Customer Service – The Ritz-Carlton Way

Today’s blog contains a summary of a recent presentation about customer service. These ideas were delivered by Donald Lenahan, the Director of Hotel Operations at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Rancho Mirage, California. Mr. Lenahan provided some great insights and I know you will enjoy them.

Customer service.

We know that great organizations do it well! Each of us has received it and we have also provided it. We know what good service feels like and tell our friends about “that amazing time when…”. We also know what bad customer service looks like! In fact, statistics reveal that we tell our friends about bad customer service experiences more than we speak about the good ones! So how can we ensure that our organizations’ customer service efforts create positive experiences?

Effective customer service is something that the Ritz-Carlton has built their business on. It is not simply a core value – it is their core value! And this is why we often think of the Ritz-Carlton as a world class organization. The following seven principles provide insights about how you deliver customer service the Ritz-Carlton way.

  1. Define it. Clear expectations about customer service provide your team with the ability to know what matters. At the Ritz-Carlton, employees understand that their goal is to create happy customers. Exceptional customer service begins with exceptional attention to defining what it is, what it looks like, and what it feels like.
  2. Hire it. “Effective interviewing is about early talent identification”. The Ritz-Carlton has a rigorous and demanding hiring process which involves several different stages. This attention to screening for customer service ability on the front end helps minimize service issues after they are hired.
  3. Train it. “You have to build a service culture. This means training, training, training! We must set clear expectations early on!” The Ritz-Carlton has a thorough training program for new employees. However, what sets them apart may be the retraining they continually do with their current employees! Training ensures that they are continually reinforcing the customer service values of the Ritz-Carlton with all of their staff.
  4. Communicate it. “All of the people in our company are talking about the same thing every day”. The Ritz-Carlton reinforces excellence with weekly reminders which reinforce key customer service themes. Repetitive use of tools such as their training matrix, the 12 service standards and their employee promise all work together to continually reinforce service priorities.
  5. Empower it. “Customer service mistakes will happen. So how do you equip your staff to handle mistakes? At the Ritz-Carlton, “All staff are expected to ‘move heaven and earth’ in order to make customer service occur and correct problems”. When a guests luggage gets lost, or a meal isn’t right employees are empowered to serve their guests.  In this way, customer service failures can become opportunities because they create retention and brand loyalty.
  6. Reward it. Lenahan continually spoke about ways that they recognize and celebrate good customer service. It is done in simple ways such as using thank you cards, sharing positive guest comments, and weekly awards. His comments revealed that employee engagement is related to far more than our paycheck.
  7. Measure it. ‘Delivering effective customer service is a journey of continuous self-improvement”. The Ritz-Carlton has a strong commitment to enabling effective service with data. A customer database is used to track guest preferences. This equips employees with knowledge they can use to provide you with things you want – a room on the ground floor, a bedtime cup of tea or early check-in.

There are some principles which are timeless. Mr. Lenahan revealed that this is the case with effective customer service! The success at the Ritz-Carlton is not a result of a silver bullet or the ‘secret-sauce’ of customer service. Instead, we learned that the Ritz-Carlton standard is achieved through customer service standards are a result of blending intentionality and thoughtfully executed principles.

“Listening is a key ingredient of solving customer service problems”.

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor, consultant and pracademic who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational Future-Readiness (and he loves great customer service!). He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:

Saying Sorry: Responding to Our Mistakes

Mistakes are a part of life. When they are made, I am most interested in how people or organizations respond to them. Late last week, Intuit software President and CEO, Brad Smith, provided a noteworthy example of how to gracefully respond to a mistake.

In late 2014 Intuit made an error. It wasn’t colossal, but it made their customers angry and resulted in a significant public backlash (see Forbes for more details). In short, they made changes in their tax software functionality from the year previous without letting customers know. As a result, some customers faced the unexpected need to upgrade their software (pay more money!) to get the supplemental tax forms they required.

Smith posted the following apology on LinkedIn:

“Even with the best of intentions, we find ourselves in situations where we mess up, letting down the people who count on us. The past two weeks have been a humbling refresher of this lesson for me and for our company. Our intention was to align our desktop, online and mobile versions to deliver faster innovation and improved experiences for all customers, but our execution left much to be desired. We didn’t communicate enough before implementing the change, and we were slow to react once we began hearing the much-deserved anger and disappointment from some of our customers. Simply stated, we messed up. This isn’t the first time we’ve made a mistake, and I wish I could promise that it will be our last. But I’m a realist, and I recognize that the pursuit of perfection doesn’t guarantee that outcome. What I can promise is that we won’t make the same mistake again. We have learned some important lessons that we have documented and shared across our company. My hope in sharing this with you is that we can pay it forward. 

To all of our affected TurboTax desktop customers, I am sincerely sorry. We earned our way into this, now we’ll earn our way out.  And above all else, if you mess up, don’t be afraid to say you’re sorry and make it right.

Last year, about 28 million federal tax returns were filed electronically using TurboTax, compared with 7 million combined for each for the two and three tax software competitors. This is a big market! As a result, cynics view this apology as the best way for Intuit to cover their behinds. Alternatively, others see it as a humble apology.

To me, this is a model of humility and how to say sorry. It should also remind us of the need to forgive. As the adage reminds us, fool me once, shame on me…fool me three times, shame on you!” Intuit does not have a track record of this behaviour. Should it do so in the future, we have a different situation. In the meantime, I laud the efforts of Brad Smith even if it cost me a few extra bucks this year.


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


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