Ritz-Carlton case study: Meeting the “unexpressed” needs of guests

It is the impeccable service that helps separate Ritz-Carlton. They do a lot of things right to earn the high prices they charge. They have the best locations, beautiful rooms, nice beds and great meals. In reality, every luxury hotel has to deliver these or they’ll be out of business. 

Recognizing a brand must be better, different or cheaper to win, Ritz-Carlton has focused their attention on delivering impeccable service standards to separate themselves from the other luxury hotels. 

Ritz-Carlton has operationalized their service, so their culture and brand are one.

Ritz-Carlton brand

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Ritz-Carlton training session. I loved their idea of meeting the “unexpressed” needs of guests. Marketers struggle to figure out what consumers want. Yet Ritz-Carlton has created a culture where bartenders, bellhops and front desk clerks instinctively meet these “unexpressed needs.”

Employees are fully empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for their guests. 

  • Unique means doing things that separate Ritz-Carlton from other hotels.
  • Memorable forces staff to do something that truly stands out.
  • Personal is defined as people doing things for other people. 

Employees carry around notepads and record the expressed and unexpressed needs of every guest and then they use their instincts to try to surprise and delight these guests.

Ritz-Carlton bakes service values right into their culture

Ritz-Carlton tells their staff to “Keep your radar on and antenna up.” They encourage everyone to look for the unexpressed needs of their guests. These could be small wins that delight consumers in a big way. They can show the hotel is thinking of ways to treat them special. 

But like any hotel, things do go wrong. When a problem arises they quickly brainstorm and use everyone’s input. Staff is encouraged to surprise and delight guests to turn a problem into a potential wow moment.

Ritz-Carlton has built a culture of "wow stories"

A great story that makes its way around the Ritz-Carlton world. A guest who had just left the hotel called to say that their son had left his stuffed giraffe in the room. The boy could not stop crying. The only thing these distraught parents could think of to tell their son is that the giraffe was staying on the vacation a little longer. So the staff found the giraffe and overnighted it to the boy. Most luxury hotels would have done that. But that was not enough for Ritz-Carlton.

Knowing what the mom had told their son about staying on a bit longer, the staff also included a photo album of the giraffe enjoying his extra stay. They took photos sitting by the pool, getting a massage in the spa with cucumbers on his eyes, and laying out on the beach. Imagine how the parents felt. And, imagine how many friends they may share that story with.

Ritz-Carlton has created a culture that defines its brand

Everyone at Ritz-Carlton goes through a daily line up where they share wow stories. They use local stories, and stories from around the world. These stories keeps their people fully engaged. 

Harvard did a study on employee engagement, stating that the average company had 29% of their employees who were fully engaged and they labeled this group as the ‘super stars’. Using the same criteria, Ritz Carlton has 92% of their staff as considered fully engaged. No wonder they are able to win so many service awards. And no wonder they create such an experience for their consumers. 

Ritz-Carlton culture

So what can brand leaders learn from Ritz-Carlton?

  1. How can Brand Leaders meet the unexpressed needs of guests? Balance short-term results with longer-term relationships. Observe and listen for the unexpressed needs of consumers. It is great to have the data, but you have to reach for your instincts. Ritz-Carlton has these behaviors baked into the way they show up. 
  2. How do you get your antenna up, so that you are always watching, listening and thinking? Talk with consumers. Walk into the store. Monitor the brand’s social media feed. Sit with customer service. Read through consumer complaints. Set aside time to do a quick brainstorm on consumer observations once a week.
  3. How can brand leaders push themselves to wow the consumer? The Ritz-Carlton staff is constantly trying to wow their guests. They push to surprise and delight that goes beyond the brand promise. As a marketer, push yourself to surprise or wow your consumer. Build a high standard that goes beyond your consumer’s expectations. 

Brand culture

How to communicate to the people who work behind your brand

With most brands I meet up with, I ask “What is the Idea behind your brand?” I rarely get a great answer. When I ask a leadership team, I get a variety answers. When I ask the most far-reaching sales reps, the scientists in the lab or their retailer partners, the answers get worse. That is not healthy. 

Everyone who touches that brand should be able to explain what the brand stands for in 7 seconds, 60 seconds, 30 minutes and at every consumer touch-point. They should be delivering the same message.

There are too many brands where what gets said to the consumer is different from what gets said inside the corporate walls. The brand idea must organize the culture to ensure everyone who is tasked to meet the needs of both consumers and customers, whether they are in HR, product development, finance, operations and experience delivery teams, must all know their role in delivering the Big Idea.

Too many brands believe brand messaging is something that advertising does. The more focus we put on delivering an amazing consumer experience, the more we need to make sure the external and internal brand story are aligned. It should be a brand idea that drives that story. 

Every communication to employees, whether in a town-hall speech, simple memo or celebration should touch upon the brand values that flow from the brand idea, highlighting examples when employees have delivered on a certain brand value. Ritz-Carlton holds meetings before every shift begins. 

The brand idea should drive everything and everyone

Brand Management was originally built on a hub-and-spoke system, with the Brand Manager expected to sit right in the middle of the organization, helping drive everything and everyone around the brand. 

However, it should actually be the brand’s Brand Idea that sits at the center. Everyone should feel connected to the brand and understand how to deliver the idea. The brand leader must know everything around those spokes, even as others are doing those jobs.

Brands like Ritz-Carlton work hard to make sure the brand drives the culture as essential element to the long-term success of the brand. The best brands look to the overall culture as an asset that helps create a powerful consumer experience. The expected behaviors of the operations team behind the consumer experience should flow out of the brand values, that flow from the brand idea. These values act as guideposts to ensure that the behavior of everyone in the organization is set to deliver the brand’s promise.

Everything that a brand leader must know

Learning from Ritz-Carlton, can you do something this week to meet the unexpressed needs of your customer?

Marketing Skills

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A strategic marketing plan gets everyone on the same page, including senior management, sales, product development, customer service and your agency partners. So, we have a one-page brand plan to help. That way, everyone drives against the same vision, key issues, strategies, and tactics. Throughout this article, I will show how to write a marketing plan, with a few marketing plan examples. And, we have a marketing plan template you can purchase. 

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Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

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