What Legendary Companies Do (and You Can, Too)

When it comes to delivering outstanding customer experiences, a handful of companies are consistently cited as role models. Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Nordstrom, Harley Davidson, and a few others have inspired countless business books, articles, training classes, and speeches on customer service. I know – I use them all as examples myself!

But an argument I hear from some consulting clients or workshop attendees is that it’s pretty easy to deliver legendary service when you offer high-end products and services, like Disney, Ritz-Carlton, etc. The argument goes that while the service delivered by these companies does make for great stories, most organizations operate on tight margins and can’t afford to do the things these legendary companies do.

I recently read an online article that described how when Apple decided to open retail stores, they sent their store managers to Ritz-Carlton’s hospitality training. One of the comments posted to the article made the inevitable comment that of course Apple can afford to apply Ritz-like service; they offer high-end products.

But what I suggest here is to take a closer look at what some of these legendary service providers actually do that makes them legendary.

Ritz-Carlton’s famous motto is, “Ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” That’s a pretty simple idea. But let’s go a bit deeper and look at the service standards their associates are expected to follow:

  • A warm, sincere greeting.
  • Anticipation and fulfillment of the guest’s needs.
  • A fond farewell using the guest’s name.

No matter the industry, size of the organization, or tightness of margins, can’t any organization apply some version of those three simple standards? Heck, I’ve purchased hotdogs at food carts where these Ritz-like standards were applied (the vendor may not have used my name, but certainly provided a fond farewell).

And let’s take a look at Disney’s 7 Guidelines for Guest Service:

  • Make eye contact and smile.
  • Greet and welcome each and every guest.
  • Seek out guest contact.
  • Provide immediate service recovery.
  • Display appropriate body language at all times.
  • Preserve the “magical” guest experience.
  • Thank each and every guest.

While Disney has seven standards compared to Ritz’s three, they look pretty similar, don’t they? And they don’t appear to be any big, complex secret do they? They’re pretty basic standards of courtesy that can and should apply to just about any interaction. If an organization or its employees can’t apply at least some of those standards, they’re just not trying.

Every industry has companies that have stepped up and decided to deliver legendary customer experiences, regardless of the challenges. Publix Supermarkets and Wegmans Food Markets, operating in the notoriously low margin grocery business, have both done it. Chick-fil-A has done it for quick-serve restaurants and Southwest has done it for discount airlines. Wawa has done it with convenience stores. On opening day of the first Wawa in the Orlando area a couple of years ago, there was a line out the door and down the block – for the opening of a convenience store!

No matter the industry, it can be done.

Here's something to think about: Rather than coming up with excuses for why proven best practices won’t work for our organization because we face “unique challenges” (most challenges aren’t that unique), why not focus on how we can adapt those best-practices and put them to use?