Puttin' On The Ritz: Is Your Email Up To The New Gold Standard?

  • by January 20, 2009
Joseph A. Michelli's book, "The New Gold Standard," covers the "5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company." While email inboxes don't have much in common with plush Ritz-Carlton hotel rooms, there are lessons about stellar service that we can use to make our email programs a bit ritzier.

Define and Refine: Brand Evolution and Reinforcement in Email

An essential aspect of the Ritz-Carlton experience, and the experience offered by any brand, is balancing consistent brand identity with the need for progress and continued relevance. Michelli points out that leaders must decide, "which aspects of their business can't change and which components must evolve to retain preeminence in their industry and consistently deliver a high-level-and relevant-experience to their customers."

For the Ritz-Carlton, this question led to retaining the traditional company motto ("Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen") while adapting the offerings of individual hotels to the needs of the local clientele.



Email is an important piece of brand reinforcement. Email from unique brands like Urban Outfitters is especially noticeable in how it reinforces tenets -- in this case humor and irreverence.

When any business embarks on an email redesign initiative, branding comes into question. What needs to be kept consistent so that subscribers still know they're hearing from the folks they know and love? What needs to change to improve subscribers experiences and adapt to developments in best practices? When Horchow updated its email creative template, its new designkept elements ofits old design, such as the solidbar of color and the beautiful environmental shots of their products, but the company introduced a cleaner look that enforces elegant and classic brand elements. Leadership at Ritz-Carlton is committed to "evolution and not revolution," which eloquently expresses a core guideline in creative development.

It's Not About You: Utilizing Knowledge of Preferences

Ritz-Carlton strives to offer each guest a personalized experience by attending carefully to unique needs and preferences. Staff goes out of their way to notice guest preferences -- such as beverage orders -- and remember them, sharing the information with other staff members. responds to subscribers this way -- following up on my camera purchase by sending me electronics email. Many retailers gather guest preferences through preference centers, which allows you to send your subscribers just the sorts of email they ask for, or to dynamically populate parts of subscriber messages. Sephora takes the latter approach and is consistently one of Smith-Harmon's favorite examples of tuned-in personalization.

The Sephora preference center asks a lot of questions, but Sephora rewards its subscribers' time with responsive messaging. As the folks at the Ritz-Carlton have learned, "One of the greatest risks of asking guests their preferences is that it sets up an expectation that those preferences will be acted upon." Asking your subscribers about preferences before you're prepared to follow through only sets them up for disappointment.

Warm Welcomes: Deliver Wow!

The Ritz-Carlton leadership and staff members know the classic wisdom that there's only one first impression: "Taking the time to make a strong first impression, genuinely inquiring about a guest's needs, delivering on those needs, and mastering subtle details, all play a role in differentiating between acceptable and memorable services."

It's important for email marketers to remember that when planning initial email. Prioritize your welcome message or welcome series, and your subscribers will be primed to love what follows. Virgin America's welcome message is clean, packed with relevant info, and downright welcoming. MINI USA, in contrast, missed out on the chance to make a smashing first impression. Instead of sending out a congratulatory post-purchase email, the company started with a carbon footprint email. The message was nice, but the opportunity to initiate an email relationship with a strong first impression was lost.

Leave a Lasting Footprint: Showing and Fostering Responsibility Through Email

Michelli closes his book with the Ritz-Carlton's efforts towards social and environmental responsibility. He writes, "The true test of an organization's success and the significance of its leadership extend well beyond Wow stories, current economic performance, or even offering products that address the immediate preferences of consumers. Increasingly, businesses are judged for the lasting nature of the footprint they leave on individuals, communities, and other businesses."

Increasingly, retailers have been using email to let their subscribers know about their own responsible choices, as well as to invite subscribers to join in their contributions. This REI newsletter alerts subscribers to community volunteering opportunities through REI, while this message encourages subscribers to participate in a fundraiser through a fun and on-brand activity: designing and selling Valentines. While most of us can't offer our subscribers a warm place to sleep or room service meals, we can make efforts to bring their inbox experiences up to the Gold Standards of the Ritz-Carlton.

2 comments about "Puttin' On The Ritz: Is Your Email Up To The New Gold Standard?".
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  1. Joseph Michelli from The Michelli Experience, January 27, 2009 at 5:33 a.m.

    Thank you for taking the time to read and review my book and write this fantastic article! I am in your debt.
    Joseph Michelli, author of The New Gold Standard

  2. Fred Tabsharani from Port25 Solutions, Inc., February 1, 2009 at 2:14 a.m.

    Enjoyed the article. Nice comments on making a good first impression.

    Welcome messaging comes in all shapes and sizes and in my opinion, the new welcome message should be coined the "welcome package." The initial communication should not only inform and sincerely welcome, but also extend a warm invitation to an area of the site dedicated to anointing newcomers.

    This area should be packed with delicate incentives and extras, while giving her a preview of what to expect in her upcoming newsletter given her preferences.

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