3 Keys to Creating Excellence in Your Customer and Employee Experience with Horst Schulze

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Horst Schulze

“Don’t look at yourself, look at your customer. Be sure you have your customer in mind when you create something. Be sure it’s customer-focused, not self-focused,” says Horst Schulze, Founder, Chairman & CEO of the Capella Hotel Group, and Co-founder & Former COO of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.

Do you know what it takes to be a high-quality leader? One who leads with a vision and principles that can transform both employee and customer experience? Horst definitely knows a thing or two about creating excellent customer service and has some great insights to share with us—many more of which can be found in his latest book, Excellence Wins.



I encourage you to watch the full interview below, as Horst, who’s been deemed “corporate hotelier of the world“ by HOTELS Magazine, shares wisdom that transcends hotel management and can be employed by CX practitioners in any establishment where customers are being served.


*The audio version can be found at the bottom of the podcast and is available on Itunes and Stitcher.

Be a Leader That Sets the Vision and the Standards

Episode 145Horst shares that he wrote this book to get CEOs thinking about what it really means to be a leader at this executive level. He wants CEOs to reevaluate whether or not they’re doing the right thing in their role, sharing that he constantly reevaluates himself. Horst really wanted to communicate the importance of values and integrity in this role. 

He goes on to say that leadership is about setting the vision and leading your people through it. When you’re in this position, you set the standards, and then invite people to join it. Horst is specific in stating that it’s not about the mindset of “hiring,” it’s about selecting people who you want to join you and the vision that you established. As leaders of an organization, you have to be very clear with your people about what the vision is, so they can integrate and become a part of it.

As CX practitioners, if your company doesn’t already have a mission statement, it’s time that you work on one and use it as a guiding principle for setting internal behaviors and expectations. Horst’s initial vision as president of the luxurious Ritz Carlton hotels was driven by his commitment to excellent leadership and serving customers in a way that goes beyond their expectations. And how did he do this? He spent time understanding his market’s customers and spent time engaging his employees in order to bring world-class service to customers.

Empower Your Employees to be a Part of the Dream

When speaking of empowering employees, Horst references Aristotle and the notion that people want to be a part of something greater, they want to have a purpose. He uses this approach as a leader to cultivate a team of employees who can align themselves with the objectives of the company. At Horst’s orientations, he encourages employees to embrace the vision of the hotel and be a part of the dream. He emphasizes to them that he wants them to be able to grow and take on opportunities that allow them to have more ownership of customer satisfaction.

For instance, Horst shares that he empowers employees to do their due diligence in keeping customers by providing them with a 2,000 stipend. If a customer has an unpleasant experience, the employee is encouraged to alleviate an issue by offering another service. He explains—if a customer comes down for breakfast, and the waiter says “welcome, good morning, I hope you had a nice stay” and the customer says “well I didn’t, because the toilet didn’t work properly,” the employee can then say, “forgive me, sir. I feel bad about this so I will buy your breakfast.” The employee is enabled to take this kind of responsibility that keeps the customer happy, and for the most part, loyal.

Horst says that he gets letters from guests who were delighted because an employee said “forgive me,” and followed up with another action like sending a fruit basket or buying them a glass of wine. As a leader, Horst took the time to understand the economic value of each guest, while also thinking through what would be a worthwhile internal expense to retain the customer. He knows that each guest is worth a potential of two hundred thousand dollars over a lifetime, so why not spend some money to keep them?

Horst’s actions and empowerment of his employees is about allowing policy and the golden rule to collide; it’s critical that customers have meaningful contact with employees. As CX leaders, we have to trust who we hire and allow them to make decisions to do what they think is right at the moment.



Don’t Underestimate the Importance of a Greeting

During our conversation, Horst shared some tactics that he employed at his hotels under a guiding principle of “we are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen.” To Horst, it’s important that you come to work to create excellence, not just to work. An example he shares is that it’s important that employees look guests in the eye and say, “good morning, welcome.” It’s not enough to just say “hi.” You have to lift them up and elevate the experience. A part of elevating this experience means addressing guests by “sir” or “ma’am” and to do so when you’re within 9 to 10 feet of them.

Horst explains that when you’re within this spatial distance with guests, you’re giving them the proper attention to make them feel welcome and let them know they’re important.

What Do You Know Now That You Wish You Knew Then?

Horst says:

“When you come to my age, you know, that when you look back you cannot avoid seeing yourself. Be sure you see something beautiful. I wish I would have known that then, there’s some things I wouldn’t have done, some things I wouldn’t have said, something I would have done so that the view back looks so much better.”

Listen to the episode here:


About Horst Schulze

Horst Schulze is Founder, Chairman & CEO of the Capella Hotel Group, and Co-founder & Former COO of Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co.  Schulze is a legendary leader and global titan of business.  His visionary and disruptive principles have reshaped the concepts of excellence, service, and competitive advantage, transcending divisions of industry across the business landscape.

Upon co-founding the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. in 1983, Schulze singlehandedly set the business operation and service standards that made the Ritz-Carlton brand globally elite and world-famous.  Under Schulze’s prodigious leadership, The Ritz-Carlton, a multi-billion dollar international enterprise, was awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award twice—an unprecedented achievement, as The Ritz-Carlton remains the only hotel company to ever receive the prestigious award.


A big thank you to Horst Schulze and the wonderful folks at Zondervan, who have been generous enough to share the first chapter of Excellence Wins for you to enjoy!

Click here to download



Taken from Excellence Wins by Horst Schulze Copyright © 2019 by Horst Schultze. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.


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