Long before Zappos and the Apple Store, the Ritz-Carlton became one of the best examples of luxury, over-the-top, best-in-the-business customer service. In fact, when the Apple Store experience was being designed, the Ritz-Carlton was purportedly a model for that retailer's own philosophy of customer service.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Allison Sitch [@LuxPRLady], Vice President of Global Public Relations at The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. When asked what Ritz-Carlton hopes to achieve using social media, I didn't hear one of those typical refrains often heard in the hospitality industry, "fill more beds," or "lower our vacancy rate." Instead, I heard about the hotel chain's commitment to deepening the engagement with current guests, as well as aspiring or potential customers.
"It comes down to one word: engagement," said Sitch. "It's a natural extension of who we are as a brand. We engage in deep relationships with our guests. We genuinely care about them and their individuality and what they're looking for."
When asked about what comprises the driving force, or passion point, behind the brand's social communications, Sitch said it is about memory-making. "We're in the business of creating indelible memories that last a lifetime. It's not about heads-in-beds and fine linens."
Interestingly, while Ritz-Carlton doesn't focus on a community per se, the individuals with whom they engage make up a community of their own. "We speak of them as a global affluent tribe; not to be confused with pure wealthy high net-worth travelers," said Sitch. "People are connected by passion points, which usually would lend themselves to communities of people who share those passions - such as fine wines, classic cars - but interestingly for Ritz-Carlton, our consumers are connected by the virtue of the fact they are Ritz-Carlton consumers. You generally find real loyalists that have an affinity for the brand because of the one-to-one relationships they develop - not just with us, but with other travelers."
Sitch said that guests of the Ritz-Carlton often want to converse with their friends about their experience. "Not because they want to boast," she said, "But because they often give them nugget of their experiences... It's usually about the details - not how big the chandelier, or how many swimming pools - but about a component of service that was so personalized it blew them away. The social channels allow us to interact with them, to celebrate those moments and memories of those experiences. And provides a vehicle for them to share those memories with other people."
Ritz-Carlton has approached the various social media platforms to enhance or extend that story-telling and memory-making. "Each social channel we set up has a different role to play in the world of memory-making," said Sitch, "different stages of guest journey."
Photos posted on Pinterest are often shared by customers. Sitch explained that those photos often provide images that remind the guests of an experience they had, or a moment they aspire to have. Pinterest boards have titles such as "memories that last a lifetime" and "love in bloom."
The idea of memories comes into play on Facebook, too. "We use Facebook to encourage our guests to share their memories with us," said Sitch.
On Instagram, images are curated from guests who use the hashtag #RCMemories. All of the images there come from guests - not the brand.
If your brand is focused on being in the business of memory creation, social media is ideal. "Social media is as much a customer service tool as the ladies and gentlemen who would stand in the lobby ready to assist a guest," said Sitch.
The Big Brand Theory is an exclusive column for Social Media Today written by Ric Dragon that explores the social media strategies of big brands, both B2B and B2C. Look for the next installment next week. Logos by Jesse Wells.