Feature Article - April 2002
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The Art of Customer Service

What goes around comes around when you give customer relations more than lip service

By Elisa Kronish

Valuable assets

When you've got these great employees, you'll want to hold onto them, and that starts with proper training. The Ritz-Carlton spends a lot of time on training and orientation, covering practicalities, as well as service philosophies, Marlow says. This training continues every day when The Ritz-Carlton employees from the top down gather before their shifts to discuss the customer-service Gold Standard being focused on that day.

"They'll talk about energizing these Basics as a company—and that's pretty powerful on an international scale," Marlow says.

Along with ideals and strategies, employees need the authority to satisfy customers on the spot.

"Make them feel like they can help solve problems," Regele says.

At The Ritz-Carlton, "if you receive a problem, you own the problem," Marlow says. Each employee is empowered to spend up to $2,000 per guest per day to resolve an issue, she says. But that's rarely necessary because employees are trained to ask questions and provide a solution that will satisfy the customer, while corresponding appropriately to the situation. For instance, "If a guest arrives at a hotel, and they were caught in a rain storm, the valet would be empowered to offer to get the guest's coat cleaned," Marlow says.

But don't assume you need money to make customers happy. The point is, if appropriate for your facility, every employee can be empowered in some way to help customers without always requiring a supervisor to step in.

The teamwork component cannot be taken for granted, either.

"Very little customer service happens with only one team member," Nasser says. She suggests offering a "helping hand" pin that can be awarded to a staff member for helping not a customer, but a team member to do their job. This public display gives the staff member a sense of pride, shows your customers you value your employees and sets an example for your employees to follow when dealing with customers.

"When a manger demonstrates a commitment to exceptional customer service to his or her staff and internal customers, the staff tends to mirror this skill," Stewart says. He also stresses the importance of "consistent acknowledgement of a job well done."

Reward and recognition programs are, in fact, important motivating factors for employees. Rewards are generally tangible—cash bonuses or prizes—while recognition is typically verbal appreciation for work above and beyond the average.

"It's important to do that when they're in front of their peers," Boccard says.

All this giving can be exhausting for employees, though, and Nasser stresses the importance of time away from the front line.

"It's impossible for most people in customer service to work eight hours without a break and be absolutely above and beyond to the end," she says, adding that it doesn't have to be a loss to the company. Even if they just work in a back office for a short time, she says, that can help rejuvenate them.