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:

FutureWatch: The Move to CX – Self-Service

It is not unusual to hear companies speak of their desire to provide excellence in customer service. However, the emerging trend in customer service is having you do it yourself! Self-service (also called CX) is an emerging trend in the customer service realm (Shaping Tomorrow). Consider whether you have used any of these self-service options recently:

  • Reserve your own ride-time at Disneyland using Fastpass. While you may feel like you are doing this as a means to manage your time, you are actually providing your own services via a digital interface. You are also helping Disney manage their attraction line-ups!
  • Check out of your hotel via your television. Many hotels allow you to check-out and review your bill in your own room which allows you to bypass the busy front desk when you leave.
  • Check into your flight on-line and print your own boarding pass. While this helps you secure the seat you want, it also helps airlines anticipate no-show rates on high demand flights.
  • Rent a movie through your TV remote from your cable service provider.

On a recent trip to Europe, I experienced a few interesting twists on CX:

  • Paying for my excess baggage fees prior to my flight. While I could have done so at the airport, I learned that I would save $10 per bag if I did it myself. This is an example of incentivized CX.
  • Pre-clearing customs. Our trip through US Immigration & Customs in Chicago began by being directed to a machine. There, I swiped my passport, scanned my fingerprints on a touchpad (no, I am not a criminal!) and declared my goods purchases. I received a printed receipt which was then presented to the traditional customs official. After I cleared customs, I asked him what I should do with the unused blue customs declaration card we filled out on our flight. His reply was, “Throw it away – we don’t ‘use those anymore”.
  • Booking our airport taxi using an on-line app. This story did not have a happy ending as the self-service app failed to be able to interact with non-European phone numbers and we had to hail our own taxi in the morning (a great reminder of the dangers of CX!).

Expect significant growth in the CX industry in the next decade. In fact, Shaping Tomorrow states that 70% of us already expect web sites to have self-service functionality (business tip – how often have you experienced frustration searching for this on a web site? How easy is it to find on your site?). Already, over 60% of customers use self-service for their baggage at airports and over 200,000 terminals support ApplePay.

Self-service can make our lives a lot easier. Sometimes!

There is a time and place when we really like self-service (like the hotel key drop-box when we are leaving our hotel in a hurry). There is also times when it can be incredibly frustrating (can you recall the 15 minute phone calls where you press 1 and 2 repeatedly to try to find the service you need?). I believe that successful self-service is based on a simple principle – making your customers life easier or more convenient! In contrast, when self-service is driven by the need to make a company’s life easier I believe it will be prone to fail.

However, when it provides you with an advantage, you will use it.  After all, spending less time with an immigration agent is a good thing, isn’t it!?!

Postscript: An hour after posting this I read a related article titled, The UK Wants Nationwide Contactless Travel by 2022. It embodies this concept very well!

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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 FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman. Email:


Help yourself in the future. Shaping Tomorrow. Retrieved from

Photo Source: PBS