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Charles Ryan Minton, author of Thanks for Coming in Today, is a customer service expert, a keynote speaker, and the president of CRM Hospitality and Consulting. He’s also an award winning hotel general manager, that was what he did before this and he worked with some of the world’s biggest brands, helping them shape their customer experiences. Companies like Jaguar, Land Rover, Hilton Hotels, Marriott, Ultimate Jet Charters, Delaware North, you name it, he helped them improve their customer experiences.
In this episode, he’s going to be laying out all his wisdom that he’s accumulated in his career, learning about all-star customer service and how to create an environment in a culture where your team can thrive. If you feel like there is a real opportunity at your company, to improve employee engagement and to be able to elevate the customer experience, this is the episode for you. He’s going to give you immediate low cost solutions that can transform your culture into a customer centric enterprise.
Charles Ryan Minton: At a very young age, I knew I was born with hospitality in my blood, so after college, I gravitated towards the hotel industry and my first hotel job was at a Marriott and I was the front desk manager and I had a young man named Jason who works for me who is a hospitality student at a local university, he was aspiring to be a hotel general manager.
Jason was just the kind of guy who as an employee, you just wanted to just replicate him and put him in every department because he was so incredible on so many levels but the biggest thing was his attitude and his energy. It was really funny because Jason actually was very much a country boy with a little bit of a twang in his voice, but when he put that suit on, you would never know, except for his giant belt buckle that I allowed him to wear.
Jason would come in to his shift with this energy that was unlike anything I had seen before. He would seek me out, and when he got to work and he would come up to me and just give me this really like strong handshake, look me right in the eye and say, “Thanks for coming in today, Ryan.”
It was funny because I was his manager. Really, I should be thanking him, but he was thanking me. In a funny way, it was really endearing and it made me feel like I mattered.
I watched Jason do that with everyone, with his coworkers, with the guests…
I kind of became a little bit of a mentor to Jason. I took him with me to another hotel as he moved up the ladder.
One night I got a really difficult call from his fiancé that he had been killed in a car accident.
It was devastating, and he had so much in front of him. He was a young guy and was about to graduate with his degree. I found myself as kind of a way of honoring him as I started to say, “Thanks for coming in today,” to my staff, to guests, and before I knew it, it was just becoming this part of me.
As I progressed through my career and I would go to a new location or take over something a new project, I’d say, “Thanks for coming in today,” to a new employee.
A lot of times I got this kind of, “Of course I’m here,” you know? “You’re paying me to be here.” They thought I was being sarcastic, but I would explain “No, really, thank you. Because you have a choice to come to work. If you don’t, it impacts everything, it impacts your coworkers, it impacts your managers, it impacts the guests, and it ultimately impacts the bottom line.”
As funny as it sounds, I run into ex-employees and they say to me, “I miss you saying that.”
I realized there was something to that. That’s obviously the title of the book, and what I’m really focusing in on is the importance of showing sincere appreciate to those that work for you. The reality is that it’s critical because if employees feel valued, they will turn around and make customers feel valued.
To me, that’s really where it hits home for me and why I titled the book, Thanks for Coming in Today.
Appreciation Shapes Culture
Charlie Hoehn: When it comes to shaping a culture, is it really just as simple as saying thanks to your staff? Thanks for coming in today?
Charles Ryan Minton: When you strip it all down, I do believe that certainly there’s other things that have to happen, but as a leader of a department or a manager of a business, a lot of times you don’t have control over the budget. You don’t get to decide how much your employees make or how much you can spend on doing a particular sign of appreciation for your team, et cetera.
What you can control is your ability to create a positive working environment. That’s so critical. I’ve always said that when I was a GM of a hotel or any leader that has someone or a team of people reporting to them, your ultimate responsibility is to create an environment where people genuinely want to come to work.
That’s the first step. If you can do that, then other things can start falling into place. But if you have people that don’t want to come to work, you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.
Charlie Hoehn: What are some simple or even surprising ways that companies can actually start to create that environment?
Charles Ryan Minton: In the book, I talk a lot about how the employee experience really should be right in alignment with the customer experience. All the things that you hear companies and brands talk about that they’re doing with their customers. Very easily translate to the employee.
For instance, Marriott likes to surprise and delight their guests. Well, surprise and delight your employees. What I mean by that is, look for opportunities just like you would with a customer where you’re listening and you’re looking for cues on how to make an impact on a customer experience.
Look for cues and opportunities with your employees. So for instance, if you overhear that an employee is moving into a new home in a couple of weeks, make a mental note of that. Put it on your calendar, step away, because that’s a big deal in someone’s life. That’s a big deal in anyone’s life.
When that time comes around, you send a house warming gift to their home from the entire business. Can you imagine the impact that would make on someone that their place of employment thought to do that?
I talk a lot about in the book of just as you would try to find opportunities to impress the customer, you’ve got to try to find opportunities to impress your employees.
Stories from Thanks for Coming In Today
Charlie Hoehn: Share some stories from the book—what makes it unique?
Charles Ryan Minton: I talk a lot in the book about the importance of being present as a leader and as a manager. It’s very simple to say, “Roll up your sleeves and get dirty,” but I think that a lot of companies say that or a lot of managers say that, but you have to be intentional about it.
Especially know because there are so many distractions when you are managing a business, whether it’s a restaurant or retail location or hotel or anywhere. Especially with technology. If you’re not intentional about being in the frontline then a lot of times it will not happen. As a general manager, I would get to the hotel by seven AM and I would literally be in the lobby from seven to nine AM.
I wouldn’t even go to my office. In the hotel, we refer to that as lobby duty or marble duty or lobby lizard. Not all GMs do that because it can feel like there’s so many things that I need to be doing right now. But it is so crucial to be present, because there’s a lot of things that happen organically just by you being there.
I dive into the book about how being there, especially at the beginning of a shift, can set the tone for the day. It instills trust to your employees that you’re going to be there if they need some help. It gives you a sense of confidence about how the day is going to go.
Make time to work in every department, even if it’s just for a few minutes.
One of the things that I always found really entrusting about being a GM is that when the sky was falling or all hell was breaking loose and something was happening, maybe two tour buses just showed up and they’re all trying to check in at the same time. You get the call that it’s going crazy, we need help.
I would pick up my fire hose and just run down the hall and want to go help, and then when I would get there, say “hey, how can I help,” it was, “we’re good.” There’s just something about showing up that was so key and I know that that just goes a long way in fostering an environment where your employees feel like that you’re part of it that they’re a part of it and that they can trust that you’re going to help them whenever they need it.
Charlie Hoehn: I’m curious what other lessons you learned from testing out work in multiple departments.
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that I really caught on early on was when things were just going crazy or something unexpected happen. There are departments where I didn’t know necessarily how to do exactly the task within the department, and I learned very quickly that you had to be okay with that.
I remember specifically the first time this really dawned on me was, as a young manager, I was running a hotel at night, an airport hotel. The airport called and said “Hey, we just had a whole bunch of canceled flights, we’re sending you a hundred people.” It was almost closing time in the restaurant.
Needless to say, these folks were coming to us already frustrated, they weren’t getting to their destination, and they were hungry. They had been in an airport all day, they did not have any food, and we had one restaurant. The shuttle vans start bringing them over and they’re just you know, crushing the restaurant.
Charlie Hoehn: How did you feel in that moment? I mean, were you panicked or had you seen this before?
Charles Ryan Minton: As a young manager, seeing it for the first time, I was panicked. My immediate response was to go in the kitchen and try to help, so I threw on an apron and jumped on the back line and was grabbing tickets and just absolutely made it a hundred times worse.
Because these guys, they had a rhythm, they had a system. I’m not a cook, but I felt like, “Oh my gosh, I’m the manager on duty, I have to help this.”
I ended up doing so much damage.
It got to the point where finally, the guys were like, “You need to go, you need to get off the line” and in that moment, I was very frustrated. I felt like they should want my help. I felt like I could help wherever I want and could jump in.
I realized, I can’t help if I don’t know exactly what to do. I have to be okay with not knowing exactly what to do. There’s things in every situation like that one, where you can help and not be the expert in that particular area.
I can help with the wait staff and help them clean tables or get on the other side of the line and get trays of food ready to go to go out to the dining room, or there’s a giant pile of dishes that were piling.
As my career progressed and I learned that and I would respond differently obviously in those situations when the kitchen did get slammed, I would go in and help in the dining room or help on the line, putting up plates rather than getting back there, trying to flip burgers or prepare a steak perfectly.
There’s just something about the morale that changes, there’s something about the team that just really embraces seeing the leader come in and say hey, I’m here with you, we got this.
Creating a Culture of Success
Charlie Hoehn: Do you have any stories, part on of your book is about creating that culture of success. You talked about like first impressions matter, setting the bar, lead, don’t manage. Treat your employees like customers, are there any other stories you want to share from this section of the book?
Charles Ryan Minton: One of the things that I really think is so important is understanding immense responsibility you have, especially in a service industry of potentially being someone’s first boss. I hate that word boss, I really try to stay away from it, but a lot of people relate to it.
In a service industry, there’s a lot of people that’s their first job. You are the first manager that they may ever have and so, you know, I think my first manager is the reason why I feel this way, you know, Brian Perkins was my first general manager.
He was amazing, he was just the best—to this day, the best leader I’ve ever had. So at a very early age, he modeled for me, what a great leader looks like and a lot of ways, that’s why I am the way I am today because of him.
In the service industry, you have to understand like you have a big responsibility. You’re modeling for people potentially what a boss looks like for the rest of their career, and you know, I always say you think about your first job, you always remember your first boss. It can be a really good memory or a really bad memory.
You know, I think that that’s one thing that sometimes you have to pause and remember, “Wow, I have a pretty cool opportunity here, I could really impact someone and their career.”
Customer Experience Strategies
Charlie Hoehn: Now, let’s transition to part two of the book. This is about winning customer experience strategies. Tell me about empowering your people, how do you go about doing this?
Charles Ryan Minton: It’s easy to say you should empower your staff. I think a lot of people say that. Then, you’re on the flip side here, well, up to. They get to up to $500 they can do this. Or Ritz Carlton I believe says an employee can do whatever it takes to take care of a guest up to $2,000. That’s incredible.
Ritz Carlton absolutely is the model for customer service in my mind, but that is one area where I take a little bit of issue. By saying that it is $2,000, you are saying, “Okay that is where we draw the line.”
I think that empowerment really means that you trust your folks to the front lines to do whatever it takes to take care of that customer, and you have to support that. One of the things that comes to mind is I have a new employee at one of the hotels that I managed.
We had set up the expectation, “Whatever you need to do, you have to take care of the customer. We don’t want the customer leaving here upset.”
So a customer checked in, it was late and she checked them in. She did great, and then the customer went down the hallway, which in this particular hotel the elevators were a mile away. So this would happen occasionally, so the guest gets to the room and then five minutes later they’re back in the front desk.
And they are just upset because the key didn’t work. I mean how many times have we experienced that, right? We go to a hotel and the key doesn’t work.
I think it is such a good example because this is where you have to understand that every guest is different. Every customer is different, because when that happens depending on how your day went as a guest or what is going on, that may not be a very big deal or may be a very big deal and so this particular instance.
I sit off to the side. I wanted her to do her thing. She was very apologetic and she showed empathy and all the things that she should do.
And then she said, “I’m sorry this happened. I am going to take care of your stay”—and he was there for an entire weekend.
Charlie Hoehn: When you say take care of your stay she just waved all of that?
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, we’re comping your stay.
Charlie Hoehn: For messing up the key?
Charles Ryan Minton: Right, exactly. I had observed the situation. He was blown away when she said that, you know? So now here’s an opportunity, do I beat her up because she gave away the weekend and then potentially she’s never want to do anything for a guest again, or do I just use this as an opportunity to coach?
So that is what I did. I mean I absolutely applauded her for taking care of the guest and what she felt like she needed to do in that moment, but helped her understand that maybe in the future a free breakfast would have been fine.
The thing about this is I’ve personally interacted with guests where giving them the entire weekend because their key didn’t work would have been absolutely the right thing to do.
There are certain hotels that are black and white, and I talk about that in the book. I remember walking into a hotel that I took over in the back office and there was a huge chart on the wall. It was like a grid, and it had if the guest is upset that the internet wasn’t working then you give them a breakfast coupon and if the light bulb is out in the room, you get 25 points…
I immediately ripped it off the wall because if you start having prescribed responses you are taking away from the authenticity of the interaction with the guest.
So I can’t stress it enough when you are empowering the team. I carry this a lot when I am working with new customers. They are going to give away the house or we’re going to go broke because we are giving everything away.
I can confidently tell you and I tell them that never happens. I never experienced it—and the times that they do have to give away something, it’s so much better in that moment to do it in there than potentially the backend. Stress, financial issues, impacts of social media negative reviews, all of those things you can have.
I literally would argue with this point in where we’re at today that the value of a positive or negative social media review far outweighs any marketing dollars that you are going to spend.
Charlie Hoehn: I am sure you’ve seen those types of moves actually result in those types of reviews.
Charles Ryan Minton: I always say you have to celebrate when a customer complains, and I know that sounds weird but I get excited. I get excited if I get called to interact with a really upset customer because it is such a huge opportunity to turn that person around.
A lot of times, they can literally become your most loyal customer if you handle it properly.
Charlie Hoehn: I totally agree. I was just going to say that, I have noticed that the angrier the person is the further the pendulum can swing back the other way to the opposite end of the spectrum of totally delighted overjoyed blown away like the more volatile their emotional state the more of an opportunity it is.
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, it is huge.
Charlie Hoehn: It goes the other way too. If somebody is exuberant and overjoyed, you can turn them into a hater pretty quickly by messing things up.
Charles Ryan Minton: Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean that’s the flip side. I think there is a study, a Stanford study that said for every five positive experiences someone has all it takes it one to completely erase them and then you need five more to get it back.
Charlie Hoehn: You have two chapters in this section of the book with interesting titles. The first one is everything speaks and the second one is aggressive hospitality, which one do you want to cover and tell a story about?
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, let’s talk about aggressive hospitality because a lot of people when I say that phrase there they don’t really understand what I mean by that.
It goes back to my first general manager who I mentioned earlier, Brian. He was like a bull in a china shop in the lobby with guests. I mean he is just high energy everywhere and he modelled for me just what being aggressive with your hospitality was. There was no one that was going to come within his space that he wasn’t going to interact with and help and ask, “How can I help you? How are you doing?”
So when I talk about aggressive hospitality, I talk about how you have to be over the top, and there is a lot of people that do service well.
But if you want to differentiate yourself from your competitors, you have to be above average.
The way you do that is being aggressive.
One of my favorite stories, there’s a restaurant group here in town that my wife and I are extremely loyal to, and it is because of an interaction we had. My wife made reservations for my birthday at this restaurant. It’s called Boca, and something came up where she had to cancel it and we didn’t end up going to our reservation.
So fast forward several months, we go to the restaurant for a different occasion, and I think we were with her sister and brother in law. No special occasion, just dinner right? And we order our drinks, out comes the drinks and this beautiful plate of fried pickle chips and fried pickle chips are my favorite all time comfort food. I just love fried pickles and important to know here it has to be chips not spears, because spears is too much pickle.
I probably should say this in the beginning but Boca is the nicest restaurant in Cincinnati. They don’t serve fried pickles. This is not a pub.
So I looked at my wife all excited like, “What did you do?” and she looks at me and she’s like, “I didn’t do anything” and so I looked at the server and she says, “We just knew you like fried pickles.”
So of course I have to find out how this happened.
My wife didn’t even really recall, but when she had made my reservation for my birthday she mentioned that I really like fried pickles like months ago, and they made a note of it. They have our system obviously, just like a lot of places do. They made a note under our profile or whatever and did it.
If they would have brought out the fried pickles for my birthday, I still would have been blown away, but the fact that it was months later, I was extremely blown away. To the point where I was like, “All right, I have to know more about how this happened, how this worked” and so I actually met with the chef. I actually interviewed him for the book.
This restaurant group literally has a program in place called BPA, and it stands for “blow people away,” and they look for opportunities like what they did with us to blow people away because what that does is it creates a story that now I am telling you.
I have told hundreds of others. That is such a great example of what aggressive hospitality is and another thing I talk about in the book a lot is the whole book really is a lot of things you can do to impact your employee experience and your customer experience really doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.
That probably didn’t cost them anything. I’m sure they already had some pickles in the kitchen, they threw some flour on it, and they fried them up.
That was dollars if anything, and that made all the difference in our experience.
So I think that is a key point in understanding that it is easy to get overwhelmed if you are trying to shift your culture, that it is going to break the bank. No, it is actually the opposite.
There’s so many things that you can do, and I talk a lot about it in the book, that really doesn’t cost anything.
Success with Thanks for Coming In Today
Charlie Hoehn: What are you most proud of in seeing the execution of some of these principles? Does anything really come to mind that sticks out?
Charles Ryan Minton: I think about the hotels that I have gone into and try to shift the culture and have shifted the culture with literally all the things that I lay out in the book and I think the thing I am most proud of is just watching that shift.
The last hotel that I managed was the Marriott in Cincinnati, and when I came into that hotel, the hotel was doing okay but it was really near the bottom system wide in Marriott for service, and it wasn’t because they were giving bad service.
It was that and a lot of businesses deal with this where their surveys are sent to the guest or customer after they leave and it is a one to 10 kind of scale. Well in Marriott if you get an eight or less on a survey from a guest, it’s a zero.
Charlie Hoehn: That is a rough net promoter scale.
Charles Ryan Minton: At this particular hotel, we were just getting a lot of eights. So it wasn’t like we were given bad service and so on the flip side of that our employee engagement scores were actually the lowest in our company and so I just started to make very slow and deliberate steps that like I said, I outline a lot of it in the book.
Over the two years, I watched as we shifted from being one of the lowest ranked Marriott’s to being the top 10 of North America out of over 360 Marriotts.
And I watch us go to the top of the list in terms of our employee engagement and all of the things that we as a team implemented really did not cost anything. There weren’t resources that we when we got there were extra.
We already have everything at our disposal.
Charlie Hoehn: Why is it that more hotels, more businesses are not implementing these things? We all know the cost of employee disengagement. It is massive.
Charles Ryan Minton: That is the million dollar question, and I think there is a lot of reasons why, but I think the biggest one is one of those cliché things. It starts at the top. Whether it is the GM or the owner of the business who doesn’t embrace everything that we are talking about and doesn’t model it and doesn’t live it every day because it is a discipline. You have to come in aggressive on this every day, every minute, every interaction.
For some people, they get tired. They don’t want to do it. They just don’t for whatever reason. Their heart isn’t in it. so I think that is why you don’t see a lot. Then the other is you have to make sure you have the right people in place. You have to hire people that genuinely want to provide good service and care for people and that’s a lot of times the first step is you have to evaluate, “Okay, do I have the right players in place to do this?”
Connect with Charles Ryan Minton
Charlie Hoehn: What is the best way for listeners to get in touch with you, follow you in your journey that sort of thing?
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, I appreciate you asking me that. I love interacting with my followers on social media. So you can find all of my social media channels on my website, charlesryanminton.com. I am very active on LinkedIn. It is probably my most interactive social media platform, and of course you can find me just by looking, searching Charles Ryan Minton.
Charlie Hoehn: Nice and it looks like you do some speaking as well just looking at your website.
Charles Ryan Minton: Yeah, absolutely. I speak to companies all over the world that want to engage with creating and bettering their employee experience, their customer experience, leadership.
Charlie Hoehn: So you’ve got a wide array of people you have helped in the service industry.
Charles Ryan Minton: I think that is what I am very excited about. One of the things I am most excited about with this book is that if you’re in any customer facing business, I know there are parts to this book, actually all the book that will apply, it certainly rings very true for restaurants, hotels, retail, but really anyone that has a customer facing part of their business will find value in the book.
Charlie Hoehn: What is the one thing they can do from your book this week that will have a positive impact?
Charles Ryan Minton: I think you know one thing that would be very, very simple, it is almost too simple but I know that there will be or you will see a difference. Just apply the title of the book as you’re interacting with your customers and with your employees. Take the time, take a minute as you interact with folks. Maybe you don’t have to necessarily say “thanks for coming in today,” but just say, “Hey I really appreciate you being here today”.
You will see people’s eyes light up, you will see people respond. Because it is so easy to get in the grind every day of the customer service things that we have to do all the different tasks and sometimes we forget.
We need to take a minute and thank the people that are making it happen.