Take It From Ritz-Carlton: Data Is Nothing Without the Personal Touches


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When a man from the U.S. East Coast preparing to spend a month in San Francisco on business walked into the doors of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, two employees welcomed him by name and told them they were excited to have him there. One handed him his room key and took him directly up to his room without a stop at the front desk.

“When I entered my room, I found they had stocked everything I would ever need.” The hotel had laid out his favorite snacks, magazines, movies and music. “Everything was there for me. I had a bowl of fruit (a favorite snack of mine) and a box of chocolates with my name spelled out on the pieces.” The hotel had even had business cards made up for him with his contact information at the Ritz-Carlton.

Inspired by renowned hotelier Cesar Ritz, the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co. has long been recognized as a leader in product and service excellence. Even though Ritz-Carlton has won two prestigious Malcolm Baldrige awards for service quality and maintaining a very loyal customer base, the company’s leadership doesn’t leave customer engagement to chance. Like many other great businesses, the Ritz-Carlton uses a CRM system. Coined “Mystique,” the Ritz-Carlton database is used to track information such as guest preferences, frequency of visits and issues that have come up for guests during their previous stays.

The hotel had laid out his favorite snacks, magazines, movies and music.

While the data is helpful in understanding an individual guest’s relationship with the brand, the data is only as good as the staff’s willingness to leverage it to create ongoing, memorable and unique experiences for the guest.

For all the organizational initiatives directed at “putting the customer first,” “driving customer loyalty” and “developing consumer evangelists,” customer engagement remains elusive. In fact, according to NPD Group, a market research company, almost 50 percent of the consumers who described themselves as highly loyal to a brand were no longer loyal to that brand a year later. So how does a business maintain loyal customers? In a nutshell, by not leaving it solely to technology, such as complex CRM databases, but instead making loyalty and customer engagement an integral part of each employee’s daily focus and communicating about it daily.

To drive behavior, leadership at The Ritz-Carlton begins a dialogue about the significance of “customer experiences” and “customer loyalty” that starts even before an employee has been selected for the job.

During the interview and selection process, Ritz-Carlton executives continually reinforce the message that they are looking only for individuals who possess the highest level of service talent. By “talent,” they are referring to measurable personality characteristics that reflect the prospective employee’s capacity to empathize, infer, communicate about and resolve the needs of others.

The credo

Upon being selected—not hired—new staff members are required to go through orientation before they can begin their job responsibilities. No employee is ever allowed to start work without going through orientation. Senior leadership attends every orientation to welcome new hires into the Ritz-Carlton family. During the selection process, hiring managers note the preferences of every applicant. At orientation, directors of learning incorporate the preferences in a way that demonstrates the three steps of Ritz-Carlton service:

  1. Extend a warm welcome
  2. Anticipate and fulfill stated and unstated needs
  3. Provide a fond farewell

“During the selection process,” one new hire said, “They must have asked me about my favorite snack because at orientation I received my spicy nachos and freshly squeezed mango juice. I was wowed, especially when the chef delivered it. It was all so excellent, and then I realized how I can impact other people by just paying attention to details about them.”

It is through such experiences at orientation that new hires appreciate the outcomes leadership wants staff to offer guests. Those outcomes are easily identified in the words of The Ritz- Carlton Credo which states:

  • The Ritz-Carlton Hotel is a place where the genuine care and comfort of our guests is our highest mission.
  • We pledge to provide the finest personal service and facilities for our guests, who will always enjoy a warm, relaxed, yet refined ambience.
  • The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.

© 2008 The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company L.L.C., all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

Whether a staff member is the CEO or a bellhop, each Ritz-Carlton employee (referred to collectively as “the Ladies and Gentlemen of The Ritz-Carlton”) is responsible for driving customer engagement by offering “genuine care and comfort” in a “refined ambiance” by “enlivening the senses, instilling well-being and fulfilling unexpressed needs.” Not only is this expectation communicated during the orientation process, but also it is reinforced daily.

The Credo is published on a pocket side card, which includes a listing of the company’s service values. Several such values include this one:

I build strong relationships and create Ritz-Carlton guests for life. I am always responsive to the expressed and unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests. I am empowered to create unique, memorable and personal experiences for our guests. I continuously seek opportunities to innovate and improve The Ritz-Carlton experience. I own and immediately resolve guest problems. I create a work environment of teamwork and lateral service so that the needs of our guests and each other are met.”

The Credo card is then viewed as a part of the employee’s uniform and is referenced daily in a process the Ritz-Carlton refers to as “line-up.”

Line-up is held every day of the year at every Ritz-Carlton property worldwide, and attendance is required for every staff member. At line-up, the Ladies and Gentlemen celebrate stories of exceptional service; share new information from the Mystique CRM database; hear presentations on business success factors, such as the importance of driving customer engagement is presented, and research results from customer engagement surveys. And they discuss the information on the Credo card.

In the end, the Ritz-Carlton enjoys world-class customer loyalty—and guests enjoy world-class service—because everyone in the company understands that it’s not just about CRM technology. Customer engagement emerges from the creation of a service culture; continuous communication about the mission-critical nature of customer relationships and customer loyalty; and reminding staff that all business is personal.

Joseph Michelli, Ph.D.
Joseph Michelli, Ph.D., an organizational consultant and the chief experience officer of The Michelli Experience, authored The New Gold Standard: 5 Leadership Principles for Creating a Legendary Customer Experience Courtesy of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company and the best-selling The Starbucks Experience: 5 Principles for Turning Ordinary Into Extraordinary.


  1. In a world of technological advances that seemingly makes life easier (depending on how you look at it), nothing makes a difference such as the human element. This article is an example of the situations that I have found with clients….. Anticipating the clients needs and having the staff with the cultural mindset to deliver superior service is essential. Combined, these two facets will take you light years ahead of your competition when building customer satisfaction, customer loyalty, and a high customer referral base.

    Customers really don’t care about your service or your product. In most cases, they can find the same thing at your competitor. What they do care about is how they feel when they are at your business or in your care. The service mindset is what will distinguish the successful companies.

  2. I just spent a couple of nights at the Ritz in San Francisco. If only it could have been a month!

    Yes, the service was excellent. Yes, they were attentive without being smarmy. Yes they were personal without being cloying. But I literally laughed out loud when I pulled into the driveway of the Ritz and my navigation system said, “You have arrived.”

    Jim Sterne

  3. Great article. And I agree 100% that the personal touch is critical in the customer experience. Our CEM study of 2006 found that friendly and competent employees were critical to CEM success.

    It’s fair to say that data-driven CRM is not the total answer. Too often, it leaves out the human element.

    But as your article illustrates, in some cases it is the data that make the human touch a better experience. If not, then I’d say RC should get rid of their CRM system and the data it collects.

    Bob Thompson, CustomerThink Corp.
    Blog: Unconventional Wisdom

  4. I agree completely with the article, I believe it is impressive how they reinforce their brand mission and identity with the brand experience. In terms of service, I believe the Ritz is successful but they still need to eliminate the gap between brand image and brand identity. How would you suggest to do this?


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