are you being served? Five-star tips for client relations in a masked era

NEW YORK (Reuters) - In an age of social distancing, customer service may be the biggest challenge for companies seeking to create warm, fuzzy, long-lasting client relationships.

FILE PHOTO: A waiter sets a table inside a transparent pod offered for private Christmas meals with backdrop of the Kremlin and Red Square on the rooftop of Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow, Russia December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

That is quite possible, even with everyone masked up, said Antonia Hock, global head of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. The arm of the hotel chain helps companies to apply its top-tier service experience to boost customer and employee relations.

Hock sat down with Reuters to talk about what customer service looks like in the New Normal, when every single interaction has taken on added importance.

Q: Everyone knows the Ritz-Carlton name, but what does the Leadership Center do exactly?

A: We’re a global advisory firm that takes the best practices of the hotel company and deploys them in Fortune 500 firms. We are legendary for great customer service, so we take those principles of being genuine and warm and authentic, and translate them into other businesses.

Q: Can you give an example of how that works?

A: We’ve done a lot of work with all the major sports leagues, and, in particular, the NFL (National Football League) has been opening a lot of new stadiums, So we look at opportunities to personalize that fan experience, based on Ritz-Carlton principles.

How do you think about greeting fans, about concessions, about security personnel, about suites and boxes? For every employee who comes into contact with fans, we come in and design service strategies.

Q: We are all supposed to be keeping our distance from each other now. How is that affecting customer service?

A: There are a lot of new precautions everyone is taking, like wearing masks and socially distancing, but that doesn’t change the concept of care. I would say genuine care has become even more important, because everyone is feeling the need to connect right now.

If you’re thinking about digital experiences, that means investing a lot more in technology. If you’re still physically present, you can still greet people in a warm way from a distance, like putting your hand over your heart.

Q: Have people’s expectations of customer service changed?

A: They are higher than they’ve ever been, actually. People are expecting a level of perfection that they didn’t before.

If you are cooped up and sitting at home all day, and your delivery is a hour late, that situation has become magnified.

It’s the same thing with going into a store, or getting on a plane: Expectations have come into much sharper focus. Little things have become very big things.

Q: Can you give an example of customer service that goes above and beyond?

A: At our hotel on Grand Cayman, there was a guest who had been on the beach with his wife all day, and lost his wedding ring. He was obviously devastated.

When he shared that with us, it kicked off a hotel-wide scramble to find that ring. They combed the beach with metal detectors, and when they didn’t find it, they called a local dive shop. Divers came with underwater metal detectors, and found the ring a little bit offshore. The entire hotel was turned upside down.

Q: A lot of your consulting work is not just about how to treat customers, but how to treat employees?

A: That’s absolutely the center of everything we do. We call them ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and they are quintessential to our brand.

What we practice in public on our properties, we want to practice in private as well. That was a big change for me when I came here a few years ago: If people thought I wasn’t having a great day, suddenly there would be cookies at my desk.

Q: Since you came from other industries like tech, how did you get familiar with the Ritz-Carlton culture?

A: I visited 14 properties globally in the first 60 days.

I did deep dives with our ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ and did various jobs myself: Before that I had never stripped a bed, or worked in the back end of a kitchen, or spent time at the front desk. It was really important to try all of that on.

Q: What has the past year taught you?

A: The big thing is how organizational culture has never been as mission-critical for companies than it is right now. It’s the root metaphor for who you are, and how you show up in the world.

Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang

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