Observations of a guest at the Ritz-Carlton

by Mark Knox, Director of Guest Experiences, Chick-fil-A, Hendersonville

2017-05-17-10-23-38There’s a reason that “puttin’ on the Ritz” is a saying. Dating back to the 1920s, this saying – and the Irving Berlin song of the same name – draws its inspiration from the Ritz Hotel. The Ritz has become synonymous with high living, fashion, and hospitality.

I had the opportunity to spend a night and the better part of a day at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Part of my purpose as a Director of Guest Experiences was to observe their operation for signs of great customer service.  They were not hard to find throughout my visit.  My wife, who regularly and often stays in hotels as part of her job, was along, and I was interested in getting her perspective as well.

What follows are some of my observations.

Focus

From beginning to end, every encounter with every Ritz employee was focused on me as the guest.  Burned into my mind is the image I saw as I drove up to the door…four valets, facing forward, ready to spring into action.  Prior to my pulling up, they were idle and waiting, but not clumped together carrying on their own conversation.  Their appearance was one of welcoming and readiness, in short, focus.

Every employee of the Ritz shared this trait. As my valet who wheeled my bags to the room waited for me to check in, he kept his attention on me. He drew me into conversation, asked if we were there for “the concert” (Neil Diamond that night; yes, we were), discovered where we were from.  Again, while he was waiting on me, he did not divert his attention elsewhere.

I also noticed this in the restaurant. As we were dining, the sommelier came to table next to us to pour wine.  At one point, he took a step back to allow their server to remove some plates.  I thought he might turn to greet us, but instead he kept his focus on his guests at hand, ready to pour the wine when ready.  His attention did not divert.

My wife and I normally stay at decent, clean mid-line hotels.  While I generally have no complaints about the level of service we receive – and sometimes it can be exceptional – it rarely rises to the level of focus that we saw at the Ritz.  For example, it’s not uncommon to walk into one of these mid-line hotels and not see anyone at the front desk; they are in the back office.  Oh sure, they come out promptly and are friendly, but it’s not the Ritz.

Courtesy

During our entire visit, not once did any employee cross in front of me.  This was so pervasive that it became impossible not to notice.  If I was walking through the restaurant, every server who was moving about in my area would stop to let me pass.  The same was true for every valet, housekeeper, and spa employee I encountered.

I often think about how I sometimes bounce around my restaurant, rushing here and there on various important matters.  Do I sometimes cut in front of a guest? I’m sure I do.  I need to look at this.

It was always, “Mr. Knox” and “Mrs. Knox.” There was never the familiarity that has somehow crept into modern 21st Century customer service.  I’ve never been a fan of the “Hey, how are you guys?” model when my wife and I are being served. Our experience at the Ritz was friendly and conversational (“How do you like this Jeep you drove, sir?”), but never presumed to be overly familiar.

While we were at the Spa getting massages, an alarm sounded in the area where my wife was being attended.  The therapist placed a towel over her head and ears to shield her from the sound while she looked into what the alarm was. Having discovered it was not anything that required action, she then asked my wife if it would be permitted to go back to working on the massage. Simple courtesy.

Over the Top

The Ritz is known for its opulence and “beyond the basics” care.  It is, after all, just a hotel, a place to sleep.  But it is so much more.

We were offered champagne upon arrival in the lobby. There’s a TV screen within the bathroom mirror.  After returning from dinner, we found our robes and towels had been replaced and the bed turned down with the next day’s forecast on the pillow.

In my business, we look for ways to “Connect, Discover, and Respond” to our guests.  At the Ritz, when they’d connected with us and discovered that we were going to the Neil Diamond concert, they responded by presenting us with cupcakes after our massages with the message “Enjoy Sweet Caroline” written on the plate in frosting. Truly, good times never seemed so good.

While in my work context, we are not the Ritz, it makes me wonder, are there things we could be doing to go “over the top” for our guests? Things that would create such an experience that they can’t wait to come back? I’m sure there are. We just need to discover them.

Four rhythms to keep your mind sharp

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by Mark Knox

As I’ve grown older, I worry a bit about keeping my mind and thinking processes sharp.  Of course, there are always the small lapses in memory that seem to creep up, when I forget where I’m at in a conversation or why I left one room to go into another.  That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

I have always enjoyed thinking deeply about things, whether theology, cultural phenomena, history or politics.  Heck, I even minored in Philosophy! (I only minored in it because it wasn’t offered as a major.)  I can ask the deep questions like: Why do you want fries with that? So when I encounter a group of young theology students, I want to continue to be able to converse with them at a high level. I want to analyze and be able to discuss cultural trends on more than just a surface level.

As a result, I’ve become very intentional about keeping an active mind.  Here are some ways I’ve found to be helpful.

  1. Read deeply.

It’s far too easy to browse the Internet and “read” the material you find there. Who among us hasn’t gotten sucked into that black hole?  It’s also really easy to read the literary equivalent of a blockbuster movie that is simply escapist reading. Not that there’s anything wrong with an occasional escape, mind you.

But if you really want to sharpen your intellect, read something that stretches your thinking, that causes you to ask questions, that teaches you something.  Read a variety of books…books that are practical for work and life, books that are technical, biographies, old classic books, new modern books, books you disagree with. Underline and mark up your books if they’re yours.  Set some goals and keep track of your reading. Read a book with someone and discuss it over coffee. Nothing will keep your mind as fresh as a healthy diet of books and great articles.

  1. Have substantial conversations.

We are social people.  But most of us are all too satisfied to restrict our conversations to a how’s-the-kids, how’s-your-fantasy-football-team level.  But if you want to challenge your thinking, then start seeking some deeper conversations. If you’re in a church, get in a small group.  And don’t just settle for a group that wallows in cliché-ridden banality.  Find a group that’s not afraid to go deep and leave things unsettled for now.  If you really want a conversation that keeps your mind going, make some friends of people who don’t agree with you.

I am thankful that God has given me a wife with whom I can go deep.  She’s not afraid to challenge my assumptions and inconsistencies.  She’s my best friend, and most of the time, we’re on a how-was-your-day mode.  But oh, there are times when we can have some pretty intellectual conversations.  Seek these out – from the spouse, from your kids, from your friends.

  1. Memorize long passages (Bible passages, speeches, poetry).

I was fortunate to attend the Desiring God National Conference in September of 2014, which was centered around the great chapter of Romans 8.  At the beginning of his second address, John Piper quoted from memory the entire chapter.  [You can watch him do it here – just watch the first 7 minutes to get the quote.] I had already attended a breakout session giving some instruction on how to memorize long passages of Scripture, and when I watched Piper recite this immense chapter with great feeling and inflection, just as if he were arguing the points as Paul had done, I was stirred in my soul and I determined to memorize the chapter myself.

It took me a little longer than 3 months to complete this.  But when I was done, not only was there a feeling of accomplishment, but a real sense of “OK, what’s next?”  So I started to memorize the book of Ephesians.

I highly recommend this discipline.  If you’d like to give it a shot, here’s the link to Jon Bloom’s session that helped get me started.

  1. Turn off the media and let your mind think.

Why are we so afraid of silence? With the rise of social networking, at-your-fingertips media and the portability of our technology, most of us spend woefully little time with our own thoughts.  We have trouble falling asleep as we begin to process all the stimuli of the day that we haven’t allowed our minds to access until we turn out the lights.  And even then, we resort to light music or white noise in the room to silence our thoughts.

We all need quiet time.  The research is clear on the benefits of silence. So do yourself a favor and turn off the radio, the TV, the Spotify and let your mind breathe.

We all need our minds to be sharp.  The mind is like a muscle, and the more you use it, the stronger it will be.