Award-winning service doesn’t just happen. It starts with great stories shared each and every day. The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, the only hotel brand to win the Malcolm Baldridge national quality award (twice), is a brand built on storytelling.
In his new book, Excellence Wins, Ritz-Carlton co-founder, Horst Schulze, explains how he implemented a policy empowering every employee to spend up to $2,000 to make guests happy. As you can imagine, the customer service stories that were created as a result of that policy became the stuff of legend.
For example, a housekeeper named Mary flew from Atlanta to Hawaii after a guest had forgotten a laptop in his room. He had an important presentation loaded on the computer and Mary didn’t trust a courier to get it to Honolulu on time. She delivered it herself and, rather than spending a few extra days on the island, caught the next plane back to Atlanta.
Yes, empowering employees and giving them the resources to keep guests happy often results in superior service. But the next step is also critical— sharing the stories as a form of education. And that’s where Schulze’s 10-minute meeting comes into play.
Schulze implemented a short meeting that took place before each and every shift. Every meeting focused on one of the service standards employees are expected to meet. For example, employees are empowered to create unique and memorable experiences for the guests is one such service standard. According to Schulze, “The leader reads the standard, makes comments about what it means, and tells a story or reads a relevant customer comment to show the standard in action.”
It’s in the reading and sharing of the story that inspires other employees to create their own.
My favorite story took place at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. I visited the hotel last year while conducting the research for my new book. The story goes like this:
A family had left the hotel only to realize they had forgotten their little boy’s stuffed animal in the room. A hotel employee retrieved “Joshie,” and mailed it to the family. When the package arrived, it not only contained the stuffed giraffe, it also had photos and a signed note. The staff thanked the boy for letting Joshie stay an extra day. The photos showed Joshie on a chair next to the pool, a golf cart on the beach, and getting a facial at the spa.
The boy’s father posted the photos on social media and it went viral.
When I visited the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island hotel, I learned that the 10-minute storytelling meeting allows those stories to spread. In the basement I took a photo standing next to the “wow wall” where stories are posted daily for the hotel staff to read and to share. Employees who make those stories happen are praised and rewarded. The more stories that are shared, the more get created.
I titled my book, Five Stars, because five-star organizations in nearly every category create emotional connections between leaders and employees and between employees and customers. Storytelling is an essential component of creating those emotional connections.
Sharing stories is a great way to inspire an audience in a presentation (and I’ve written extensively about it). But storytelling also plays a role in elevating the customer experience. Leaders should take every opportunity—even 10 minutes a day—to share stories of exceptional service by your employees.
Stories educate, inform, and inspire. Tell more of them and, as the Ritz-Carlton has taught us, empower your employees to create stories that will surprise and delight your customers.