Recognizing Unexpressed Needs

One of the Service Values at The Ritz-Carlton is “I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.” In order to detect the unexpressed needs of your customers, you need to look for clues and have your “radar on and antenna up.” Here are a few classic examples of recognizing unexpressed needs from the hotel industry.

Example One

A guest asks: “What time is check-in?” or “What time is checkout?”

Unexpressed Need:

Oftentimes when guests ask this question, they already know the answer. However, they probably have an unexpressed need, and the front desk attendant needs to be alert and uncover the actual need. What the guest may really want to know is:

  • What will I do while I am waiting since I arrived early?
  • Can I stay longer or get in earlier?
  • What will I do with my bags?
  • I want to use the pool on my departure day. Where can I get cleaned up for my flight?
  • Where will my baby take a nap?

Example Two

A guest asks: “Are you still serving (breakfast, lunch or dinner)?”

Unexpressed Need:

Again, guests often already know the answer to this question, but most likely they are hoping that even though the kitchen has closed, you will take care of them. If there is no way to serve the guest at that time, you might still be able to help by telling the guest places where they could find a good meal.

Example Three

A guest asks: “What kind of scotch do you have?”

Unexpressed Need:

When guests ask a server for a particular brand of alcohol, they’re saying, “I like it. I want some. Serve it to me.” However, when they ask what kinds of alcohol, desserts or anything else are available, they are saying, “I’m open. Take me on an adventure. Turn me on to something new.” This gives the server an opportunity to create a special memory. If the server hands a menu to the customer and walks away, then the server is missing an opportunity to connect and engage with customers. If the server tells a story about the scotch and turns the customer on to something new, then the server not only answers the customer’s question, but also creates a lasting memory. A server at The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto learned about a guest’s interest in modern rice wines and sake. The server was able to track down the specific sake the guest was looking for and had a bottle of it sent to her home.

Example Four

A guest asks: “Is it raining?”

Unexpressed Need:

It is clearly pouring outside. The guest can see the rain—so you know that the guest is not looking for a “yes” or “no” answer. The guest’s question is straightforward, but your answer should uncover what the real need is. Does the guest want to know how long it is expected to rain? Is the guest concerned about the rain postponing an upcoming event? Does the guest need an umbrella or a taxi in order to stay dry? By finding out the guest’s true needs, you can show genuine care.

Example Five

A guest asks: “Do you have laundry/dry cleaning service?”

Unexpressed Need:

The guest may want to use a cleaning service at some point in his or her stay. However, this question may also indicate a “clothing crisis.” Clothing can be an issue for guests, and sometimes clothing can be an embarrassing situation. Guests can be reluctant to admit that they’ve stained their only tie or ripped their shirt. It’s important to approach questions regarding attire with compassion and kindness. Oftentimes guests are panicked because they have an important event or meeting to attend. When a frequent business guest checked in to The Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai at 1 a.m., the Front Desk Agent noticed the guest was anxious and was wearing casual shorts. Because the Front Desk Agent was alert to these clues, he was able to discover the guest’s unexpressed need. The guest’s suit pants had been torn, and he needed pants for an important meeting at 10 a.m. in the morning. The Front Desk Agent woke up early, found a store and delivered the new pants to the guest in time for the meeting.

Be a Customer Service Archeologist

Sometimes customers express their needs, but often you need to look beyond their words to discover the actual need. In other words, their expressed need is not the full truth, and a good customer service professional is able to dig deeper and unearth the actual unexpressed need. 

The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center offers advisory services, courses and presentations to organizations that wish to benchmark the award-winning business practices of The Ritz-Carlton. Your organization can learn about The Ritz-Carlton methodology for customer service, employee engagement and leadership development. We also guide organizations through a multi-step process in order to achieve sustainable culture transformation.