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Culture Council: 3 Ways Businesses Can Use Empathetic Hospitality to Create Customers for Life

Growing up in a large family, I always had a sense of genuine hospitality. The way my parents would prepare before an out-of-town guest arrived, the way my family would jump in to ensure people felt seen and special, the way my parents would anticipate the way they’d like to be welcomed if they were the guest. I was lucky to grow up in this environment.

As I entered the business world with my first job out of college, I very naturally employed this type of hospitality to and colleagues. It certainly made me more “likable” and made others around me feel encouraged and seen.

I started to see an idea of “empathetic hospitality” that incorporated not only great care of people but really putting yourself in their shoes and acting upon those moments.

It was not until I joined the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, however, that I started to understand how implementing this hospitality strategy to customers could create an unmatched emotional connection to a business. Throughout my time with the company, I watched leadership start every shift with a story of exceptional care shown toward guests. The company encouraged and rewarded team members who went out of their way to recognize guests and act on their needs — expressed or unexpressed.

This felt right… the idea of looking at the guest and thinking, “What do they need that they aren’t saying? What would I want in this situation?” This has had a powerful impact on our companies, both internally and externally. In many ways, we built our companies around this ideal.

Below are some ideas to help business leaders encourage their teams to build customers for life.

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In a world where most things are automated and run by algorithms, one thing that has yet to be replicated is the feeling of being heard. It is a core human desire to be heard and if you can accomplish this, your guests will be hooked. The best way to ensure you are listening correctly is to repeat what you heard to the guest and ask if that is correct. It is reassuring and trust-building — allowing the guest to clarify their needs, and proving to them that you hear them. This simple step costs zero dollars, only thoughtfulness and time. Don’t miss it!


The most exciting aspect of hospitality to me is focusing on the feelings and emotions that you create for a guest through service. Trying to put yourself in their shoes is a powerful exercise, and when done well, can be transformative — both for the guest and for your team. Examples of empathy are extremely common during mistakes — something I am quite familiar with from my days in hotel service.

One specific example was during a lovely meal at our fine dining restaurant in the Cayman Islands, I was chatting with a couple who had their young children with them, visiting from New York City. I noticed one of the children watching a firetruck video. I made a comment that I, too, loved firetrucks and actually for my fourth birthday, my parents had a firetruck come to the house and give my friends and me a ride around the neighborhood.

Well, not having had children at the time, I didn’t anticipate the reaction from both the children and parents — and I realized quite quickly I had just suggested an impossible scenario for parents raising children in New York. As I left the table, tail between legs, I started to empathize and think how I would have felt, both as a child and as the parent. This is when creativity struck and my team and I took steps to arrange a visit to the fire station for them the next day, along with shirts, fire hats and, of course, a ride on the firetruck. By the time they arrived back to their room, an invitation was placed and the difficult situation was turned into an opportunity. A bit of empathy mixed with creativity created a guest for life, a guest who still, to this day, supports our business.


Very often, the most successful customer service member is the one who hears what isn’t being said. This is not accomplished through psychic powers, just listening, observing, reading tone and asking the right questions. If you sense there’s something the customer is not saying, it’s always worth asking. Staying curious is a golden rule. Perhaps your guest was going back and forth over ordering between two desserts — bring them both as a surprise! This guest, who really didn’t want to choose, now didn’t have to. This guest will leave feeling cared for and delightfully stuffed!