Ritz Carlton: Meeting the “unexpressed” needs of Guests

Impeccable Service Separates Ritz Carlton

Ritz Carlton does a lot of things right to earn the high prices they are able to charge–the best locations, beautiful rooms, nice beds and great meals.  But in reality, every luxury hotel has to deliver against these or they’ll be quickly out of business.   Recognizing that any great brand has to be better, different or cheaper to win, Ritz Carlton focuses their attention on impeccable service standards to separate themselves from other Hotels.  What Ritz Carlton has done so well is operationalize it so that culture and brand are one.

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Ritz Carlton Training session, and as a Brand Leader, the thing that struck me was the idea of meeting the “unexpressed” needs of guests.  As highly paid Marketers, even with mounds of research, we still struggle to figure out what our consumers want, yet Ritz Carlton has created a culture where bartenders, bellhops and front desk clerks instinctively meet these “unexpressed needs”.  Employees carry around note pads and record the expressed and unexpressed needs of every guest and then they use their instincts to try to surprise and delight these guests.

Employees are fully empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.  Unique means doing something that helps to separate Ritz Carlton from other hotels, memorable forces the staff to do something that truly stands out.   And personal is defined as people doing things for other people.  Isn’t that what marketers do?   So what’s getting in our way?

They Bake it right into the Ritz Carlton Culture

The phrase that Ritz Carlton uses with their staff is “Radar is on and Antenna is Up” so that everyone can be looking for the unexpressed needs.   These could be small wins that delight consumers in a big way:

  • A couple arrives at the hotel, wife is six months pregnant.  Normal service would be to observe and do nothing–at best help with the bags.   But at Ritz Carlton, antenna up means they get a special pillow for sleeping and alcohol free sparkling cider instead of champagne.
  • A business guest who was staying at a hotel for 4 weeks and the staff printed up business cards with the guest name, hotel address and phone number so that he could give them out during his stay.

But like any hotel, things do go wrong.  The staff is encouraged to use these moments to not only address the problem and fix it but also try to surprise and delight guests turning a problem into a potential wow moment.  With everyone’s antenna’s up, when a problem does arise they quickly brainstorm and use everyone’s input.

  • A guest who had just left the hotel called to say that their son had left his stuffed giraffe in the room.  The boy could not stop crying.  The only thing these distraught parents could think of to tell their son, is that the giraffe was staying on the vacation a little longer.  So the staff, found the giraffe and overnighted it to the boy.  Most luxury hotels would have done that.  But that was not enough for Ritz Carlton.   Knowing what the Mom had told their son about staying on a bit longer, the staff also included a photo album of the giraffe enjoying his extra stay, including photos of the giraffe sitting by the pool, in the spa with cucumbers on his eyes, and laying out on the beach.  It’s not that the album would make the boy excited, because he was excited just to have his favourite giraffe back.   But imagine how the parents felt and the signal it sends to them about the Ritz Carlton staff and how many friends they may share that story with.
  • An activity coordinator noticed that one of them had a real passion for ballet. Over the week, the activity coordinator even came in before her shift every day to give the girl a private ballet class. She wanted to do something special for the young guest, and decided to teach her a special dance for her parents. On their last day, she arranged for a performance at the Jazz Club, with special music and lighting for the performance.  The couple was very grateful and could not believe how much love and passion the activity coordinator had put into making their daughter’s stay so memorable. To complete the experience, they gave the guests a CD with pictures and videos of their daughter’s performance so they could share it with family and friends on their return home

To inspire each other, everyone at Ritz Carlton goes through a daily line up where they share wow stories, both local stories and stories from other hotels around the world.  This line up keeps everyone in line, but it also keeps people fully engaged.  Harvard did a study on Employee Engagement, stating that the average company had 29% of their employees who were fully engaged and they labelled this group as the Super Stars.  Using the same criteria, Ritz Carlton has 92% of their staff considered fully engaged.  No wonder they are able to win so many service awards and no wonder they can create such an experience for their consumers.   They’ve fully created a culture that now defines the brand.

So What Can Brand Leaders Learn from Ritz Carlton?

How can marketers challenge themselves to meet the unexpressed needs of guests?  As Henry Ford said:  “”If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”  So what’s getting in your way?   Are you over-thinking things?  Are you too worried about the short-term results that you’re not even seeing or hearing the unexpressed needs?   Are you so analytical that you need to see the data first and never really reach for your instincts which might challenge the data or even fill in the missing gaps in the data?

How do you get your antenna’s up so that you and your team are always watching, listening and thinking?  As you run from meeting to meeting, filling in forecasting templates and spending evenings pretty-ing up your presentation for senior leaders, how many times a week do you talk to consumers, how many times do you walk into a store or what social media tools do you monitor and listen to.  Do you ever sit with customer service for an afternoon?   Do you read through the complaints?   And while it’s great that you do this once in a while, how do you operationalize it with your team.   Can you set aside time so that you’re doing regular store visits or a quick brainstorm on observations once a week.

How can Marketers Push ourselves to Wow the Consumer?  The Ritz Carlton staff is constantly trying to wow their guests, in either a small or big way believing that both make a difference.  Are you pushing yourself to surprise your consumer?   Are you trying to wow your consumer?   Are you rejecting OK work to force everyone to reach for Great?   Do you have a standard for the work that exceeds that of your consumer, after all if you don’t love the work then how do you expect your consumer to love your brand?

Do something this week that meets the Unexpressed Needs of a Customer–no matter how big or small–just to see what it feels like.  
It might feel pretty damn powerful.  


To read more about how the love for a brand creates more power and profits:

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Brand LeadershipI run the Brand Leader Learning Center,  with programs on a variety of topics that are all designed to make better Brand Leaders.  To read more on how the Learning Center can help you as a Brand Leader click here:   Brand Leadership Learning Center


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About Graham Robertson: The reason why I started Beloved Brands Inc. is to help brands realize their full potential value by generating more love for the brand.   I only do two things:  1) Make Brands Better or 2) Make Brand Leaders Better.  I have a reputation as someone who can find growth where others can’t, whether that’s on a turnaround, re-positioning, new launch or a sustaining high growth.  And I love to make Brand Leaders better by sharing my knowledge.  Im a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands.  My background includes 20 years of CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  My promise to you is that I will get your brand and your team in a better position for future growth. Add me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/grahamrobertson1 so we can stay connected.

15 thoughts on “Ritz Carlton: Meeting the “unexpressed” needs of Guests

  1. Graham great stuff yet again, may I have your permission to share this with a group in the hospitality industry in Ireland, with whom I am doing a branding workshop? Aisling

  2. Reading this story, I think that a lot of this “engagement” has to do with Empowering employees. I believe I read an article on zappos.com and they focused on employee empowerment, as well, by not pushing a binder on standard protocol, rather allowing case-by-case decisions from their employees when responding to customer feedback and dissatisfaction.

    As we are running from meeting to meeting filling out those spreadsheets, instead of being that cookie-cutter corporate drone that most companies expect, reward and promote – empowerment and the freedom to act it out is a gorgeous thing and theoretically will extend employee shelf-life. I have a good friend who works for Ritz-Carlton Miami Beach, I’m going to send this link to him. Wonder what he has to say about my theory on empowerment?

    • Pam, I agree. One way of empowering people is that every employee can spend up to $2,000 on an issue, without seeking approval. It’s certainly not abused, but it does give people the chance to really make an impact with guests. The other cultural aspect is the brainstorming. There are these quick gatherings.

      And btw, I worked at a fortune 500 company, and no one ever rewarded drones. Those that stood out and did exactly the challenges of this article are those that excelled. Push yourself within the environment you are in. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish.

  3. Using Ritz Carlton as an example is a good choice Graham re:exceeding customer service. They are a hospitality leader, but I wish more companies would benchmark their MO and think like a hospitality company. I always like to suggest to people to benchmark Nordstroms, but unfortunately few people realize that going the extra distance pays off in the long run – builds loyalty, repeat business, your best customer is your current customer.

    • Thanks Jim. When cpg brand leaders only watch consumers from behind one way glass once a year, they never really know them. Time to get out and experience the real world. Get in the stores. Talk with consumers. Host a dinner. Get out of the office.

  4. Great stuff! One observation I have is that in most organisations, the marketing guys are busy making endless presentations to the bosses to promote themselves; somewhere along the way the customer is forgotten! Ritz-Carton is an truly an unbelievable brand success story of how the it has amalgamated its people into a major force that recognises the customer as the only real person who should be impressed with a sincere attitude .

    • “The marketing guys are busy making endless presentations to the bosses to promote themselves”… I agree! And this is what I meant by the cookie-cutter corporate drone statement in my comment. At least in my experiences, the free-thinker type isn’t the one who makes it up the ranks, he/she gets laid off during re-orgs by threatened higher ups. But, I hope to have more positive experiences and be more optimistic going forward! The consumer does get forgotten in the quest for young Mktg professionals to become Br Mgrs before reaching the age of 30! (one of my previous co-workers goals).

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  7. Great post Graham. Branding is the entire experience your customer has with your business – at every touch point – at the store level, interaction with employees, the ad in your local newspaper, visits to your website, blog or Facebook page – of which Ritz Carlton excels.

  8. Pingback: Here are resolutions for 2014 that will Challenge you to be a better Brand Leader « Beloved Brands

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