Our Remodeling Leadership Conference, held annually in May, features the Big50 awards banquet sandwiched between two days of business presentations delivered mainly by professional speakers and trainers from fields other than construction. This year's theme, “All Business Is Show Business,” was borrowed from the title of a book by Scott McKain, who delivered the opening address at the conference. In support of his idea, McKain cited two contrasting bits of data from research by Xerox Corporation about repeat customers: Just 6% of “satisfied” customers return to do additional business, while 66% of “highly satisfied” or “extremely satisfied” customers return. For McKain, the key is to go beyond quality product and good service and learn to entertain your clients; in short, to create what he calls the “ultimate customer experience.”

Pimp My Ride One example McKain mentioned comes from a plan to increase the revenues of a luxury motor coach company he and his business partner purchased. Their first idea was to splurge on interior amenities, but before doing so they asked their customers about the idea. They discovered that, although no one objected to this commercial version of “Pimp My Ride,” what McKain's clients really wanted was better drivers. Punctuality and safety were important, of course, but the clients, most of whom were in the entertainment business, wanted drivers who were more like entertainers themselves. This was not merely to make the long hours on the road more endurable, but because their fans expected it. Fans at a country music concert, for example, often interact with the band's bus driver. But they don't know that he works for McKain's company; they think he works for the band. So the driver's behavior reflects on his celebrity passengers.

Hire For Talent On day two, Diana Oreck delivered a similar message, but more courageously, given that she is vice president of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center. She is responsible for all internal and external training initiatives of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which has more than 28,000 employees worldwide. I use the term “courageous” because her presentation about “legendary customer service” was performed in a Ritz-Carlton hotel ballroom and everyone in the audience had been interacting with Ritz-Carlton hotel staff for more than 24 hours.

The pressure didn't faze her in the least. Oreck compressed into a one-hour highlight reel what is ordinarily a two-day training course that all employees of The Ritz-Carlton attend as part of their orientation. I have several pages of notes, but two points stand out. The first has to do with the hiring process at The Ritz-Carlton, where interviews are designed to uncover traits such as “self esteem,” “persuasion,” and “empathy,” among many more. These are not to be confused with aptitudes, however; they are considered “talents” in the sense of innate behaviors that occur naturally and that can be embellished or strengthened, but not taught. For example, Oreck explained that there are 500 “touch points” involved in cleaning a guest room. A member of the housekeeping staff takes particular pride in making sure every one of those touch points is perfect and feels uncomfortable until they are. The cleaning techniques can be taught; the talent of “exactness” cannot.

The second point that stuck with me was a statement that Oreck said was the one thing in the entire hour that we ought to write down: “Customers judge the quality of your institution by the responsiveness of the first person they come in contact with to discuss their problem.” This is a scary thought for most remodelers, whose job sites are people's homes and whose work force includes framers, concrete workers, drywall hangers and tapers, and plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors. All of these employees and trade contractors may do wonderful work, but, as McKain found out, it's not about the bus. It's about the people.

Who's driving, servicing, and riding in your bus?

Editorial Director