The Ritz-Carlton Review: My Personal Customer Service Horror Story
By Bob Phibbs
I was standing naked, covered only in a towel and yelling down from the second floor of the men’s spa at the Ritz-Carlton, “Is anyone there? Get me out of here!”
After speaking to a thousand people about how to create remarkable customer service for two days, I had looked forward to treating myself to a massage at the venerable Ritz-Carlton.
I was not disappointed.
For ninety minutes my cares evaporated as Clifton kneaded the knots out of my back and neck. At 5:50 were we done, and he escorted me back to the lounge.
I went into the sauna for a minute and when I came out, I noticed the same half-filled water cup that had been on the table a couple of hours earlier was still there.
When I got to the locker room, I found used towels both thrown on the floor and draped over the benches. A cellophane wrapper lay smack in the middle of the tile floor. I dropped my robe in a hamper and picked up a towel to cover myself.
As I tried to unlock my locker, it beeped yet remained closed. A guy who was almost out the door said, “Good luck. Took me almost ten minutes to get mine to unlock.”
As he walked out the door heading for the stairs, I asked him to ask someone to come up to let me in my locker. He replied, “Will do.” It was now fifteen minutes after my relaxing massage. I kept trying my locker passcode, but it still didn’t work.
Still in my towel, I finally left the locker room and moved to the landing at the top of the stairs. I called down. I waited. No answer. Finally, I yelled out, “Is anyone there? Get me out of here!”
I shouted it again... nothing. I was just about to walk downstairs when a cleaning attendant came out of the women’s locker room. I asked her to get someone now and get my locker unlocked. Looking stunned, she said she would.
It was now a half an hour after my massage. All the calm I'd experienced from the massage was out the window...
I went back in and tried the keypad again and again. The guy who had brought me up initially came through the door just after the locker finally opened. He said to my back, as he began picking up the used towels on the benches,“I had to get the key.”
No apology. No nothing.
I got dressed quickly and went downstairs to the spa counter to settle the bill with the woman - who must’ve been deaf. But I was determined to speak to the property’s General Manager.
I went to the Front Desk, told the young woman a bit about what had happened. I said I wanted to see the General Manager. She went to the back office to get him, returned, and said, “He’ll be right out.”
When he hadn’t shown up five minutes later, she went back again but returned and said, “He is at dinner.” She offered to get the Food & Beverage Manager instead, but I fumed, “What good will that do? Forget it.”
She begged me to wait and came back a couple minutes later with a young guy who I then told my story to. As I was telling him about the events of the last half-hour, my mind traced back on other service incidents that had occurred on this trip to this Ritz-Carlton…
At check-in, I had asked about an upgrade or the club floor. The Front Desk agent said, “No upgrade but I can give you a view of Bourbon Street.” But when I got to the room on the eleventh floor, instead of Bourbon Street all I saw was the other wing of this hotel.
Only one of the three guest elevators had been working on Friday and Saturday, meaning guests had to wait 10 minutes for it. Then of course, it had to stop on every floor, until it was brimming with guests. One guy sighed at floor seven and said, “And it’s a Ritz-Carlton...”
And that same elevator still showed the hand marks on the brass trim over the door that had been there for three days.
The Eggs Benedict I had ordered Saturday morning with scrambled eggs arrived with poached eggs instead.
I unleashed all of this frustration on the Food & Beverage Manager who apologized and then said, “What are we if we aren’t about service?”
I responded, “You’re the Ritz. I was willing to give you a pass for the earlier items and didn’t complain, but there should never have been one miss, let alone a half dozen.”
That night when I returned from dinner with friends, the same Food and Beverage Manager had left me a handwritten note which included, “As we discussed, this is not Ritz-Carlton standard and I will be passing along everything you shared with me to the appropriate leaders. Please allow me to send you scrambled eggs benedict in the morning as a fond farewell from the ladies and gentlemen of the Ritz-Carlton.”
The next morning, it arrived at 7:30 am, but the scrambled eggs looked like something from a diner rather than the fluffy ones I’ve received at other Ritz-Carltons. I was glad I was leaving at 10:45 am.
But at 8:00 am a maid knocked on the door to see if she could clean. “No,” I said. “I’m out at 10:45.” At 10:00 am another maid knocked on the door while I was deep in thought composing a message to a client. I opened the door and asked, “Why are you doing this? Checkout is noon, I’ll be out in 45 minutes.”
As I opened my door to leave, there was a note on it, If you do not want to knock the door, please use the private [sic]. Thanks, I’m sorry.
Got it. It’s MY fault for not hanging the privacy sign, not their fault they were trying to clean my room – twice, a room that by every right I should have had to myself until noon.
From the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center comes this advice from Jeff Hargett, their Senior Corporate Director, “At The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, we realize that our price points, our locations, our fine china and our linen thread counts can only get us so far. The one thing that impacts each and every customer—the one thing that is exclusively ours to control and that we can utilize to stake our claim of excellence in the Experience Arena—is our SERVICE. How many customers have you brought on board or kept from jumping ship because of your service?”
And this from the same site, “GOLDEN NUGGET #121. We cannot give time back to our customers. Timing is an important part of service. Respect your customers’ time.”
My stay was such a colossal miss for a brand that prides itself on individualized, personalized, think-of-your-needs-before-you-know-them-yourself service. The brand that also empowers any employee to spend up to $2000 - no questions asked - to make a customer’s day.
Former CEO Simon Cooper talks about how Ritz-Carlton makes guests happy one at a time. “There are stories about hiring a carpenter to build a shoe tree for a guest; a laundry manager who couldn't get the stain out of a dress after trying twice flying up from Puerto Rico to New York to return the dress personally; or when in Dubai a waiter overheard a gentleman musing with his wife, who was in a wheelchair, that it was a shame he couldn't get her down to the beach. The waiter told maintenance, who passed word, and the next afternoon there was a wooden walkway down the beach to a tent that was set up for them to have dinner in. That's not out of the ordinary, and the general manager didn't know about it until it was built.”
But this one time, they left someone alone in the spa.
This one time, they didn’t clean the property.
This one time, they didn’t listen to the order to make sure it was right before serving.
This one time, they didn’t think of how customers would feel waiting and waiting for an overcrowded elevator.
And this one time, they didn't see how obnoxious it was to try to clean a room early.
And this time, sorry was not enough for me.
Oh, and the follow-up from the General Manager, now that it is a week later?
I checked TripAdvisor to see if I was alone but no, I found several bad experiences which you can read here. One reads, "While the hotel looks nice, service and food is fair at best. While walking through the lobby a Ritz employee was walking directly toward me. Instead of stepping aside, smiling, or greeting me, he simply said “excuse me coming through” and forced me to step aside. Seriously?!"
The General Manager responded to that review and many others with a standard boilerplate answer, "I value your comments and will use them to improve the service and products we offer our guests."
So I'm not the only one...and it shows no signs of getting better.
But here's the thing...
The many individuals who let me down at this one location disserviced the rest of their locations around the world who understand the unique place Ritz-Carlton has as the pinnacle of hospitality; those other associates are frequently cited with excellent customer service examples in hospitality.
Yes, it is hard to be consistent, but we’re talking THE RITZ-CARLTON!
Those awful encounters totally overshadowed the amazing Bobby, the AV guy who ran the sound system for my presentations for two days. He was always available, had a smile, and was willing to do anything to make my sessions go well. When I had to miss lunch, he excused himself, went to his locker, and grabbed a Kind bar to give to me. That was an example of the best customer service situation in a hotel; he was exceptional.
So was the young woman who when I asked for a pitcher of iced tea at the last session of a day, came back to me at the end to let me know she’d have another the next morning waiting for me.
And let's remember Clifton who was in a league of his own as a five-star masseuse...
Come to think of it, so was the doorman when I first came to this property a decade ago who, in the middle of the night gave me a history lesson on the hotel and welcomed me like I was family.
But those wonderful moments were eclipsed by a systemic lapse in judgment, listening skills, training, accountability, managing, and execution which ultimately led to a situation few customers could brush off.
So here I am sharing this rotten customer service horror story experience with thousands of my followers. Most likely some of them will share it with their friends, just like the many negative reviewers of this property in recent months have undoubtedly shared with their friends.
That’s how word-of-mouth has been known to take down brands.
The moral to this story?
One bad experience doesn’t just stay with the person it happened to; it travels.
Update 1/24: I asked for a copy of my final folio and found they charged me $45 for the free breakfast from the "ladies and gentlemen" of the Ritz. Geez.
Herve Humler, Co-Founder and now President of the Ritz-Carlton Company, shared his credo, their GPS in this video,“We are in the service business, I'm not here to sell room, or food or beverage, or bed. I'm here first to sell service. If we do that well, we will be successful.”
He continued, “People have to understand the customers they serve. Luxury is all about detail. Creating one story a customer will always remember.”
I can guarantee you that this Ritz-Carlton location made a memory in me that will last a lifetime due to their poor hotel customer service training.
Will any luxury customer be willing to look the other way when their order is wrong?
Will any luxury customer be willing to look past the carelessness of the employees?
Will any luxury customer want to stay at this hotel with such sloppy standards?
Get our weekly newsletter updates. Read our mailing consent T&Cs here
The 5 Shifts Brick-and-Mortar Retailers Are Making to Generate Up to 20% Higher Profits Every Month
Are you a hungry brick-and-mortar store owner who’s ready for a fresh, people-obsessed strategy? This training is for you if you want to grow your business using a powerful customer experience formula proven to make your cash register chirp.