Demystifying the Ritz-Carlton Secret of Legendary Customer Service

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The secret to Ritz-Carlton customer service lies in its strict adherence to its “Gold Standards” that include the Credo, the Motto, the 3 Steps of Service, the 20 Basics, and the Employee Promise.

Service at the Ritz-Carlton is so outstanding at the hotel company that it has won the coveted Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award twice, the only service business to do so.

As area marketing director for several Ritz-Carlton properties, Bruce Seigel strives to keep the company synonymous with superior service.  At the FAB conference, Seigel shared the Ritz-Carlton’s philosophy and business practices, which all “ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen” (the Ritz-Carlton motto) are expected to know. The company’s Gold Standards comprise such aspects as the Credo, the Motto, the 3 Steps of Service, the 20 Basics, and the Employee Promise.

Seigel likes to use analogies when referring to the company’s success, such as, “We make the bar of soap bigger and charge more, but make sure it takes a lot of work to do it.” This philosophy translates into putting customers first to justify the Ritz-Carlton’s higher room rates. “Giving more and charging more is part of our philosophy,” says Seigel.

Service is the Brand

He reiterates the importance of the Ritz-Carlton brand. “A brand is more than an identity. It’s a promise” he says. “A product can be outdated, but a successful brand is timeless.” The Ritz-Carlton is now branded as a “lifestyle company,” meaning it manages golf resorts and spas, and even sells bedding. To become known as the place to call for exceptional service and a dependable product, “you have to be relentless about service commitment. You have to do it every day,” says Seigel.

In the 3 Steps of Service, Seigel stresses the importance of using names. From greeting a guests to bidding them goodbye, always use their name. The bellman sees the name on luggage as the guest checks in; the server sees the name on the credit card slip.

The small things all add up to the exceptional guest experience that Ritz-Carlton guests associate with the brand. Every touch point, every interaction, helps build the positive customer experience that Ritz customers have come to expect from the brand.

Key Success Factors to a Ritz-like Experience

  • If an employee can’t support the company, they should find a job elsewhere
  • Don’t say, “It’s not my job.” It is everyone’s job. Whoever receives a complaint from a guest is responsible to resolve it
  • Don’t reply to a request by saying, “Our policy says we can’t do that.” Solve the problem
  • Make sure your environment is surgically clean. It’s the responsibility of every employee to pick up discarded cigarette butts
  • Don’t ever lose a guest. Think about how much money is spent on marketing to acquire a new guest. An average guest spends $100,000 at the Ritz-Carlton over a lifetime
  • Be aware of your language when communicating with guests. As an expression, “no problem” is perceived as insincere. Train your employees to use correct language
  • Escort guests to another area of the hotel instead of pointing or giving them complicated verbal directions. “When you take your customers somewhere, that demonstrates care and concern,” Seigel says
  • When working the phone, answer on three rings. “The customer isn’t calling to ask about the weather or to wonder if you are there,” says Seigel. Never screen calls. And use the guest’s name when you speak to them

The Ritz-Carlton is famous for its “daily line-up.” At every shift change, every employee, without exception, participates in a 10-15 minute line-up. This time is used to review the company’s objectives, to discuss commitment to quality, and to keep everyone informed of the daily travails. What’s on the menu, who’s checking in, all the daily goings-on are discussed so that everyone is on the same page. “This program energizes,” says Seigel. It’s crucial to know your people, he explains. And this is what the line-up does. “You get to know everyone on your team, their desires, where they want to be.”

At the FAB conference, Seigel asked for a show of hands from those who talk with their employees on a daily, weekly or even monthly basis. As expected, a few hands were meekly raised when it came to monthly, none for daily or weekly. At the Ritz-Carlton, everyone would raise their hands.

Employees Are Brand Ambassadors

Legendary customer service begins with training. “The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t hire; it selects its staff,” Seigel says. “A candidate must look you directly in the eye, be warm and friendly during the first interview. We are looking for ability to show empathy. If they can’t do that in the first interview, how are they going to react with our guests?”

The Ritz-Carlton looks for potential employees who can detect unexpressed needs. Part of its Credo states that it “fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.” Seigel gives an example: A room service waiter places a breakfast tray on the ottoman as requested by the guest and on the way out the door the waiter tilts the TV toward the guests’ viewing direction.

This is taking service to the next level, addressing unexpressed wishes. It’s the Ritz-Carlton way.

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