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To Transform Your Brand, Put Customers First

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BOCA RATON, FL—For Bruce Himelstein, hospitality is his lifeblood. His first job was a bellman and one of his proudest moments was receiving a recognition award from Marriott International’s Bill Marriott while his father looked on. He is also proud of efforts to “blow the dust off the lion and crown” at the Ritz-Carlton. It is these moments that help to shape a meaningful hospitality career of more than 30 years. You don’t have this kind of longevity without adding a few rules to the playbook. Now, as a speaker and consultant for the BJH Group, Himelstein details his experiences to other businesses and reveals strategies used at luxury hotels to transform brands from the inside out.

“I pinch myself every day that my experience and body of work resonates across industries. It’s very gratifying,” said Himelstein. “I think eye contact and listening skills are a lost art. Be better than anyone at this and your customers will remember you. Also, you’ve got to set the example. Surround yourself with people that commit and let them do their jobs.”

Organizations tapping into his breadth of experience want to learn how to increase customer service and handle disruption. During his talks, he presents numerous examples he’s encountered throughout his career and scenarios that have a way of resonating with his audiences.

“The Ritz-Carlton is an iconic global brand that set the standard on customer service. I was just a steward of the culture and philosophy during my eight-year tenure,” he said. “The service DNA of the brand is iconic and one to benchmark. Our team was able to increase the relevance through communications, positioning for the next generation and reducing the formality.”

Customer service is a team sport. For hoteliers seeking to get everyone on board with putting the customer first, Himelstein believes the answer is an easy one. “It’s scary that more organizations struggle. The leadership sets the tone and each associate holds each other accountable to deliver,” he said. “There’s no wiggle room.”

Himelstein offers a couple of tips to help hoteliers make the shift right now:

Put customers first. “Customer service is one of the few things over which organizations have complete control. This is true again and again. You need to strive to get it right every time,” he said. “Providing better customer service than your competition raises the switching costs. Once you have provided an experience like no other, the customer is yours.”

Change the culture. “The way to win in any market is to make customer service the foundation of your brand. This transcends people,” he said. “The culture must be customer-centric, not an initiative that belongs to a person or department.”
—Corris Little

Customer Service IS Your Brand! The Truth about Branding from a former Ritz-Carlton executive

A recent edition of my local newspaper carried the following headline: “Chipotle co-CEO to focus on customer service.” The body of the article reported, “Now that the Denver-based company is satisfied with its new safety protocols, it’s turning its attention to better customer service.”

While I applaud the company’s efforts, focus on customer service is not a box to be checked or some static goal that can be marked “complete.” Customer service is the very DNA of a customer-centric culture. For years, when I was chief marketing officer at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, attention to our guests was the undeniable brand. It still is.

In the hotel industry, it takes only a checkbook to be competitive. The great differentiator, however – the factor that sets one competitor above another – is how the customer is treated. Animating your brand with the tenets of world-class service starts with the CEO and permeates throughout the organization. Anticipating customers’ needs and delivering on them must always take priority. These tenets are non-negotiables; they simply must not be stripped down or cut out during the budget process.

Along with being non-negotiable, customer service should be nonproprietary inside the organization’s walls. In other words, accountability for outstanding service doesn’t belong to any one person or department but rather to every employee, associate, and department. Now, allow me to make the distinction here: the word “nonproprietary” applies to customer service across all departments – they all share in delivering. But when the discussion shifts to trends across an entire industry, by all means strive to make your company’s customer service proprietary. Own it. Stand out from competitors in how your organization delivers. By the way, when a brand gets this right, it allows pricing power because we know that from the customers’ perspective the cost of switching to a competitor just spiked higher.

There are three things to keep in mind about customer service and branding:Customer service is one of few things over which organizations have complete control.

1. Customer service is one of few things over which organizations have complete control. 

2. Providing better customer service than your competition raises the switching costs.

3. The way to win in any market is to make customer service the foundation of your brand.

During my tenure at Ritz-Carlton, a major airline’s flight attendant group approached us. They were interested in raising their level of service – commendable for sure. When asked if their CEO knew they were meeting with us, their response was no.  In fact, no other department within the airline was present or had plans to follow this group’s service-improvement journey. The fact is they would have failed because their organization didn’t consider it a priority. Customer service–fueled brand identity should begin at the top and spread to every department like – well, like planes dispatched from hub cities span the continent. It seems like kind of an automatic metaphor, one would think.

So, kudos to Chipotle’s executives for recognizing the corporation has an issue. However, the company’s future would be better served if its execs realized that customer service cannot be the Flavor of the Month.

 

Prominently featured in the New York Times bestseller The New Gold Standard, Bruce Himelstein is the Ritz-Carlton executive who transformed customer service for one of the world’s most recognizable luxury brands. Now a consultant and speaker, Himelstein discusses brand marketing on respected venues such as Bloomberg.com and the Wharton School’s Sirius radio channel. Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International named him among the Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing. Bruce@TheBJHGroup.com

Customer Service Critique of Hospitals and Urgent Cares

In a recently published article, Mr. Bruce J. Himelstein, who has spent well over 30 years in the realm of hospitality upper management helping global brands improve their culture of service, addressed the need for strong customer service reforms in hospital and critical care environments.

Responding to comments by John Stossel, a Fox News Host and Consumer Reporter, Mr. Himelstein expounded upon his experience working with the CEO of the Shady Grove Hospital to enact a top down approach to shift the focus from medical care that comes at the expense of customer care, to a more balanced distribution of services emphasizing empathy, proactive communication, and positive patient interactions.

Being approached by the Shady Groves Hospital CEO to serve on the Board of Directors and analyze the industry-wide issue through his hospitality service lens of perception allowed Bruce to tap into his own expertise and apply proven measures to current healthcare settings in order to find practical ways to enrich the patient’s experience.

The solutions he mentions in the publication are forward thinking and intensely relevant in a time period when the healthcare industry is shifting from relative hospital monopolies towards an array of more diversely competitive options. Simply put, hospitals are going to need to compete with private urgent care facilities, CVS pharmacy clinics, new companies jumping into the healthcare arena, and conglomerates like Walmart who are considering the idea of building hospitals.

When people have more options, as the healthcare industry is trending towards, then the patient experience (in a time of intense social exposure) will play a critical role in the decision making process about which facilities a patient chooses to attend.

In Mr. Himelstein’s professional estimations, there are a series of highly relevant practical solutions (such as encouraged communication and celebrated service awards/incentives) that when enacted from a top down approach could shift the culture and make a huge difference in whether patients feel cared for and important, or isolated and uncomfortable.

With so many hospitals struggling to stay afloat and other struggling to evolve, it is becoming a business necessity for sustainable medical care in hospital environments to include the levels of empathy and communication that are so vital for customer service.

The new wave of healthcare is coming, and it includes a focus on hospitality that previously was reserved for industries dependent on positive client experiences like large scale hotel chains.

Read the Full Article Here.