In the summer of 2013, an American couple, accompanied by their six-month-old daughter, visited The Ritz-Carlton in Beijing. The hotel’s staff went out of its way to make the family comfortable — installing a humidifier, night light and milk warmers in their room.

But the baby soon fell sick with a rash on her face and neck, and the hotel’s babysitter arrived to help the couple out. Unprompted, the babysitter took the initiative to locate a pediatric hospital nearby and discovered that getting an appointment at short notice would be difficult; the couple would have to wait in line for hours to see a doctor.

The next night, once again unprompted, the babysitter awoke at 2 am to reserve a spot in the queue for the family. She waited at the hospital for six hours. When the couple finally arrived, they had to wait no more than 15 minutes to see a doctor. Needless to say, the hotel chain had created a customer relationship that would last a lifetime.

While the hotel chain’s service is legendary, the abiding question is still this: How did The Ritz-Carlton manage to inspire an employee to stay up all night at a hospital to help a family she barely knew? And relatedly: What can other businesses learn from the answer to that question?

Diana Oreck, VP of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, teaches both internal executives and external businesses best practices in customer service. She knows, perhaps better than anyone else, what The Ritz-Carlton can teach the world about creating better businesses.

People like to be recognized. No one, through the length of my career, has ever told me to stop thanking them.

When a company expresses gratitude to its employees, it creates an environment of kindness, which, in turn, becomes contagious.

At The Ritz-Carlton we have a wonderful and inexpensive way of showing appreciation. We write each other “First Class” cards, whenever someone does something that feels “first class.” It can be peer-to-peer, peer-to- manager, or peer-to-president. I have a whole wall of them right now, and they only take two minutes to write and decorate with stickers.

Housekeepers are one of the most important workers in our hotels. Without them, we’d have to shut shop. They have to clean 16 rooms and bathrooms each day. It can feel thankless, but we make sure that they recognize the purpose of their work: to create a home away from home for our guests.

Every single job has a higher purpose — one just has to hone in on it. Say you’re a window washer at a children’s hospital, you can either tell yourself that you’re there to wash windows or to cheer up children. Which of the two is likely to have greater motivational power?

At The Ritz-Carlton, we hold a line-up to motivate our employees every single day; we like to remind them that our purpose is not to run a hotel, but to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests.

It leads to all kinds of amazing acts of kindness by our employees. Recently, a lady called The Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte for a reservation, and the reservationist asked her if she was celebrating something. The lady eventually admitted that she was celebrating the end of chemotherapy for breast cancer. When she arrived, she was given champagne, and then eventually noticed that everyone around her was wearing a pink ribbon. In her room, there was a card signed by every single employee at the hotel congratulating her on her recovery.

Most of us want to live a purpose-driven life. But businesses don’t remind their employees of the bigger purpose of their jobs often enough.

At The Ritz-Carlton, we call all our line staff ‘Ladies’ and ‘Gentlemen’ because we want them to embody a spirit of politeness. We ask them to try and stay true to that spirit, no matter the provocation.

You can’t control how people behave; sometimes, someone with an awful lot of money will come into our hotels and they’ll equate wealth with the permission to be rude or abusive. But we all have something called discretionary effort — which is, essentially, the choice required to be our best in a particular situation, and sometimes, that means rising above negativity and staying gracious.

It’s a principle I’ve learned to apply to my personal life as well. It makes for better health and greater peace of mind.

Stories are emotional transportation, and businesses should use them as frequently as they can.

Storytelling is one of the primary ways of motivating employees at The Ritz-Carlton. We share ‘Wow Stories’ every Monday and Friday across the company — they’re inspiring anecdotes about employees that have gone above and beyond for our guests. Stories that provide a psychological hook are also a big part of our new employee orientation — they’re far more effective than a bunch of slides outlining profit and loss statistics.

When you’re using a story to illustrate a point, people tend to remember it immediately. Your senses and imagination pick it up. Stories touch the heart. Use their power to tell people about your organization, and to inspire your employees.

This is perhaps truer of service-driven and customer-facing industries, but can also be applied to life in general.

The thing is, you could disagree with a guest’s emotional response to a situation, but that will rarely ever change the way they feel about it. The only way to address the problem is by validating their feelings.

For example, a few years ago, a little boy left behind a stuffed giraffe at a Ritz-Carlton in Florida. What’s the big deal about a stuffed giraffe, right? You can always buy another one. But for the little boy and his parents, thatparticular stuffed giraffe was very, very important. So our staff took photos of the giraffe taking an extended vacation around the hotel — hanging out by the pool, getting a massage, relaxing with other stuffed animals — and then sent the photo album and giraffe back to the family. That made the family feel like the staff cared about the giraffe as much as they did, and that’s the feeling they’re going to remember forever.

My personal motto is “I like drama but only in the theatre.”

At a fast-paced hotel, one has to stay levelheaded, constantly prioritize tasks and choose which crisis to respond to first, and managers have to help employees make those decisions.

Too many people in the workplace today are wired, tired and stressed. The most important thing that leaders can do for their staff is help them keep things in perspective. Not everything on our to-do list is equally important.

A wise teacher once taught me QTIP as an excellent technique when dealing with upset guests. It stands for ‘Quit Taking It Personally.’ When a guest is upset, he isn’t angry at you. He is angry about how the situation is being handled. The customer isn’t a family member or dear friend. And even if he is — it always pays to be gracious and rise above it.

We often take feedback and criticism personally, but it’s more important to improve and move on.

Too often, companies miss out on the opportunity of reinforcing their vision and mission when leadership fails to set the right example.

It’s commonly accepted that 70 percent of learning happens on the job. As a result, employees are usually watching their leader’s every move very closely. For example, if you’re the GM of a hotel and you refuse to pick up a piece of trash, you’ve sent the wrong message to the housekeeper who is walking behind you.

At The Ritz-Carlton, employees are told about our values, but then they also get to see them in action around the company. Leaders must always walk the company’s talk.

Feedback is a gift and not enough people truly appreciate it. I see many employees become very defensive when guests give feedback. Of course, it never feels good, but it’s infinitely better than the guest voting with his feet and going to your competition.

One learns this early on in the hotel industry, but it’s a lesson that the rest of the business world ought to learn too. We all have blind spots and being able to accept constructive feedback from one’s boss, employees or family will create better relationships and help you get ahead.


The Ritz-Carlton is part of the Marriott International portfolio of hotels.

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Marriott International

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Marriott International is a global lodging leader with more than 4,100 hotels in 79 countries.

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