Creating a Culture Where Employees Thrive & Customer Service is Alive

AskNicely Team

In February 2022, hundreds of leaders from service businesses across the world gathered together online to take part in the Global Frontline Experience Summit, an event we are delighted to sponsor and host again after its hugely successful first run in 2020. It was a phenomenal event with a contagious heaping of inspiration, excitement and possibility for anyone working in the customer experience and frontline service space.

Charles Ryan Minton is nearly as famous in the customer service industry as the hotels he’s headed up. He’s built a career in leadership of many of the world’s most loved hotel brands, including the famed Westin (owned by Marriott Bonvoy). If there is something Ryan knows it is that by providing your customers and guests with an unforgettable experience, your business can build customer loyalty and gain an edge over your competition. But what most leaders forget is that great customer experience starts with happy employees. To take your organization to the next level, you need to work from the inside out.

Charles’s first job in the hotel industry was at the Cincinnati Marriott. You can spot him at the center back in this photograph, alongside his fellow front desk employees. 

At the time, the Cincinnati Marriott was at the top of it’s game. Out of all the Marriott hotels, it was rated number one in customer experience. It was voted best for arrival experience, best for problem resolution and best departure experience.

“We were number one and it was because of this team right here”. 

Early on in his career, Charles realized the absolute importance of frontline teams, and the critical role they play in delivering awesome customer experiences. He could see first hand how the interactions he and his team had with their guests shaped customer perceptions, repeat business and referrals. 

Many years later, as Charles worked his way up to general manager, he had the opportunity to circle back to be the general manager of the hotel he started at, the Marriott Cincinnati. Much to his disappointment, he found that the hotel had gone from being the best in customer service, to the worst.

“I was shocked to find out that this hotel that had been the top of the brand for so many years had plummeted to the bottom 10% of all Marriotts in customer service. I was blown away, especially because almost all the employees that were getting those scores several years previously were still there.”

It was clear that the frontline employees, who were once motivated to deliver on the Marriott service promise, had become disengaged. 

This was an ‘aha’ moment for Charles. It solidified the notion that if you want to have great customer experience, you HAVE to have great employee experience. One simply doesn’t work without the other. 

He simplifies this by saying —

“Employees who feel like they matter, make customers feel like they matter”

Charles made it his mission, to win on customer experience through the path of employee experience, and boy, did it pay off. 

“All of the hotels that I went into that were underperforming in customer service, number one first step is to start making sure the employee experience is on point and a place where people want to come to work.”

Every hotel that Charles touched, improved customer experience ratings dramatically, all through improving the experience of the employees. And it makes sense, right? Employees who feel supported, empowered and trusted to deliver on the service promise every time, are a trillion times more likely to provide awesome experiences than those who feel undervalued, underpaid and under-appreciated. 

So, how did Charles actually go about creating a culture where employees felt great in the work they were doing? He breaks things down into four key considerations: 

First Impressions Count 

Did you know that 50% of all frontline employees leave their job within the first 90 days? Charles believes a large part of this is due to poor first impressions. 

“You have to get the first day right. We put so much energy into recruiting and then the first day we're not prepared. We're not showing the level of value for this new associate.” 

Charles recalls a time when it was an associates first day at a hotel, and their manager was on leave that day. Not a great start. 

With a bad first impression, almost immediately you lose a team member's trust, interest and engagement. So, what makes a good first impression? 

  1. Show appreciation from day dot. 

Charle’s book “Thanks For Coming in Today” is centered around frontline employee appreciation. He remembers how one of his employees Jason (bottom left in the photograph above) would walk in the front door with a big smile on his face, shake Charle’s hand and say “Charles, thanks for coming in today.” He remembers how it made him feel; seen, heard, valued. Years later, Jason tragically passed away in a car accident. Charle’s made it his mission to carry on Jason’s legacy. 

“When Jason would thank me for coming in every day, even though I was his boss, it really made me feel like I mattered and made me feel like I was important. Like I was valued. It made me feel so good. I decided I want everyone to feel that way.”

The simple words, thank you, go so much further than you could ever imagine. 

  1. Clearly communicate your expectations

You can’t leave it up to chance that your employees and associates know what a great customer experience looks like. A great experience to one employee, may be an average experience for another. In order to maintain a consistent level of quality service, you need to clearly communicate what the benchmarks for success look like, and celebrate and reward employees when you catch them doing things right. 

  1. Develop a service pledge & make it fun 

One way to clearly set expectations and make an awesome first impression is through developing a service pledge, which is the first habit of the 7 Habits of Empowered Frontline Teams. 

“One of the things that we've done in my hotels is we have a little card and it's a service pledge. There’s things on there like: I pledge my commitment to a hundred percent customer satisfaction by addressing the guests by name whenever possible. Or following the 20/10 rule by making eye contact with any customer within 20 feet and acknowledging the customer verbally and a smile with a smile within 10 feet.”

Don’t just write it down, make it fun! Charles likes to throw a service pledge party for this team, where they get together and enjoy food, play music and sign the pledge. 

Don’t be a Jackass!

Can you think of a horrible boss? Sadly, almost everyone can. Charles reminds us that as a leader of a frontline team, you have an opportunity to be an awesome part of their day. 

“I think it's a pretty cool privilege that we [frontline managers] have the opportunity to make someone's day. We can make those 8, 10, 12 hours a day, the best part of their day.”

Charles talks about having “no more bad days”. Of course, you’ll have bad days, but you still have a choice as to how you show up for your team. 

“I have a newborn, I'm not getting a lot of sleep. I'm going to come into work every morning. And you know, maybe I'm not on my a game, but I have to find a way when I walk in the doors of that hotel to be on, because we've all worked for that manager or boss who everyone's on pins and needles about whether or not they're going to be in a good mood. It’s just not fair” 

How not to be a jackass? Be kind, be appreciative, be communicative, be approachable and be a role model as to what showing up as your best self looks like. 

Treat Your Employees Like Customers

When you show your frontline employees the level of respect, care and support that you expect customers to receive, you create a ripple effect that flows on to your customers. 

  1. Create an inviting work environment

When Charles becomes a manager of a new hotel, the first thing he does is go into all of the staff areas and give them a refresh. A fresh lick of paint, perhaps a new fridge or some greenery. This signals to his team, straight off the back, that they are valued. 

“Think about that for a second. If your new boss came into your organization and the first thing he or she did, the first dollar they spent was in an associate area. Think about what that communicates to the team. I think that's a huge way to show that you're serious and your value and you, and you appreciate the employees.”

  1. Make time for team and provide them with the tools they need to succeed 

Like fellow Global Frontline Experience Summit guest, Dan Cockerell, Charles also makes time to ‘Walk the Park’ but in his case “Walk the Hotel”. During this time, Charles takes an hour to talk to his team, get their feedback and check in on how they’re doing. 

“It's so crucial that you are intentional about this because it's so easy to get caught up in the day to day. So easy to get caught up in the emails that are piling up. You have to be intentional about making time for your employees so that they feel valued, that they feel appreciated.”

Charles also stresses that you must provide the tools your frontline team needs to do their job properly. Whether it’s new physical equipment, technology or coaching, you can’t expect your team to deliver if they don’t have the tools they need to succeed. 

Creating a ‘Blow People Away’ Culture

Charle’s puts up an image on his slide deck of some delicious looking fried pickles. He says proudly “I love fried pickles, they’re one of my favorites foods”. 

Bear with.

He explains a customer experience he had that personally blew him at a high end restaurant in Cincinnati called Boca. 

He went there to celebrate his birthday with family and friends, and after the server brought out their drinks he put a plate of fried pickles on the table. “I heard you love fried pickles” the server said. Charle’s was blown away. They didn’t even have fried pickles on the menu, not to mention how they even knew it was his favorite food? 

As a customer experience (and fried pickle)  junkie, Charles later interviewed the head chef at Boca to understand how this happened. The chef explained that months prior, his wife had booked a table that they ultimately had to cancel. During the booking, the chef asked if there was any foods they particularly liked, and Charle’s wife jokingly said “Oh, my husband loves fried pickles’. Despite the cancellation, the restaurant kept that information and later used it to provide a customer experience that quite literally blew Charles away. 

This only happened, because the frontline team at the restaurant felt empowered to make those calls. Charles advises to release frontline teams from the constraints of the P words — “policy” and “procedure”. Encourage them to go the extra mile, whatever that may look like. 

Pledging to improve employee experience is a pledge to improve customer experience. When you implement Charle’s 4 considerations above, you create an environment where employees want to come to work, and feel empowered and inspired to deliver on your service promise. 

Charle’s closes his presentation with a quote from one of his favorite books by the Disney Institute. It reads: 

“You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality. In might surprise you, but in our research, people cite the interaction they had with our cast, as the single biggest factor in their satisfaction and intent on return”

Want more from Charles Ryan Minton? We sure do! In his bestselling book, “Thanks for Coming in Today”, Charles shows you how to build and retain an all-star customer service team by establishing an environment in which employees can thrive. He explains how to empower your staff so that they can turn complaints into kudos, identify potential problems before they occur, and make even the minutest detail of a patron’s experience memorable.

Keep an eye on the AskNicely blog for more deep dives into the presentations from the Global Frontline Experience Summit 2022. 

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

AskNicely Team
About the author

AskNicely Team

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