Each month, The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center (RCLC) features an interview with an employee—also known as a Lady or Gentleman of The Ritz-Carlton—in order to share an insider’s view of the organization. This month’s interview is with Abner Nelms, 34-year veteran Doorman and Driver at The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead in Atlanta.
RCLC: Please talk a little about your role with our organization and how long you’ve been with The Ritz-Carlton.
Mr. Nelms: I have been at The Ritz-Carlton since January 1984—that’s over 31 years. I work in guest services and have for my whole career here. I’ve worked inside as a bellman, but most of my career was working as a doorman up front. Most recently, in addition to working as a doorman, I’ve worked as a driver.
RCLC: Can you share why you’ve chosen to work at The Ritz-Carlton for so long? What do you enjoy about working here?
Mr. Nelms: Well, there are a lot of things I enjoy about working here! If I go back in time, I was one of the first people to be hired. The neat thing about our property is that it’s the first Ritz-Carlton to open in the modern brand—so it was really an honor and it was exciting. It’s good to be part of the beginning of something—especially something that’s so successful because back then, we only had two hotels in the whole company. At that time, I had worked for other hotel properties, small properties, but you know when The Ritz-Carlton came along, it was like something I had always dreamed of working for—a real, “first class,” luxury hotel. So I think I was just at the right place at the right time. Other opportunities have come up, but when you’re working for the best hotel company in the business at that time, probably in the world, I never thought about leaving—at least not to go to work for another hotel.
RCLC: What do you value about the culture of The Ritz-Carlton?
Mr. Nelms: I would have to say that all the things that the company has put in place: Gold Standards, all our Service Values and everything. I was in my thirties when I started working for the company, and I’m in my sixties now. When I think back, I see that the culture has taught us how to be gentlemen, how to behave.
RCLC: What does customer service mean to you?
Mr. Nelms: What does customer service mean? Wow, it means a lot of things! I feel that customer service is serving a customer or guest in the manner that they want to be served, that they want to be taken care of. I say that because I have been in some customer service situations where it didn’t go well, and when you’re in a customer service business, you’re well aware of when you’re not getting good customer service. Right? So that’s what it means—taking care of a customer the way they want to be taken care of.
RCLC: Have you built relationships with customers throughout the years?
Mr. Nelms: Most definitely! At The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, we’ve been there so long, not only have we built long-term relationships with the guests, but we’ve built long-term relationships with their children. Sometimes I’ll see a long-term guest that is arriving and being taken care of and the person that is taking care of them might not recognize them, and then they’ll ask them a question like “have you ever stayed here before?” and if I get the chance, I’ll always go over and greet them myself, recognize them and then introduce them to the employee that doesn’t recognize them. I kind of tease them, and I introduce them as a “Charter Member.” “Oh yeah, Mr. Johnson, he’s a Charter Member, he’s part of the beginning!” We do have a lot of guests that have been staying with us for the entire time. It’s always fun because it gives me the opportunity to connect with that guest, that long-term guest.
RCLC: Are there any memorable customer experiences (WOW moments) that you would like to share?
Mr. Nelms: There are so many! Immediately when I think about WOW stories, I feel like I’m the one that was probably WOWed by the person I was taking care of. One moment comes to mind: a lot of people who come to our hotel are here on business, and they never get a chance to really get outside of the Buckhead area. Sometimes they think that that’s all Atlanta, right? Just that concrete area. We have the Atlanta History Center and that brings people to Buckhead, so these guests I was driving did break away long enough to go see the History Center. On the way back, I said to them “if you have a moment, I’ll take a little scenic route that will take us back to the hotel. It will only take us 10-15 minutes,” they wanted to do that—so I showed them the neighborhood that they never had a chance to see. They talked about it, and they were so excited because they had read about it in books and saw pictures in magazines. We have an area, the West Paces Ferry area, where our Governor’s Mansion is, as well as a lot of antebellum homes and properties with rolling hills and magnolia trees. There’s a particular mansion where parts of Gone with the Wind were filmed. I was just amazed at how excited they were about it. So it really made me feel good, and they didn’t even really know about that part of our town—so that’s probably the most memorable. I enjoy doing that, introducing people to things like The Swann House, the most photographed house in Atlanta. I think I was just as WOWed as they were. They WOWed me!
RCLC: Have you had to deal with upset customers? If so, any advice on the best way to handle this?
Mr. Nelms: Like we were saying about what customer service means, the best way to handle an upset guest is first of all to listen, empathize and see what their problem is. Especially to listen, you have to let them vent, let them get it all out and then be thinking, anticipating, what you can do to help. Then I will ask them, “what can I do to help in this situation?” I’ve been in that situation before, and fortunately, I’ve had the resources to help people. We’ve had situations when people’s limousine transportation didn’t show up, and they were stressed out so we were able to put them in our vehicle and take them to their appointment—even though it was outside of the usual area where we typically go. They’re always wild about that.
RCLC: What are a few of the customer service lessons you’ve learned over the last three decades?
Mr. Nelms: You have to listen to people—listen to them and remain pleasant. Don’t allow yourself to get upset since a lot of times we deal with so many different kinds of personalities. Sometimes when people are upset, they want you to get upset. That’s the most important thing I have learned to do is to listen and then be thinking how you can assist them. “What can I do to make this better?” That’s what people want to hear in a customer service situation. ∞
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.