Turning Emotional Connections into Magical Memories

In this guest blog post, Ian Golding, CCXP, a Certified Customer Experience Professional and Customer Experience Specialist, shares his insights on a guest story from The Ritz-Carlton.

How far would you go to leave your customers with a magical memory? To the ends of the universe if you take inspiration from The Ritz-Carlton!

There are not many brands on this small planet of ours that have become synonymous with great Customer Experiences. While Amazon is the undisputed champion of Customer Experience to many in the retail space, it is often tough to conjure up names of companies that truly, genuinely and consistently put the customer first.

One brand that I will always put in the ‘authentically customer centric’ category is The Ritz-Carlton. The luxury chain of hotels and resorts is the absolute epitome of luxury and opulence. If you have ever been lucky enough to stay in a Ritz-Carlton, you will know just how fortunate you have been to have had the opportunity. However (there is always one of those), although The Ritz-Carlton is full of glitz and glamour, its brand is about so much more than Egyptian cotton, crystal glasses and Dom Perignon Champagne (so to speak).

The Ritz-Carlton has mastered the art of delivering the ‘consistently differentiated Customer Experience.’ Bruce Temkin, one of the founders of the Customer Experience Professionals Association, taught me many years ago that all experiences are made up of three component parts:

  1. The Functional Component – does the experience do what you need it to do – this essentially represents the product or service
  2. The Accessible Component – how EASY is it for you to do what you need to do – this is where the ‘wheels start falling off’ for many brands
  3. The Emotional Component – how the experience makes you feel – perhaps the most important of the three, as this is the one that you REMEMBER!

When you think about it, The Ritz-Carlton is a brilliant example of how to take the principle of these three components and truly differentiate your brand—consistently. It is difficult for a hotel to differentiate on its core functional purpose alone—one hotel room is very much like another (even in the luxury category). It is also difficult to differentiate yourself on the accessibility component. Despite The Ritz-Carlton being as good as anyone else in both functionality and accessibility, are they really any different from their major competitors?

Where The Ritz-Carlton takes Customer Experience to the next level is its mastery of the third component—the emotional one—that is what has inspired the title for this post. The Ritz-Carlton recognized a long time ago that the key to differentiating themselves from the competition was to focus on creating such a strong emotional connection with the customer that their memories would be crammed full of magical moments that made them smile.

This is easier said than done. When you think about the practicalities of empowering your people to ‘do whatever it takes’ to create a positive memory for a customer, it is not quite as simple as it seems. Empowering people in an organizational sense is tough enough—so few businesses ‘trust’ or ‘believe in’ their people to do ‘the right thing,’—that to find a global brand that positively encourages it is still very unusual.

I will never forget a conversation I had last year. A delegate at an event I was speaking at was telling me about his time working in a contact center in France. Like most contact centers, when customers were in line they would have to endure listening to ‘muzak’! A customer came to him and specifically commented on the ‘muzak’ he had been listening to. Surprisingly, this customer really liked what he heard!! As a naturally customer-focused person, the gentleman I was having the conversation with decided to ask his manager if he could send the customer a CD of the musician responsible—his boss said no—he did not have the budget to do it!!

It may seem like a small, even insignificant gesture to some, but what this customer-focused person was trying to do was what he thought was right. He decided to buy the CD using his own money and send it to the customer anyway. The customer was understandably surprised and delighted. This is the kind of thing that the employees of The Ritz-Carlton—known as the Ladies and Gentlemen—do every single day—but with bells on!!

Have a read of this quite remarkable story. It is absolutely true, and it is not unusual in the context of what The Ritz-Carlton has embedded into the mindset of the whole organization:

“A man and his daughter visited The Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain. While engaging with the guests on their first day, the Lead Concierge and the Director of Food and Beverage discovered that the daughter would be celebrating her 14th birthday during their stay. They also learned that she loved J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, with ‘The Hobbit’ being her favorite. The Lead Concierge and the Director of Food and Beverage spent the rest of their day, along with the help of other Ladies and Gentlemen, creating a birthday quest for the girl and her father to enjoy.

“The Lead Concierge made several paper scrolls that served as a guide for the girl’s quest, taking the girl and her father throughout the resort’s expansive property. When the pair came down to the lobby that morning, they were presented with the first scroll, which contained a riddle asking them to seek out ‘the troll under the bridge.’ When they discovered the troll outside, he gave them her second scroll. This one instructed them to head to the beginning of the pool’s 235-foot water slide. From there, several Ladies and Gentlemen dressed as the characters from the book slid down the water slide along with the girl and her father to get to their next challenge. Presented with a bow and arrow, the girl saved the day by slaying the dragon piñata on her first shot.

“After the dragon was defeated, the characters led them to the Azura Lawn, which had been adorned with twinkling lights. The Executive Chef encouraged the girl to help prepare dinner with him and showed her how to grill on Himalayan salt rocks. The dinner featured themed items based on the books, such as Baggin’s Beef and Smaug S’mores.

“After the pair had left, the father sent this note to the hotel: ‘I am just floored at the thoughtful and arduous work you put into designing her birthday hobbit quest. Astounding, pitch-perfect, and incredibly appreciated. I’ve never seen anything like that pulled together in such a manner. Thank you again, and keep up the amazing work.’”

Wow! There is not really another way to sum up this quite amazing story. The thing is, this story is one of hundreds, if not thousands that are being generated by this amazing organization. There are not many things I have come across in my years as a Customer Experience Specialist that inspire others more than The Ritz-Carlton principle of making memories.

The wonderful thing is that there is nothing—and I mean nothing—stopping your business from encouraging your people to do exactly the same thing. A global financial services business I have been working with has just won a national award in the UK having been inspired by The Ritz-Carlton—they never imagined they could achieve this when I first told them the story.

So just how far would you go to leave your customers with a magical memory? (note – it does not have to be to the ends of the universe!!).