When Having a Great Brand Hurts You

Author: Linda J. Popky

We all want to have the best brand we possibly can, right? We want customers to know what we stand for, to understand how passionate we are about our business, and to think of us as leaders in our industry or market.

But there are times when an outstanding reputation can actually hurt you, as I discovered recently in my interactions with a supposedly stellar brand, Ritz-Carlton.

My interaction with Ritz-Carlton was particularly interesting because for years I’ve used the Ritz in my brand strategy courses as a shining example of how a company builds outstanding brand promise.

We talk about how employees embody the brand, and how employee interactions can make or break a brand. We discuss the importance of storytelling, and in particular how Ritz-Carlton employees are trained from day one to take care of the guest, even being empowered to spend up to $2000 to ensure guest satisfaction without requiring a manager’s approval.

Yet during a recent stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Florida I wasn’t feeling this employee empowerment or overwhelming need to delight the guest. There were several times during my stay when things weren’t quite right. In one instance, I had to have multiple conversations with front desk employees before a problem was corrected. I also heard from several colleagues that their experiences at the hotel that week were not up to their expectations as well.

Upon returning I received a link to one of those ubiquitous online surveys asking me about my stay. Normally, I don’t complete these, but in this case I was curious to see what would happen, so I mentioned both problems I’d encountered during my stay. Within less than a day, I received an email from the director of housekeeping, wanting to find out more details about my problem. He thanked me for the information I then provided him and offered to send me a discount certificate for a future stay at the hotel.

Since it’s unlikely I’ll get back to Sarasota anytime soon, I asked him if it was possible to make this applicable to other Ritz-Carlton properties. He told me because the hotels were individually owned, he could only make the offer for his specific hotel.

Bing. Now I understood part of the problem. It’s hard to enforce such a high code of consistency and quality across multiple properties with different owners. Ritz-Carlton may specify what the brand should look like, feel like, how employees should treat guests, etc, but if this isn’t translated and internalized at the same level from different management companies, there will be trouble.

Part of the problem is that my expectations were so high vs. other hotel chains. So what would have been perfectly acceptable at a Westin or Marriott, is not good enough for the Ritz.

What does this mean for you? Know what your brand stands for. Be sure your employees understand how you want them to represent the brand. Check and double check that the folks on the front line are representing you appropriately in front of the customer. Be especially careful that new employees or additional locations provide the same high level of service as your existing locations.

Last month, I had the opportunity to experience the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park in New York City. Though my experience was not 100% perfect, it was head and shoulders above what I experienced in Florida – from the demeanor of all the employees to the attention to detail to the way the room was arranged to the service I received from the front desk staff.

Several days after I returned home I received the expected online survey. This time there was no need to complete the survey, since I got the service and experience I expected: what we expect from great brands.

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