Building a Customer-Service Culture

Look at Ritz-Carlton. Through a lot of effort, it has created a corporate culture almost solely devoted to serving the customer.

First, let me say that I don’t make a habit out of staying at Ritz-Carlton hotels. But I have had occasion perhaps a dozen or more times to stay at a Ritz while attending a conference. I’ll have to say that, not only did I never experience a problem, but, without exception, each stay was an exercise in indulgence. I’ve also experienced several outstanding displays of excellence in customer service. On one occasion, I was preparing for a workshop and realized that I had forgotten my overhead markers. Stepping into the hallway outside the meeting room, I asked a housekeeper who was dusting ashtrays (really) if she knew how I could get in touch with the A/V people. In many other hotels, I’ve been lucky to get a shrug or Freddie Prinze-ish, “That’s not my job, man.” Not at the Ritz. The lady insisted on tracking down the markers herself (my program was scheduled to begin in minutes) and, remarkably (no pun intended), she returned with a new, unopened pack of markers within five minutes. She had been taught that SHE “owns” any request by a hotel guest. On another occasion, I was convinced there was a shortcut to a meeting room on the second floor (where my sleeping room was located), so I wouldn't have to go down and through the lobby, then back up some stairs to the second floor again. I stopped and asked a guy who was painting some trimwork if he knew how to get to the room. It would have been easy for him to say he didn’t know, but this guy laid down his brushes and escorted me through a maze of corridors to the meeting room. What this gentleman did is the rule, not the exception, at a Ritz-Carlton hotel. If you’ve ever stayed at a Ritz-Carlton hotel, I’m betting that your experience was outstanding, too. (In an independent survey, 99% of Ritz-Carlton guests said they were satisfied with their experience, with more than 80% “extremely satisfied.”) How can they do it so much better than most hotel chains? Yes, you do pay a premium for their services, so we can attribute some of this to a larger budget. But, for the most part, the Ritz does it by creating a corporate culture almost solely devoted to serving the customer. If you spend the night at a Ritz, chances are the person making your bed received more training than you did getting licensed! EVERY Ritz-Carlton employee receives a minimum of 120 hours of customer service training. That’s THREE WEEKS or more of training devoted to one discipline. Most first-year employees receive 250-300 hours of total training. How many of your CSRs have received 120-300 hours of any kind of training? This type of commitment to service and training pays off by allowing the Ritz to charge significantly higher rates for rooms and facilities while developing a clientele that is fiercely loyal. Many people WILL pay more for greater quality and service…the kind of people most businesses would want as long-term customers. See also: How to Enhance Customer Service   The Ritz-Carlton, at the time this article was originally drafted, is the only hotel chain to receive the coveted Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the only two-time winner (1992 and 1999) in the service category. In a study by Cornell and McGill universities, the Ritz was selected “Overall Best Practices Champion” from a field of 3,528 nominees. Let’s take a look at some of the foundational principles of the Ritz: The Ritz-Carlton Motto: “We Are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” The Ritz-Carlton Three Steps of Service:
  1. A warm and sincere greeting. Use the guest’s name, if and when possible.
  2. Anticipation and compliance with guest needs.
  3. Fond farewell. Give them a warm good-bye and use their names, if and when possible.
The Ritz-Carlton Credo: 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 ambiance. The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests. The Ritz-Carlton Basics:
  1. The Credo will be known, owned and energized by all employees.
  2. Our motto is: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen serving Ladies and Gentlemen.” Practice teamwork and “lateral service” to create a positive work environment.
  3. The three steps of service shall be practiced by all employees.
  4. All employees will successfully complete Training Certification to ensure they understand how to perform to The Ritz-Carlton standards in their position.
  5. Each employee will understand their work area and Hotel goals as established in each strategic plan.
  6. All employees will know the needs of their internal and external customers (guests and employees) so that we may deliver the products and services they expect. Use guest preference pads to record specific needs.
  7. Each employee will continuously identify defects throughout the Hotel.
  8. Any employee who receives a customer complaint “owns” the complaint.
  9. Instant guest pacification will be ensured by all. React quickly to correct the problem immediately. Follow up with a telephone call within 20 minutes to verify the problem has been resolved to the customer’s satisfaction. Do everything you possibly can to never lose a guest.
  10. Guest incident action forms are used to record and communicate every incident of guest dissatisfaction. Every employee is empowered to resolve the problem and to prevent a repeat occurrence.
  11. Uncompromising levels of cleanliness are the responsibility of every employee.
  12. “Smile – We are on stage.” Always maintain positive eye contact. Use the proper vocabulary with our guests (Use words like – “Good morning,” “Certainly,” “I’ll be happy to” and “My pleasure”).
  13. Be an ambassador of your Hotel in and outside of the work place. Always talk positively. No negative comments.
  14. Escort guests rather than pointing out directions to another area of the Hotel.
  15. Be knowledgeable of Hotel information (hours of operation, etc.) to answer guest inquiries. Always recommend the Hotel’s retail and food and beverage outlets prior to outside facilities.
  16. Use proper telephone etiquette. Answer within three rings and with a “smile.” When necessary, ask the caller, “May I place you on hold?” Do not screen calls. Eliminate all transfers when possible.
  17. Uniforms are to be immaculate. Wear proper and safe footwear (clean and polished) and your correct name tag. Take pride and care in your personal appearance (adhering to all grooming standards).
  18. Ensure all employees know their roles during emergency situations and are aware of fire and life safety response processes.
  19. Notify your supervisor immediately of hazards, injuries, equipment or assistance that you need. Practice energy conservation and proper maintenance and repair of Hotel property and equipment.
  20. Protecting the assets of a Ritz-Carlton Hotel is the responsibility of every employee.

Bill Wilson

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Bill Wilson

William C. Wilson, Jr., CPCU, ARM, AIM, AAM is the founder of Insurance He retired in December 2016 from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, where he served as associate vice president of education and research.


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